News You Can Use – September 21, 2018

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

 

 

 

National:

These State Lawmakers Are Running Unopposed, but Still Rake in Campaign Cash
Center for Public Integrity – Sanya Mansoor, Liz Essley Whyte, and Joe Yerardi | Published: 9/19/2018

There are at least 26 legislative leaders in statehouses across America who are collecting campaign donations despite running unopposed this year. The safe lawmakers represent an attractive prospect for lobbyists and power-seekers: the sure bet. Contributions to these influential politicians can buy face time and favor with those who set state legislative agendas, experts say. The money also compounds their power. Legislative leaders use their accounts to buy presents to thank supporters, for example, or give to fellow lawmakers’ campaigns to reward them for voting with their party.

Federal:

Foreign Lobbying Overhaul Loses Steam in Congress
Politico – Marianne Levine and Josh Gerstein | Published: 9/17/2018

Amid partisan clashes and pushback from foreign-owned companies, the push to strengthen the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) appears to be going nowhere as multiple bills have stalled. Foreign companies with American subsidiaries feared the changes would force their lobbyists to register as foreign agents, which would require them to disclose every meeting and phone call they made on behalf of overseas clients rather than under the less-restrictive disclosure rules for domestic lobbyists. “There’s these very fierce efforts to maintain the status quo,” said U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson, one of the lawmakers pushing to overhaul FARA.

Manafort Plea Deal Casts New Scrutiny on Lobbyists He Recruited
WRAL – Kenneth Vogel (New York Times) | Published: 9/14/2018

Paul Manafort recruited the Podesta Group and Mercury Public Affairs to aide a pro-Russian nonprofit in Ukraine, an arrangement intended to obscure the identity of the ultimate beneficiary of the lobbying, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Relying on the word of the Ukrainian group, the firms initially registered their representation under congressional lobbying disclosure rules. Now, that work, and the decision not to disclose it under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, has turned the Podesta Group and Mercury, along with Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, into subjects of interest in a series of probes. The new evidence was included in updated charges filed against Manafort in connection with his guilty plea. The evidence Robert Mueller’s team unveiled could help prosecutors in New York build cases against the firms.

Political Nonprofits Must Now Name Many of Their Donors Under Federal Court Ruling after Supreme Court Declines to Intervene
Chicago Tribune – Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Robert Barnes (Washington Post) | Published: 9/18/2018

The U.S. Supreme Court denied a request from a conservative political group to temporarily block a lower court ruling which would force it to disclose its donors. The request for a stay had initially been entered by Chief Justice John Roberts after Crossroads GPS disputed an earlier ruling that invalidated an FEC regulation allowing donors to remain anonymous. In the order from the full court, the justices refused to further delay the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia’s decision to invalidate the regulation. The original decision required “dark-money” groups that spend at least $250 in independent expenditures to report every donor who gave at least $200 in the past year.

Senate Candidates to Start Electronically Filing Campaign Finance Reports, Pending President Approval
Center for Responsive Politics – Kaitlin Washburn | Published: 9/19/2018

Federal lawmakers passed a bill that would require U.S. Senate candidates to file their campaign finance disclosures directly to the FEC, rather than on paper with the secretary of the Senate. The provision is part of a larger appropriations bill that now awaits President Trump’s signature. House of Representatives and presidential candidates have been electronically filing their disclosure reports since 2001. The Center for Public Integrity found numerous mistakes produced by the Senate’s archaic system. The investigation found errors in more than 5,900 candidate disclosures and were all traced back to the conversion of paper filings to electronic data.

Ted Cruz’s Campaign Marked a Fund-Raising Letter an Official ‘Summons.’ It Wasn’t Against the Rules.
WRAL – Liam Stack (New York Times) | Published: 9/17/2018

The FEC said U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s re-election campaign did not violate any regulations when it sent out a fundraising letter designed to look like a legal summons. “SUMMONS ENCLOSED –OPEN IMMEDIATELY,” is written across the front in capital letters. The envelope does state the letter is from a campaign and includes a return address for the Cruz campaign’s Houston post office box. FEC spokesperson Myles Martin said the relevant question was whether a mailing contains a disclaimer saying it came from a political campaign. Aside from that, Martin said, “the FEC’s regulations don’t speak to how candidates may choose to word particular solicitations to potential contributors.” Cruz is locked in an unexpectedly tight race against U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke.

