News You Can Use Digest – March 8, 2019

campaign finance, elections, ethics, legislative issues, lobbying, News You Can Use

 

 

 

Federal:

Justice Department Taps Mueller Prosecutor to Enforce Foreign Lobbying Disclosure
Reuters – Karen Freifeld and Suzanne Barlyn | Published: 3/6/2019

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Van Grack was chosen to lead a team at the Justice Department that will make sure the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA), which requires disclosure of lobbying on behalf of foreign interests, is more aggressively enforced. One focal point may be Russia, which U.S. intelligence agencies say waged a disinformation campaign to sway the 2016 presidential election for Donald Trump. Assistant Attorney General John Demers also warned that law firms should take FARA registration seriously, citing the example of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, which agreed to pay $4.6 million and admitted it should have registered for a report aimed at discrediting a former Ukrainian prime minister.

From the States and Municipalities:

Connecticut: Election Officials: State contractor ban on political donations applies to marijuana producers, but not dispensaries
Hartford Courant – Neil Vigdor | Published: 3/7/2019

The State Elections Enforcement Commission ruled that a prohibition on campaign donations from state contractors extends to marijuana producers – but not dispensaries – because the value of licensing agreements they have with the state exceed $50,000. Medical marijuana has been legal in Connecticut since 2012. In anticipation of the legislative debate over recreational marijuana, the industry asked for guidance from last year about whether political contributions to legislators and statewide office holders comply with Connecticut’s 2005 clean elections law. A ban on state contractor contributions is a hallmark of the program.

District of Columbia: D.C. Council Member Jack Evans’ Use of Government Office for Personal Gain Inappropriate, Chair Says
Washington Post – Steve Thompson and Peter Jamison | Published: 3/4/2019

District of Columbia Council Chairperson Phil Mendelson said council member Jack Evans acted inappropriately when he emailed business proposals to potential employers and offered them his influence and connections as an elected official. Evans faces growing scrutiny after The Washington Post reported he sent solicitations on his government email to law firms that lobby city government, offering his contacts and sway as the council’s longest serving lawmaker and as chair of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. The authority’s board of directors directed its ethics officer to investigate Evans. The Post reported a federal grand jury has also been investigating Evans and issued a subpoena to officials for documents related to legislation that Evans promoted in 2016 that would have benefited a digital sign company.

Kentucky: Kentucky Secretary of State Staff Searched Voting Records for Investigators and Rivals, Records Show
ProPublica – Daniel Desrochers (Lexington Herald Leader) and Jessica Huseman | Published: 3/6/2019

Kentucky officials released records that show employees in the secretary of state’s office used the voter registration system to look up political rivals, state investigators, and a range of political operatives. It is not clear in many instances why Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes’ office was looking up people and their personal information such as political affiliation, and some Social Security numbers but it has led critics to conclude her office abused its access to the system to gain information about her political opponents and those involved in multiple investigations of her conduct while in office. Grimes had maintained her office had done no inappropriate searches.

Louisiana: Entergy Fined $5M, Can Move Forward with New Power Plant
Louisiana Weekly – Michael Issac Stein (The Lens) | Published: 3/4/2019

The New Orleans City Council approved a new Entergy power plant in city limits while imposing a $5 million fine against the company for using paid actors to influence its decision during the approval process. The council concluded Entergy “knew or should have known” that one if its subcontractors was paying people to fill seats and speak in favor of the project at public hearings. Entergy agreeing to the fine was contingent on the council not revoking its prior approval of the plant. Critics of the vote noted most council members have either worked for Entergy or received campaign donations from their PAC. Councilperson Cyndi Nguyen’s non-profit received at least $27,625 from Entergy. Councilperson Jay Banks revealed he once worked for the company as a government relations consultant.

Maryland: Maryland Delegate Says She Won’t Resign after House Censures Her for ‘Racist and Hateful Slur’
MSN – Luke Broadwater and Pamela Wood (Baltimore Sun) | Published: 2/28/2019

The House of Delegates censured Del. Mary Ann Lisanti for her use of a racial slur, which members said, “brought dishonor to the entire General Assembly of Maryland.” After the vote, Lisanti said she would not resign, despite calls for her to do so. She also said she did not believe she had used an offensive term to describe African-Americans, although she acknowledged earlier in the week that she had done so. Lisanti came under fire after it was reported she used the racial slur during an after-hours gathering in January at an Annapolis bar. Lisanti told a fellow lawmaker that when he helped a candidate in Prince George’s County, he was knocking on doors in a “n—– district,” according to the report.

Nevada: Nevada Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson Resigns
Las Vegas Review-Journal – Colton Lochhead and Bill Dentzer | Published: 3/5/2019

Nevada Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson resigned after admitting to using campaign funds for personal use and said he will plead guilty to federal charges. Sen. Nicole Cannizzaro was elected by Senate Democrats as the new leader of the majority. Cannizzaro becomes the first woman to serve as Senate majority leader in the state’s history. Details of the investigation, including how much money was misappropriated and what exactly Atkinson used the money for, remain unclear. Atkinson’s resignation marks the first time a lawmaker has left mid-session since 2013. But it is far from the first time a state lawmaker has recently found themselves on the wrong side of campaign finance laws.

