September 17, 2010 •
Commissioners tighten ethics rules – more news to come.
Cook County Commissioners have approved a series of ethics reforms focused on certain political contributions. Among the reforms is a provision requiring candidates for County Assessor to return contributions exceeding $1,500 from lawyers who appear before their office seeking reduced property values.
Additionally, fines for breaking county ethics rules have been increased tenfold; violators now face a maximum fine of $5,000. The board intends to clarify the county’s conflict-of-interest code after the upcoming election.
You can visit the Web site for the Cook County Commissioners.
September 17, 2010 •
We are celebrating a special anniversary!
An English proverb states, “A man is known by the company he keeps.” On Monday, September 13, State and Federal Communications, Inc. thanked News You Can Use Editor Jim Sedor for keeping company with us for ten years.
Almost the entire company walked or drove to Downtown Akron’s Bricco restaurant for a celebratory lunch. Also in attendance were Jim’s sister, Mary Ann LoBue, and her husband, Joe, who drove in from Mars, Pennsylvania for the occasion.
The meal was followed by a tribute to Jim by President and CEO Elizabeth Bartz, along with the presentation of a recognition book with photos and warm wishes from our staff. Everyone returned to the office to enjoy a beautiful and wonderfully chocolate cake.
In 2000, Elizabeth determined there was a need for governmental movers and shakers to know what was going on in the worlds of campaign finance, lobbying, and ethics, but there was no vehicle for that information to be provided in a timely manner. Then Jim Sedor walked through State and Federal’s doors. Since that day, Jim has taken the idea from a small, in-house proposition to what it is now, a piece that has virtually taken on a life of its own. For ten years, Jim Sedor has kept our clients—and our staff—on top of the accolades and escapades of elected officials throughout our country, and for a few hours, we took time to let him know how much we appreciate him.
As for the fact Jim is a great guy and deserving of the praise?
Well, that’s just icing on the cake.
September 17, 2010 •
The Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives is the chief record-keeper of the House and has a Web site that shouldn’t be missed!
For anyone who is interested in government relations, the Web site for the Office of the Clerk is a powerful tool. From this site you can watch live video of the House floor proceedings, get information about any member of Congress, and keep up with the lobbying disclosure requirements though the site’s FAQs, news points, and guidance on the Lobbying Disclosure Act. You can also find the foreign travel reports, gift and travel filings of Members, officers, and staff; as well as financial disclosure reports of Members of Congress, “officers, certain employees of the U.S. House of Representatives and related offices, and candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives.”
But this is only the beginning of the many resources offered on the site. Did you know the Office of the Clerk has a YouTube account with oral histories of the House of Representatives. You will find Benjamin C. West talking about the Nixon Impeachment Hearings, and a Cokie Roberts interview about the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And there are 19 other great videos!
If you have children, the Office of the Clerk Web site has a great feature called “Kids in the House.” Whether your child is preschool, grade school, middle, or high school age – there are inviting presentations for the kids to discover what Congress is all about. They can see how a bill becomes a law, read about the art and history of the Capitol, and even take an interactive tour of the House Chamber. Teachers will love the site’s weekly “Teaching Tips” feature.
Want to impress your friends with timely trivia about our government? The Office of the Clerk offers a “Weekly Historical Highlights” page. Did you know that on September 14, 1837 there was a debate in Congress about whether to the ban hats on the House Floor? On September 18, 1893, the federal government celebrated the centennial of the laying of the Capitol cornerstone. There were parades, decorations, and all government offices were closed that day. I wonder what was going on in Washington on my birthday?
The Web site of the Office of the Clerk offers loads of information, beautiful photos and graphics, and easy site navigation. Anyone can become a polymath in American government by frequenting this treasure.
See you next week!
Screen captures courtesy of the Office of the Clerk Web site.
September 16, 2010 •
In honor of the 10th anniversary of News You Can Use (NYCU), I interviewed its editor, Jim Sedor.
News You Can Use is a weekly digital news aggregation on the issues of campaign finance, lobbying, procurement, and government ethics. Every week Jim Sedor gathers between 80 and 100 articles, and every Friday morning NYCU is sent out to our subscribers.
Hi Jim! How did NYCU come about? How long have you been associated with it?
The idea for compiling a weekly review of what is happening across the country in ethics, campaign finance, and lobbying originated with Elizabeth Bartz. I came aboard in 2000 to implement what she wanted.
Elizabeth had found the company didn’t have a process to find important information that was out there in a timely way and was missing a lot of things that would affect the business.
When we started, it was just an in-house review of the most recent happenings – it had not even been christened “New You Can Use” yet (a name that Elizabeth also coined).
As it grew, we figured our clients would love to see – and needed to know – what we were finding, so we started sending NYCU out to them by e-mail.
Who is a typical NYCU reader? How does NYCU give them a “heads up” regarding campaign finance and lobbying news?
I don’t know if I can classify a typical reader – maybe someone who subscribes to our services and needs to know what is happening in their field – like lobbyists, campaign finance lawyers, companies that employ lobbyists and give money to candidates, or firms that compete for state contracts.
We often give readers the first word about specific changes in campaign finance or lobbying law in a given state or the federal level. Most of the time, we have been tracking those changes from the beginning and see them through to the end – articles on a bill’s introduction to its signing by the governor.
