News You Can Use – March 1, 2019

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

 

 

 

Federal:

Cohen Tells Congress Trump Knew About WikiLeaks’ Plans, Directed Hush-Money Payments
MSN – Matt Zapotosky, Rosalind Helderman, Karoun Demirjian, and Rachael Bade (Washington Post) | Published: 2/27/2019

Michael Cohen, President Trump’s longtime lawyer and fixer, laid out for Congress for the first time a series of deceptions by the president. He charged that Trump lied to the public about business interests in Russia, lied to reporters about stolen Democratic emails, and told Cohen to lie about hush payments to cover up sexual misconduct. The accusations, aired at a daylong hearing before the House Oversight and Reform Committee, exposed a dark underside of Trump’s business and political worlds in the voice of one of the ultimate insiders. Perhaps no close associate has turned on a president in front of Congress in such dramatic fashion and with such high stakes since John Dean testified against President Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal.

From the States and Municipalities:

Arkansas: Arkansas Grapples with Ethics Cleanup Amid Federal Probes
4029tv – Andrew DeMillo (Associated Press) | Published: 2/24/2019

A flurry of corruption cases in the past two years has been eye-popping, even for the most jaded veterans of Arkansas politics. Among those who have been charged are a nephew of the current governor, a champion of campaign finance reform, and a top county official who admitted to taking bribes funneled through the church where he was a pastor. The recent cases have stirred fears the Capitol is becoming better known as a hotbed of corruption than for any policy achievements, and legislative leaders are scrambling to repair that image and find ways of deterring future misdeeds.

California: The Political Playbook of a Bankrupt California Utility
MSN – Thomas Fuller and Ivan Penn (New York Times) | Published: 2/23/2019

Despite evidence Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) was responsible for repeated safety violations and involved in deadly wildfires, lawmakers in California continued to benefit from political donations from the company. Investigators are now determining whether PG&E equipment was responsible for the state’s deadliest wildfire, the inferno in and around Paradise that killed 85 people and destroyed more than 13,000 homes. With the state’s tech giants focused on their influence in Washington, D.C., perhaps no company in California is more entangled with local Democratic politics than PG&E, which in January filed for bankruptcy. PG&E’s restructuring will test whether Gov. Gavin Newsom and other Democratic leaders can push to create a company free from what critics say has been a culture of cronyism between regulators and the regulated.

Florida: The SWAT Team Showed Up at a Florida Mayor’s Door. Then He Started Shooting, Police Say.
Washington Post – Reis Thebault and Eli Rosenberg | Published: 2/21/2019

The mayor of a small Gulf Coast town in Florida was arrested after shooting at a SWAT team that had come to arrest him on charges of illegally practicing medicine. Dale Glen Massad, mayor of Port Richey, a town of around 2,600 north of Tampa, fired two shots at officers who raided his home in the early hours of the morning. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement was investigating Massad, a former doctor who gave up his license in 1992, after being tipped off that Massad was still practicing medicine. No officers were injured and Massad was arrested without further incident. He is charged with two counts of attempted homicide, according to the complaint.

Georgia: Nine Lawyers in Running to Head State Ethics Commission
Yahoo Finance – R. Robin McDonald (Law.com) | Published: 2/28/2019

Nine lawyers are in contention to become the new head of Georgia’s ethics commission, which has moved to replace former Executive Secretary Stefan Ritter. He resigned following an internal investigation, which stemmed from the discovery of hundreds of pornographic images on his state-issued computer. Complaints also accused Ritter of squelching ethics inquiries of several Atlanta mayoral candidates and possible campaign violations by a gubernatorial campaign. Finalists for the job include Robert Lane, deputy executive secretary of the Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, and Michael Sullivan, director of the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance.

Illinois: At Chicago City Hall, the Legislative Branch Rarely Does Much Legislating
ProPublica – Mick Dumke | Published: 2/25/2019

From 2011 through 2018, Chicago Ald. Pat Dowell was the chief sponsor of more than 900 separate ordinances in the city council, most of them pertaining to such hyperlocal issues as business sign permits, driveway alley access, and parking meter hours for single addresses. That volume of ward-specific legislation is typical for aldermen. Except in rare instances, the council signs off on the mayor’s agenda, even letting the city’s executive pick its legislative leaders. In return, aldermen are allowed to reign over matters large and small in their wards, which some openly describe as “fiefdoms.” The structure of the council has received new attention over the last several months, as the city’s political establishment has been rocked by scandals involving aldermen.

Louisiana: Louisiana Cap on Legislative Wining and Dining Grows to $62
Tacoma News Tribune; Associated Press –   | Published: 2/24/2019

When the new budget year begins in a few months, lobbyists can spend $62 per occasion on food and drink for a public official in Louisiana. The current cap is $61. The 2008 law that sets the limit allows annual adjustments tied to increases in the federal Consumer Price Index for food and beverages.

