News You Can Use Digest – November 10, 2017

campaign finance, elections, ethics, lobbying, News You Can Use, special elections
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Commerce Secretary’s Offshore Ties to Putin ‘Cronies’
New York Times – Mike McIntire, Sasha Chavkin, and Martha Hamilton | Published: 11/5/2017

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross faces questions about his financial disclosures to Congress and the government after a report he did not disclose business ties to the son-in-law of Russian President Vladimir Putin and an oligarch under U.S. sanctions. Ross said in an ethics disclosure filed following his nomination that he held an investment worth as much as $10 million in shipping company Navigator Holdings. But news organizations alleged he did not disclose the company’s clients include a Russian energy company called Sibur whose owners include Putin’s son-in-law and the oligarch, who is close to the Kremlin and has been sanctioned by the American government.

Lawmakers Alarmed at Push to Sell CNN
Politico – Steven Overly | Published: 11/8/2017

Antitrust regulators and AT&T sparred over whether the wireless carrier would be required to sell Time Warner’s CNN cable network as a condition of approval of its deal to buy the media company. Sources said the Department of Justice demanded significant asset sales in order to approve the $85.4 billion deal, and asked AT&T to sell CNN-parent Turner Broadcasting or its DirecTV operation. The dispute is the latest twist in a deal which took on broader political significance immediately after its inception in October 2016. President Trump, a frequent critic of CNN, attacked the deal on the campaign trail last year, vowing that as president, his Justice Department would block it.

‘Open Sesame:’ Lobbyists cheer warmer welcome in Trump White House
Reuters – Ginger Gibson | Published: 11/6/2017

During the eight years of the Obama administration, business lobbyists often found the gates to the White House closed tight. They are open now under President Trump. That is not altogether unexpected as Trump did campaign during the 2016 presidential election on a promise to elevate the needs of business, which he argued would fuel economic growth. What does surprise lobbyists, however, is the sheer number of wins in getting the Trump administration to roll back or delay unfavorable regulations in its first 10 months. And it is occurring despite White House dysfunction and distraction.

From the States and Municipalities:

Alabama: Woman Says Roy Moore Initiated Sexual Encounter When She Was 14, He Was 32
Washington Post – Stephanie McCrummen, Beth Reinhardt, and Alice Crites | Published: 11/9/2017

Leigh Corfman says Roy Moore, then an assistant district attorney and now the Republican nominee for a U.S. Senate seat from Alabama, initiated a sexual encounter with her when she was 14 and he was 32. Aside from Corfman, three other women interviewed by The Washington Post in recent weeks say Moore pursued them when they were between the ages of 16 and 18 and he was in his early 30s, episodes they say they found flattering at the time, but troubling as they got older. In a written statement, Moore denied the allegations. “These allegations are completely false and are a desperate political attack by the National Democrat Party and the Washington Post on this campaign,” Moore said.

Florida: City: Fernandez deleted text messages to lobbyist
Tallahassee Democrat – Jeffrey Schweers | Published: 11/7/2017

Tallahassee City Manager Rick Fernandez deleted from his cell phone a text message chain with a lobbyist who he asked for expensive football tickets, believing they were not public records and did not need to be saved. John Bussian, a lawyer for The Tallahassee Democrat, said it does not matter what Fernandez believed, or that he made the bad call to destroy the texts. The city is still responsible for producing the texts, and failing to produce them violates Florida’s Public Records Act, Bussian said.

Florida: Code of Silence Is Breaking on Tallahassee’s Sex Secrets
Miami Herald – Mary Ellen Klas, Steve Bousquet, and Patricia Mazzei | Published: 11/5/2017

For decades, the culture at the Florida Capitol used attractive people as tools to cajole the powerful, and rumors of affairs were used to extort favors. Now, in the era of Harvey Weinstein and social media, women have been empowered to speak out about sexual harassment. But in Tallahassee, where questions are raised about the political motive of every leaked allegation, the claims of unidentified accusers can get tangled in the bitter political forces of an election year. Complicating the quest for justice, said Jose Felix Diaz, a recently retired state legislator, are questions about political motives.

Indiana: Indiana Politicians Got Thousands in Gifts While Pushing Solar Policy
Indianapolis Star – Emily Hopkins and Sarah Bowman | Published: 11/5/2017

An Indianapolis Star review has found that as state lawmakers were considering crucial energy legislation, utilities and their PACs poured millions of dollars into the General Assembly in the form of gifts, entertainment, campaign contributions, and lobbying. The issue at hand was a bill whose most controversial provision was to phase out net metering, the practice of requiring utilities to compensate customers who produce more energy than they consume, usually from rooftop solar panels. The passage of Senate Bill 309 has thrown Indiana’s burgeoning solar installation industry into a pit of uncertainty.