From the States and Municipalities:

Georgia: Court Declines to End Paperless Voting in Georgia Before Midterms
Politico – Eric Geller | Published: 9/18/2018

U.S. District Court Judge Amy Totenberg ruled Georgia need not replace paperless voting machines before the midterm elections, dealing a blow to security activists even as the judge acknowledged the machines are not secure and continuing to use them may infringe on voters’ constitutional right to a free and fair election. Switching to paper at this late date, state and county officials argued, would throw the election into chaos and cause voter confusion. The case will now proceed and deal with the plaintiffs’ constitutional arguments, and Totenberg warned Secretary of State Brian Kemp that his concerns about a chaotic election s will “hold much less sway in the future.”

Illinois: U.S. Appeals Court Upholds Illinois Campaign Finance Limits
State Journal-Register (Associated Press) | Published: 9/13/2018

A federal appeals court upheld Illinois’ campaign contribution limits. The Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled the caps set in a 2009 law do not violate First Amendment free-speech rights. Illinois Liberty PAC had argued limits on individuals’ contributions should not be lower than those for corporations or unions.

Missouri: In Latest Legal Twist, Ethics Reform Question Back on Missouri Ballot
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Kurt Erickson | Published: 9/18/2018

A state appeals court put an ethics reform package back on the November ballot. The Missouri Western District Court of Appeals ruled that Amendment 1 can stay on the ballot pending future court decisions. The referendum asks whether voters want to tighten campaign contribution limits, ban lobbyist gifts, institute a two-year waiting period for lawmakers-turned-lobbyists, start a new redistricting system in 2020, and require lawmakers to adhere to the Sunshine Law.

Nevada: Las Vegas Judge Nullifies Results of Republican Election
Las Vegas Review-Journal – Ramona Giwargis | Published: 9/18/2018

Jason Burke defeated Mack Miller by 122 votes in the June 12 primary for a seat in the Nevada Assembly, but Clark County District Judge Jim Crockett signed an order that nullified the election, saying Burke did not file campaign finance reports on time. State law states an election may be contested if the winner was not eligible for office, illegal votes were cast, or valid votes were not counted. The secretary of state’s office said the failure to file campaign finance reports is not an automatic disqualifier.

New York: Watchdog’s Bark Silent for Cuomo
WRAL – Chris Bragg (Albany Times Union) | Published: 9/18/2018

When a sworn complaint is filed with New York Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), the law requires the agency to send any subject of such an ethics complaint a letter outlining possible legal violations and giving them 15 days to respond. Sworn complaints have been submitted requesting that JCOPE launch investigations Joseph Percoco’s possible use of government resources while he was managing Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2014 campaign, as well as the governor’s potential knowledge of those activities. But the Cuomo administration and campaign have not received a 15-day letter from JCOPE. David Grandeau, the state’s former top lobbying official, said that means there is “now no doubt that JCOPE is not following the law.”

Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania’s Ban on Gambling Contributions Struck Down
PennLive.com – Marc Levy (Associated Press) | Published: 9/19/2018

U.S. District Court Judge Sylvia Rambo overturned Pennsylvania’s ban on political contributions from people involved in the gaming industry, ruling the law aimed at curbing the influence of casino interests was too broad. But the judge did not close the door on lawmakers reviving a similar prohibition that is narrower in scope and tailored to the purpose of fighting corruption. The U.S. Supreme Court, Rambo wrote, has ruled that preventing corruption, or the appearance of corruption, is the only appropriate reason to justify restrictions on political donations. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court threw out the ban in 2009, which initially outlawed large campaign contributions from key parties in the gaming industry. Lawmakers responded by banning all donations.