News You Can Use Digest – October 26, 2018

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

 

 

 

National:

How a Billionaire from Another State Could Influence Your Elections
Center for Public Integrity – Liz Essley Whyte | Published: 10/18/2018

Twenty-five American billionaires have invested more than $70.7 million for initiative campaigns this year in 19 states where they do not reside. Meanwhile, as little as $7.2 million has gone from their wallets and those of other billionaires to campaigns in their home states. In total, the $78 million tally from all 34 billionaires may be pocket change to them, but it is more than 10 percent of the $648 million disclosed so far this year for statewide ballot measure campaigns. The contributions from the wealthy to campaigns across state lines rankle some local opponents, even though no one questions their legality. Just who should decide issues in their states, they ask – the people who live there or some rich folks from out-of-state?

Three Secretaries of State Are Refereeing the Election While Running in the Field
McClatchy DC – Tim Johnson | Published: 10/18/2018

In three states, the referee for the midterm elections is also on the field as a player. Elected secretaries of state in Georgia and Kansas, who in their official capacities oversee the elections in their states, are running for governor. Ohio’s secretary of state is running for lieutenant governor. They have faced scattered calls to resign but have refused to do so. Election reformers say the situation underscores the conflict-of-interest when an official has responsibilities for an election while also running as a candidate. While the three secretaries of state are Republican, concerns about inappropriate actions by partisans who hold the office transcend parties.

Federal:

Inside the Saudis’ Washington Influence Machine: How the kingdom gained power through fierce lobbying and charm offensives
MSN – Tom Hamburger, Justin Reinhard, and Justin Moyer (Washington Post) | Published: 10/21/2018

A sophisticated influence machine has shaped policy and perceptions of Saudi Arabia in Washington, D.C. for decades, batting back critiques of the kingdom by doling out millions of dollars to lobbyists, law firms, prominent think tanks, and large defense contractors. In 2017, Saudi payments to lobbyists and consultants in Washington more than tripled over the previous year. Beyond their spending, the Saudis have enjoyed a priceless advantage: a warm relationship with President Trump, who has done business its wealthy citizens, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who developed a close bond with the crown prince as he crafted the administration’s Middle East policy.

U.S. Begins First Cyberoperation Against Russia Aimed at Protecting Elections
MSN – Julian Barnes (New York Times) | Published: 10/23/2018

The United States Cyber Command is targeting individual Russian operatives to try to deter them from spreading disinformation to interfere in elections, telling them that American operatives have identified them and are tracking their work. The campaign, which includes missions undertaken in recent days, is the first known overseas cyberoperation to protect U.S. elections, including the November midterms. The operations come as the Justice Department recently outlined a campaign of “information warfare” by Russians aimed at influencing the midterm elections, highlighting the broad threat the American government sees from Moscow’s influence campaign.

From the States and Municipalities:

Alaska: State Regulators to Alaska Lobbyist: Stop helping candidates raise money
Alaska Public Media – Nathaniel Hertz | Published: 10/18/2018

Alaska lobbyists have been breaking an anti-corruption law by promoting fundraising events on behalf of candidates, according to a preliminary opinion from the state’s campaign finance watchdog. Lobbyist Ashley Reed asked for the formal opinion from the Alaska Public Offices Commission. He wanted to know whether state law allows for lobbyists to email copies of invitations to fundraisers for political candidates. The Legislature banned lobbyists from engaging in fundraising activity more than two decades ago. But despite the ban, Reed and lobbyist Jerry Mackie have been sending copies of fundraiser invitations to their clients and friends.

Florida: Text Messages Raise New Questions Over Andrew Gillum’s Lobbyist Connections
WRAL – Patricia Mazzei (New York Times) | Published: 10/23/2018

Undercover FBI agents paid for Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum’s hotel room and his ticket to the Broadway musical “Hamilton” during a 2016 trip to New York City, according to newly released documents that raise questions just before Florida’s gubernatorial election, in which Gillum is locked in a close race with former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis. Text messages between Gillum and former lobbyist Adam Corey, who set up meetings with the agents, show Gillum knew the tickets came from men he believed to be businesspeople looking to develop property in Tallahassee, but were undercover FBI agents investigating public corruption in the city. The records contradicted Gillum’s past statements on the state ethics probe.

Indiana: No Charges Against Hill, But Investigation Reveals Searing New Details
Indianapolis Star – Tony Cook, Ryan Martin, and Kaitlin Lange | Published: 10/23/2018

Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill will not be charged over allegations he groped a state lawmaker and several staffers at a party celebrating the end of the legislative session. He also was cleared of any ethical breaches by the inspector general’s office. Special Prosecutor Daniel Sigler, who said he believed the women’s stories to be “true and credible,” announced that bringing charges would be difficult due to the time that elapsed between the alleged incident in March and the filing of the claims against Hill. But the fallout from Hill’s alleged behavior that night is likely to continue as his accusers prepare a civil lawsuit and Republican leaders continue to call for his resignation.