Iowa: Iowa Power Couple Scrutinized for Saudi Arabia Lobbying Work – Ryan Foley (Associated Press) | Published: 11/2/2017

A Republican power couple who work in Iowa’s executive branch are facing scrutiny after moonlighting as agents of Saudi Arabia to oppose a new law allowing victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks to sue the kingdom. Connie Schmett and Kim Schmett are accused of being part of a campaign that misled veterans by concealing who was funding their advocacy work, which Connie Schmett failed to list on a recent disclosure filing for Iowa officials.

Maine: Maine Ethics Commission Levies Record $500,000 Against York County Casino Campaign
Portland Press Herald – Scott Thistle | Published: 11/3/2017

Maine’s ethics commission levied a record $500,000 in fines against four committees behind a referendum that would allow a casino in the state run by entrepreneur Shawn Scott. The commission investigated the ballot question committee Horseracing Jobs Fairness, where it got its financing to collect signatures to put the referendum on the ballot, and why it failed to meet campaign finance filing deadlines. Three other ballot question committees formed by Lisa Scott, Shawn Scott’s sister, were also penalized for missing deadlines to file reports that accurately reflected who was bankrolling the campaign.

New York: Long-Discussed Lobbying Rules Now Only ‘Advisory’
Albany Times Union – Chris Bragg | Published: 11/2/2017

For more than a year, a major priority of the New York Joint Commission on Public Ethics has been writing “comprehensive lobbying regulations” that would govern the activity of state lobbyists and their clients. But in a seeming reversal, any regulations will only be advisory. Violations will not result in either civil or criminal penalties. One possible explanation for the reversal is a threatened lawsuit.

New York: Pension? Not for Corrupt Lawmakers Anymore in New York.
Governing – Liz Farmer | Published: 11/7/2017

Voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure that gives judges the right to trim or revoke the pensions of any public servant in New York convicted of a job-related crime. The measure was largely driven by outrage over the corruption scandal that forced the resignation of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. Both long-time lawmakers put in for their substantial pensions just days after their convictions. Both of their convictions were later overturned on a technicality.

Texas: Former Dallas Business Consultant Gets Probation for Bribery in John Wiley Price Corruption Case
Dallas News – Kevin Krause | Published: 11/2/2017

Christian Campbell said in a plea agreement that he helped funnel bribes from a political consultant to Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price. A federal jury said earlier this year that Price did not commit bribery. Campbell nevertheless was sentenced recently to 18 months’ probation for a bribery charge and ordered to pay a $25,000 fine. Campbell is in the unusual position of being the only one directly linked to the alleged bribery conspiracy to be convicted and punished.

Virginia: Danica Roem of Virginia to Be First Openly Transgender Person Elected, Seated in a U.S. Statehouse
Washington Post – Antonio Olivo | Published: 11/8/2017

Democrat Danica Roem is set to make history as the first openly transgender person elected and seated in a state Legislature in the U.S. She unseated Virginia Del. Bob Marshall, one of the state’s longest serving and most socially conservative lawmakers. The race was one of the year’s most high-profile, drawing international attention and big money to the district outside the nation’s capital. Roem openly discussed her gender identity during her campaign, but it was far from her focus. Instead, she concentrated on jobs, schools, and, with particular fervor, northern Virginia’s traffic congestion.

Washington: Judge Upholds Seattle’s Novel Campaign Finance Vouchers
Seattle Times – Gene Johnson (Associated Press) | Published: 11/3/2017

Two Seattle taxpayers lost their constitutional challenge to a voter initiative that sends vouchers to residents so they can financially support political candidates. Voters passed a campaign finance reform initiative called Honest Elections Seattle, which is funded by $30 million property tax levy over 10 years. The program offers residents $100 “democracy vouchers” to give to candidates. The idea behind it is to give citizens more of a direct voice in government and make their elected officials more accountable. Mark Elster and Sarah Pynchon said the program is a compelled subsidy of political speech that violates their First Amendment rights, while the city countered that it was a valid form of campaign financing.


State and Federal Communications produces a weekly summary of national news, offering more than 60 articles per week focused on ethics, lobbying, and campaign finance.