News You Can Use – October 19, 2018

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

 

 

 

National:

First Came a Flood of Ballot Measures from Voters. Then Politicians Pushed Back.
WRAL – Timothy Mitchell (New York Times) | Published: 10/15/2018

Over the past two years, governors and state Legislatures around the nation have used an array of tools to overturn, delay, diminish, or pre-emptively declare unconstitutional a variety of initiatives approved by the same voters who put them in office. Those moves follow a rise in efforts by residents to enact their own legislation, in a growing battle over who will make laws – legislators or voters. In 2016, 71 initiatives were brought forward by voters; 46 were approved, and Legislatures changed or sought to alter nearly one-quarter of those. In decades past, no one tracked the number of ballot initiatives that were overturned by politicians, but experts say they have noted a significant increase lately.

Federal:

Dark-Money Groups Were Ordered to Reveal Their Donors. They Didn’t.
Politico – Maggie Severns | Published: 10/16/2018

A disclosure deadline passed with few political nonprofits unveiling any donors, even after a court threw out a regulation that let the groups keep their funding sources private, and after the FEC told the organizations to reveal anyone who gave money after the ruling at the end of September. The Campaign Legal Center tracked 18 political nonprofits that spent money on the midterm elections between the court ruling and the end of September and could thus have donations to list. It found 14 of those groups disclosed no information with the FEC. “Many groups are likely anticipating that the FEC isn’t going to second-guess their assertion that they received no reportable contributions,” said Brendan Fischer of the Campaign Legal Center.

From the States and Municipalities:

Alaska: Alaska Law Says Lobbyists Can’t Fundraise for Candidates. But the Invitations Keep Coming
Alaska Public Media – Nathaniel Hertz | Published: 10/11/2018

In the past year, lobbyists Ashley Reed and Jerry Mackie have emailed clients and friends invitations to political fundraisers for candidates including Alaska Gov. Bill Walker and House Speaker Bryce Edgmon. That is in spite of a state law that bars lobbyists from helping with legislative and gubernatorial candidates’ fundraising efforts. Penalties for violations include a fine capped at $1,000 and up to a year in prison. Both lobbyists said they received permission to send the invitations from the Alaska Public Officers Commission. But the commission’s director, Heather Hebdon, said one of her employees had only issued non-binding, informal advice that would not protect lobbyists against a complaint.

California: An L.A. Councilman Held an $800-Per-Person Fundraiser. The Next Day, He Announced He Was Stepping Down
Los Angeles Times – Emily Alpert Reyes and David Zahniser | Published: 10/15/2018

When Los Angeles City Councilperson Mitchell Englander announced he would soon step down to join a sports and entertainment firm, the news surprised many in City Hall. His decision was especially surprising to some who had shown up to a fundraiser advertised at $800 per person that Englander staged the night before. Englander used the event to raise money for his officeholder account, a fund that city politicians use to pay for food, travel, office supplies, or other expenses tied to their official duties. Englander’s handling of the episode was considered brazen even among some City Hall veterans familiar with political fundraising.

Florida: Wealthy Candidate Set Up a Blind Trust That Wasn’t Blind
WRAL – Kevin Sack and Patricia Mazzei (New York Times) | Published: 10/17/2018

To shield himself from future conflict-of-interest charges, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who is now running to unseat incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, created a $73.8 million investment account that he called a blind trust. But an examination of Scott’s finances shows his trust has been blind in name only. There have been numerous ways for him to have knowledge about his holdings. Among other things, he transferred many assets to his wife and neither “blinded” nor disclosed them. And their investments have included corporations, partnerships, and funds that stood to benefit from his administration’s actions. Scott’s case demonstrates the political complexities of campaigning while wealthy, a hallmark of the age of the first billionaire president.

Georgia: Showdown in Georgia Governor’s Race Reflects a Larger Fight Over Voting Rights
WRAL – Astead Herndon and Trip Gabriel (New York Times) | Published: 10/15/2018

Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who is also the Republican candidate for governor, is in charge of elections and voter registration in Georgia. His Democratic opponent, former state Rep. Stacey Abrams, and voting rights advocacy groups charge Kemp is systematically using his office to suppress votes and tilt the election, and his policies disproportionately affect black and minority voters. The uproar over voting seems almost an inevitable development in the race, which pits two candidates on opposite sides of the nation’s voting wars who have battled with one another over access to the polls for years.

Maryland: Baltimore City Council Tightens Restrictions on Lobbyists, Require Forms Go Online
Baltimore Sun – Luke Broadwater | Published: 10/15/2018

The Baltimore City Council passed legislation that would tighten restrictions on lobbyists and require the ethics board to post lobbying disclosure forms online. Under the bill, lobbyists approaching city government would have officials to “affirmatively identify” their clients; disclosure reports would be filed twice a year, rather than annually; and there would be a possible three-year ban for any lobbyist who violates the law.