Kentucky: Kentucky AG Defends Campaign Finance Reform in Sixth Circuit
Courthouse News Service – Kevin Koeninger | Published: 10/18/2018

The constitutionality of several Kentucky ethics laws was debated before a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, with the state’s attorney general arguing they are necessary to maintain citizens’ confidence in the government. Plaintiffs alleged numerous restrictions on campaign financing and lobbying were unconstitutional, including contribution limits and a prohibition on gifts to legislators and their spouses. Kentucky made sweeping changes to its campaign finance laws in 2017, which mooted several of the plaintiffs’ claims. But U.S. District Court Judge William Bertelsman sided with the plaintiffs on several issues last year. Bertelsman struck down the law that prevents legislators and their spouses from receiving “anything of value,” ruling the statute was unconstitutionally vague and overbroad.

Maine: Crowdfunding of Collins Opponent in 2020 Likely Faces Legal Challenge
Lewiston Sun Journal – Kevin Collins (Portland Press Herald) | Published: 10/22/2018

In an effort to pressure U.S. Sen. Susan Collins on the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, organizers pledged to collect contributions nationwide and give them to a hypothetical Democratic challenger in 2020 if Collins voted to confirm the nominee. If she opposed Kavanaugh, whose nomination nearly collapsed amid allegations of sexual misconduct, no money would be collected. The unprecedented campaign, which Collins has labeled a bribe, is a testament to the power of small-dollar “crowdfunding” at a time when corporations, interest groups, and wealthy donors can dump unlimited money into elections. Yet the tactics used by the three organizations behind the campaign to pressure Collins are raising sticky legal questions that could end up in court, with national implications.

Missouri: Clean Missouri Proposition Puts Redistricting Front and Center, Limits Lobbyist Influence
St. Louis Public Radio – Jason Rosenbaum | Published: 10/23/2018

Amendment 1 on the November ballot in Missouri would limit the meals, entertainment, and travel a lobbyist can give a lawmaker, and place a two-year waiting period on lawmakers and their staff to become lobbyists. It would also lower contributions limits for state House and Senate candidates, as well as alter how state legislative districts are drawn. Supporters believe the measure will make lawmakers more responsive to people instead of special interest groups or lobbyists. Detractors believe the initiative is not about improving ethics, and instead is about giving Democrats a leg up on the state legislative redistricting process.

New Hampshire: N.H. Legislators Look to Lobbyists for Reliable Source of Re-Election Cash
New Hampshire Public Radio – Casey McDermott | Published: 10/19/2018

A review of fundraising reports in New Hampshire over the most recent legislative session shows donations from lobbying interests with a direct stake in the decisions made by state senators accounted for roughly half of all the money raised by those same senators’ re-election campaigns. The rate of reliance on lobbying money varied from as little as 16 percent to 75 percent or more. In many cases, senators’ fundraising reports reflected the intersection of money and influence inherent to statehouse lobbying. Candidates can, and often do, accept separate contributions from lobbying firms, the lobbyists they employ, and the clients they represent, magnifying their impact in legislative races.

New York: Dean Skelos, Ex-New York Senate Leader, Gets 4 Years and 3 Months in Prison
WRAL – Benjamin Weiser and Vivian Wang (New York Times) | Published: 10/24/2018

Former New York Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos was sentenced to four years and three months in prison on federal corruption charges, including soliciting bribes and defrauding the public. The sentence was lighter than the five years that the same judge imposed in 2016 when he was convicted on the same charges. That conviction was overturned. Skelos’ son, Adam, who was convicted along with his father, was sentenced to four years in prison. Prosecutors accused Dean Skelos of using his position to pressure three companies to provide his son with consulting work, a “no-show” job, and a $20,000 payment.

North Dakota: All of the Above? The Ancient Voting Method One City Might Adopt
Governing – Alan Greenblatt | Published: 10/19/2018

In November, voters in Fargo, North Dakota, will decide whether to adopt a ballot measure that would create a system known as “approval voting” for local elections. Under the system, everybody can vote for as many candidates as they would like. If there are four candidates for the city commission, for example, you could choose to vote for one of them, or for two, or for the whole lot. Unlike the other multiple-choice method known as ranked-choice voting, which is gaining favor in some places, each vote would count the same. The person with the highest total would win. Supporters say voters would not have to worry about wasting votes on spoilers with little chance of winning since they can also select candidates expected to be more popular. In theory, however, candidates with extreme viewpoints would have a harder time since the winner would have to be broadly acceptable to most voters.

Pennsylvania: Ex-Allentown Mayor Gets 15 Years in Prison on Corruption Charges
Philadelphia Inquirer – Associated Press | Published: 10/23/2018

Former Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski was sentenced to 15 years in prison on corruption charges. He was convicted of trading city contracts for campaign donations to fund his bids for mayor, governor, and U.S. Senate. Jurors found him guilty on 47 counts in connection to eight schemes, including those involving contracts for a city pool, tax collection service, cybersecurity, and streetlight installation. Pawlowski must also pay more than $93,000 in restitution in restitution to the city and to vendors that prosecutors say were cheated out of a fair and open bidding process.

South Carolina: Should SC Roads Be Named After Lawmakers Who Have Pleaded Guilty to Corruption?
The State – Avery Wilks | Published: 10/22/2018

A few days after he resigned from the South Carolina Senate and pleaded guilty to misconduct in office, John Courson asked the Department of Transportation to remove the signs bearing his name from a state road. But another former state senator, Robert Ford, who pleaded guilty to corruption in 2015, says he earned the right to have a Charleston road named after him and would not give up the honor. Unseemly exits from the South Carolina General Assembly can create a host of awkward circumstances. Among them: what to do with the state roads or buildings named after politicians who have admitted to corruption?