New Hampshire: GOP Lawmakers in N.H. Wore Pearls While Gun Violence Victims Testified. Activists Were Outraged.
Boston Globe – Reis Thebault (Washington Post) | Published: 3/5/2019

Republican members of the New Hampshire House are drawing scrutiny for wearing pearl necklaces while activists with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America shared their experiences with gun violence at a recent hearing on a bill that would make it easier to take weapons away from potentially dangerous people. Critics who posted the images on social media said the implication was clear: the politicians thought gun-control activists were “clutching their pearls” in overwrought and self-righteous outrage – and, specifically, female outrage. Some pro-gun advocates argued the legislators’ intent was to represent opposition to the bill. Kimberly Morin, president of the Women’s Defense League of New Hampshire, said opponents of gun control measures have been wearing pearls at gun-related hearings since 2016.

New Mexico: Former Public Servants Lobby Ex-Colleagues
Albuquerque Journal – Dan McKay | Published: 2/28/2019

Former Rep. Debbie Rodella Rodella is one of a few former officials who were public servants during the last legislative session and lobbyists this year, including Keith Gardner, the chief of staff under then-Gov. Susana Martinez. Also making the immediate transition are former Reps. Bealquin Gomez and Jim Smith. New Mexico law does not prohibit ex-lawmakers from lobbying once their terms end. Some legislators have tried repeatedly to change that, with proposals to impose a one- or two-year waiting period. Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth said a “cooling-off” period would be appropriate. “It just doesn’t feel right to immediately be in a position where you’re coming back to your colleagues, who you were an equal with, and the next day you’re lobbying them on behalf of a client,” said Wirth.

North Carolina: Why a Judge Ruled That the Entire North Carolina Legislature Is Illegitimate
Governing – Alan Greenblatt | Published: 2/27/2019

Wake County Superior Court Judge G. Bryan Collins struck down two constitutional amendments that had been approved by North Carolina voters in November. One regarded voter ID requirements and the other a cap on state income taxes. The amendments had been placed on the ballot by the Republican-controlled Legislature. Collins ruled the lawmakers had no standing to approve constitutional amendments because they were elected using maps that federal courts, up to the U.S. Supreme Court, found to be unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. “An illegally constituted General Assembly does not represent the people of North Carolina and is therefore not empowered to pass legislation that would amend the state’s constitution,” Collins wrote.

Oregon: Lawmakers Come and Go, but the Lobby Remains a Powerful Constant in Oregon Legislature
Portland Tribune – Claire Withycombe, Aubrey Wieber, and Paris Achen | Published: 3/1/2019

Interest groups in Oregon spent $12 million more on lobbying in 2017 than they did a decade earlier. That spending is only part of the cost of doing business in Salem. Donating to campaigns and other political operations is routine – interest groups sank $25 million into last year’s state elections. Now that the legislative session is underway, the focus is on trying to shape the laws and spending that will affect every Oregonian. The lobbyists return year after year, some decade after decade. In contrast, some legislators last only one term. “In a Legislature that has extremely high turnover, there are different institutional forces that have impact on the outcomes of legislation … but the one constant in Salem is gonna be the lobby,” said state Rep. Dan Rayfield.

Oregon: Oregon Legislature Reaches $1.3M Settlement Over Sexual Harassment
Portland Oregonian – Hillary Borrud | Published: 3/5/2019

Oregon legislative leaders announced they have signed a $1.3 million settlement with state labor regulators and nine women who experienced sexual harassment at the Capitol. The women will receive $1.1 million and the Legislature will pay the Bureau of Labor and Industries $200,000 to cover the agency’s legal costs. As part of the deal, the women agreed not to pursue legal action against the Legislature and other named defendants. For its part, the Legislature agreed to implement a list of reforms to make the Capitol a safer place to work, including adopting a definition of harassment with specific examples and using an independent lawyer to handle any discrimination and harassment complaints until it creates a new Equity Office.

South Carolina: SC Politicians, Lobbyists and More 0we $2.4M in Ethics Fines, But Many Will Never Pay
The State – Lucas Deprile | Published: 3/6/2019

There are 337 candidates, political parties, and lobbyists who owe the South Carolina Ethics Commission a total of $2.4 million in fines, many of which will likely never be collected. More than half of those who owed fines eight years ago still have not paid them, even though many large penalties have been reduced. The law says those who fail to file the appropriate forms must pay $10 per report every day after they are notified that they owe money. But after 10 days, that increases to $100 per missing report per day. The maximum fine is capped at $5,000, but until 2011, there was no ceiling to how much someone would owe.

West Virginia: Poster Linking Rep. Ilhan Omar to 9/11 Sparks Outrage at West Virginia Capitol
Los Angeles Times – Eli Rosenberg (Washington Post) | Published: 3/2/2019

The chairperson of the West Virginia Republican Party said the GOP does not condone an anti-Muslim poster displayed at the Capitol during a Republican event that linked U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar to the September 11 terrorist attacks. The poster featured a picture of planes flying into the World Trade Center with the phrase “never forget, you said” and then under it, a picture of Omar with the words “I am proof you have forgotten.” Del. Michael Angelucci said he heard Sergeant at Arms Anne Lieberman, the chamber’s principal law enforcement official, call all Muslims terrorists. Lieberman disputed that accusation yet submitted a resignation letter. Del. Mike Caputo admitted to kicking open the chamber doors out of anger, an act that reportedly injured a doorkeeper.