Michigan: ‘Lobbyists and Lansing Are Almost Synonymous’: How the city is shaped by advocacy sector
Lansing State Journal – Carol Thompson | Published: 10/18/2018

The advocacy industry – including the communications agencies and lobbyists they employ – is a unique one in Lansing, helping to shape the economy and culture of the city that serves as the state capital. It is also a growing sector of the state’s economy. The number of lobbyists has steadily increased since the 1990s. In 1998 there were 2,202 lobbyists and lobbyist agencies registered in Michigan; in 2017, there were 2,954. “We are kind of like motor oil,” said Taylor Benavente of the Michigan Society of Association Executives. “We’re behind the scenes, keeping the engine running.”

New Mexico: Long Road Brings NM Ethics Commission Proposal to Ballot
Albuquerque Journal – Dan Boyd | Published: 10/13/2018

After more than a decade of debate and disagreement, New Mexico lawmakers finally approved the framework of an independent ethics commission during the 2017 legislative session. Now, it will be up to voters to decide in November whether to put the commission in the state constitution. Even if voters approve the measure in November, and there is no organized opposition against it, there will still be key structural decisions to be made. For instance, the proposed constitutional amendment does not stipulate exactly when complaints would be made public and does not provide for a funding mechanism to pay for the commission’s operations.

New York: New York Attorney General Expands Inquiry into Net Neutrality Comments
WRAL – Nicholas Confessore (New York Times) | Published: 10/16/2018

New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood subpoenaed more than a dozen telecommunications trade groups, lobbying contractors, and advocacy organizations as part of the state’s investigation into widespread fake public comments submitted to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) over net neutrality. The FCC received a record 22 million comments ahead of its decision to repeal the rules requiring internet service providers to treat all web traffic equally. Millions of comments were provided using temporary or duplicate email addresses, while others recycled identical phrases. Seven popular comments, repeated verbatim, accounted for millions more.

North Dakota: Ethics Policy Finalized for North Dakota Governor’s Office
Bismarck Tribune – Jack Dura | Published: 10/17/2018

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum finalized an ethics policy, months after the he reimbursed about $40,000 to Xcel Energy for events related to a Super Bowl invitation to Minneapolis.  The policy applies to the governor, lieutenant governor, and all employees of the governor’s office. Its language addresses conflicts-of-interest, gifts, expenses, and political activities, among other items.

South Carolina: Will SC Lawmakers Close Loopholes Exposed by State House Corruption Probe?
The State – Maayan Schecter | Published: 10/11/2018

South Carolina legislators and Gov. Henry McMaster said they want to see the state toughen its ethics laws in the wake of a grand jury report into corruption at the statehouse. Grand jurors called for a number of reforms in the report, including eliminating “dark money” and defining the difference between lobbyists and consultants. The corruption probe report details how political consultant Richard Quinn used his consulting business and legislative network, which included his son, disgraced Rep. Rick Quinn to defeat or pass legislation on behalf of his corporate and institutional clients, in what special prosecutor David Pascoe described as “pay-for-influence schemes.”

South Dakota: Free Speech Group Can Publish Ballot Information Ahead of Election, Federal Judge Rules
Sioux Falls Argus Leader – Danielle Ferguson | Published: 10/17/2018

A free speech group suing South Dakota over its campaign finance laws can distribute educational materials about two upcoming ballot issues ahead of the November election, a federal judge ruled. The Institute for Free Speech will be able to distribute an analysis on two ballot issues without fear of the state seeking prosecution for violating a law regulating independent communication expenditure in political campaigns. The institute has asked a federal judge to declare a South Dakota campaign finance law unconstitutional, saying the law regulating independent communication expenditures is vague and a violation of First Amendment rights. The court did not declare the law unconstitutional but granted a preliminary injunction to prevent the state from prosecuting the group for posting the analysis.

Virginia: In Virginia House Race, Anonymous Attack Ads Pop Up on Facebook
WRAL – Kevin Roose (New York Times) | Published: 10/17/2018

A competitive race in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District has a new element: anonymous attack ads on Facebook. The ads were purchased by a critic of Jennifer Wexton, a Democrat trying to unseat U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock. They attack Wexton with language and imagery not typically found in even the roughest campaigns. Since 2016, when Facebook ads were used to spread disinformation and Russian propaganda ahead of the presidential election, the social network has clamped down on political advertisers. But the owner of “Wacky Wexton Not” was able to remain anonymous by taking advantage of a loophole in Facebook’s policy.

West Virginia: W.Va. Supreme Court Justice Loughry Guilty on 11 Counts, Not Guilty on 10 Counts; Jury Hangs on 1 Count
West Virginia MetroNews – Brian McElhinny | Published: 10/12/2018

A jury convicted suspended West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Allen Loughry on 11 of the 22 charges he faced at his trial. The House impeached him and three other justices over questions involving lavish office renovations that evolved into accusations of corruption, incompetence, and neglect of duty. Loughry still faces an impeachment trial. Jurors convicted Loughry on seven wire fraud counts, which related to his use of state vehicles and credit cards for travel during weekends and holidays. One of the two convictions for making false statements showed he lied to investigators about using the vehicles and credit cards for personal business. The jury found Loughry attempted to make Kim Ellis, director of administrative services for the court, misremember conversations they had about the cost of renovations to his Supreme Court office.