Maryland: Maryland Del. Mary Ann Lisanti Stripped of Leadership Post Over Use of Racial Slur
Washington Post – Ovetta Wiggins | Published: 2/26/2019

A Maryland lawmaker who witnesses say used a racial slur to describe a legislative district in Prince George’s County has been stripped of her leadership position and will undergo sensitivity training. Del. Mary Ann Lisanti issued a public apology after addressing the executive committee of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland. Lisanti used the slur in front of several colleagues at an Annapolis cigar bar in January. She told another white lawmaker that when he campaigned in Prince George’s on behalf of a candidate last fall, he was door-knocking in a “n—– district,” said Del. Jay Walker, who witnessed the comment and represents the district in question.

New Hampshire: NH Lobbyists Paid Record Fees in 2018 But Info Hard to Track
Manchester Union Leader – Kevin Landrigan | Published: 2/23/2019

Unofficially, the nearly 500 private or public interests that hired lobbyists in New Hampshire last year paid out nearly $10.7 million in fees. The Manchester Union Leader constructed a database of the fees paid to these lobbyists from information available on the secretary of state’s website. But the state’s website is not searchable. State officials scan all the forms and post them online. This means anyone trying to aggregate all the fees paid to any firm has to total up all the individual forms. In 2018, more than 1,000 lobbying firms filed these reports because several firms have more than one associate working for them. For example, the Sheehan Phinney Capitol Group has five registered lobbyists who represent 40 clients. To find out what the firm got paid in total requires looking at more than 120 forms.

North Carolina: In N.C., a Surprise: In the end, everyone agreed it was election fraud
Chicago Tribune – Amy Gardner (Washington Post) | Published: 2/23/2019

North Carolina will hold a new election in the Ninth Congressional District following a hearing that outlined how a political operative had orchestrated an absentee ballot scheme to try to sway the race in favor of Mark Harris, the Republican candidate. Harris was under scrutiny for hiring Leslie McCrae Dowless, who allegedly assembled a crew to illegally collect, fill out, and forge mail-in ballots in two rural counties in the district. Mark Harris’s son, John, testified before the State Board of Elections that he warned his father he believed Dowless had broken the law in a previous election and should not be hired for the 2018 campaign. The elder Harris had maintained in interviews with reporters that he was unaware of red flags about the operative’s alleged tactics.

Ohio: Even After FBI Probe of Ohio Speaker, Tracking Lawmakers’ Travel Remains Challenging
Cincinnati Enquirer – Jessie Balmert | Published: 2/24/2019

Each year, several Ohio lawmakers spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on out-of-state travel. They meet legislators from other states, learn about how foreign countries tackle problems, and make connections that could help them professionally and politically. But figuring out how much each lawmaker travels and who pays for those trips is far from easy. Legislators must report some travel for official business on annual ethics forms but not all. Some lawmakers use campaign contributions to pay for travel and document trips there. But lawmakers can also receive free trips from national groups or pay for the trips themselves – it is impossible to tell.

Oregon: Polluted by Money
Portland Oregonian – Rob Davis | Published: 2/22/2019

Over the last few years, Oregon’s most powerful industries have defeated, weakened, or stalled efforts to deal with climate change, air pollution, and other environmental matters. An investigation by The Portland Oregonian found the failure to regulate campaign finance has made Oregon one of the biggest money states in American politics, and the ready cash creates an easy regulatory climate where industry gets what it wants. A company might give as little as a few thousand dollars per lawmaker. But taken together, legislators receive millions from industries with a shared interest in weak environmental regulation. Some state lawmakers said the campaign finance system works by showing voters who is giving money and letting them judge whether it is significant.

Pennsylvania: How Philly’s Electricians Union and Johnny Doc Converted Payroll Deductions into Political Influence
Philadelphia Inquirer – Chris Brennan and Dylan Purcell | Published: 2/25/2019

From 2002 through 2018, small-dollar donations withdrawn from the paychecks of members of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers produced just under $41 million to invest in helping elect allies to local, state, and national offices. The yearly haul has increased six-fold over the last decade. The recent indictment on corruption charges of the union’s leader, Johnny “Doc” Dougherty, entangled only one elected official – Philadelphia City Councilperson Bobby Henon – and did not charge anyone with making or receiving improper campaign donations. For a probe that took at least two years, it also gave barely a nod to the breadth of the influence and impact that Local 98 and its leader have amassed.

Texas: Most Dallas City Council Members’ Campaign-Finance Reports Show Violations – But No One Enforces Rules
Dallas News – Corbett Smith | Published: 2/26/2019

Despite a limit on how much individuals and groups can donate to mayoral and council candidates, oversight by Dallas officials is essentially nonexistent. The Dallas News reviewed the past four years of campaign finance filings, finding more than 30 questionable donations reported by 10 of the 14 city council members. A dozen more issues showed up on reports of former council members and losing candidates, but no one is in charge of combing over the forms, raising questions or scrutinizing irregularities. And no one is filing official complaints that would prompt an investigation, city officials said. Even if someone filed a complaint about campaign finance violations, there’s disagreement whether the city’s own ethics panel can even investigate the matter.