We also follow scandals closely because those are most often the trigger for reform and you can almost predict at the start of some corruption investigation that there will be changes ahead and it should be monitored. The whole issue of “pay-to-play” reform is an example.
After ten years of gathering news, do any stories stand out? Craziest? Most egregious? Biggest surprise?
I try not to be cynical, but sometimes I can’t help it. I’m not surprised by most stories of graft and quid pro quo deals and the like, although sometimes the sheer scope and audacity involved in a particular story catches my eye.
We had that recently here in Northeast Ohio when it seemed like the whole Cuyahoga County government was indicted for corruption that involved tens of millions of dollars in bribes and crooked contracts.
One case that stands out for sheer strangeness is Mark Sanford, the governor of South Carolina who said he was hiking on the Appalachian Trail, but was actually much further south – in Argentina visiting the woman he was having an affair with. Nobody knew where he was.
You have a lot of fun at COGEL Annual Conferences. Can you tell us what happened at one particular COGEL breakfast in Chicago, December 2008?
We were having breakfast at the conference when a person from the Illinois Executive Ethics Commission got a message on his Blackberry and excused himself. When he got back to the table, he said he had pressing business and had to leave – the governor of Illinois had just been arrested and “led away in handcuffs.” That turned out to be the day Rod Blagojevich was arrested.
Can you picture doing NYCU fifteen years ago, prior to the advent of on-line newspapers and super smart search engines?
It would be impossible to do NYCU without the Internet and be as comprehensive – we just couldn’t cover the whole country and really stay on top of things.
According to our tally, you have gathered 41,517 articles in the last 10 years for NYCU. How does that make you feel?
Tired. (Laughs) And it makes me feel like I need a vacation – I’ve been working too hard.
When you break it down like that, it really shows the vast amount of material that has been published on campaign finance, lobbying, and ethics.
I feel a sense of accomplishment – that I have been able to stay on top of this and get most of the important stories that have been out there. We don’t miss much.
It also shows these are issues that are of great importance to a lot of people and reporters will continue to churn out story after story.
Thank you, Jim! All the best to you for another wonderful 10 years!
September 15, 2010 •
Nevada Transparency Measures to be Introduced in 2011.
Assembly Majority Leader John Oceguera said he will pursue a number of transparency measures in the 2011 legislative session. Among those to be introduced would be a requirement for all candidates for public office to report every financial contribution online within 72 hours of receipt, including the amount received and the donor.
Another measure would introduce a “cooling off” period before public officials could work as lobbyists. Specifically, an elected official or regulator would be prohibited from lobbying the governmental body where the individual served, or any agency they regulated or oversaw, for a period of two years.
September 15, 2010 •
New York City campaign finance reforms alter nature of political contributions.
NEW YORK: A recent examination by New York City’s Campaign Finance Board shows that changes enacted before the 2009 mayoral election encouraged 34,000 New Yorkers to make campaign donations for the first time; drastically curtailed the role of businesses, political committees and lobbyists in campaigns; and caused a major drop in donations from those doing business with the city.
The Campaign Finance Board report found that New York City’s newly promulgated rules diminished the role of businesses, political committees and unions in campaign fund-raising. They now account for 7.2 percent of all funds available to candidates. In the last election for State Assembly and Senate candidates, such contributions accounted for 66.6 percent of all the money raised. New York City’s system has become a model for campaign finance reform based upon these results.
Photo of the New York City Hall by Momos on Wikipedia.
September 14, 2010 •
Wisconsin State Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson will select a state Court of Appeals judge to fill a vacancy on the Government Accountability Board Candidate Committee.
The committee serves as the nominating body for members of the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (G.A.B.) and consists of four judges chosen from the state’s four Court of Appeals districts.
The board is charged by state law with the responsibility of developing lists of candidates to fill any vacancies which occur on the G.A.B. The names of candidates selected by the board are sent to the governor who makes a nomination which is then subject to final confirmation by the Wisconsin Senate.
Chief Justice Abrahamson will conduct the selection process on Wednesday, September 15 at 9:45 a.m. in the hearing room of the Wisconsin Supreme Court in Madison.
Photo of Madison, Wisconsin by Dori on Wikipedia.
September 14, 2010 •
A lawsuit has been filed in federal court alleging Hawaii’s ban on political contributions by state and county contractors is in violation of the First Amendment.
Key to the suit is the state’s prohibition on contributions by contractors until completion of the contract. The suit, filed by A-1 A-Lectrician Inc., an electrical and construction firm in Hawaii, alleges the prohibition is an unconstitutional restriction on free speech, as well as in violation of the 14th Amendment’s citizenship protection of corporations and individuals.
Citizen advocacy groups, including Common Cause Hawaii and the League of Women Voters of Hawaii, have already voiced their opposition to the suit.
Satellite photo of Hawaii by NASA, posted on Wikipedia.
September 14, 2010 •
A pro-life group has filed suit in federal court challenging aspects of Iowa’s legislative response to “Citizens United.”
The new law requires groups like The Iowa Right-to-Life Committee, which is organized as a corporation, to form a PAC if they wish to make independent expenditures. The group claims this requirement and the new disclosure requirements are an unconstitutional burden on their First Amendment rights.
Supporters of the law are calling this suit a “political stunt.”
Photo of the Iowa Capitol by Cburnett on Wikipedia.
September 13, 2010 •
A federal court judge has suspended enforcement of Kentucky’s $100 contribution limit to candidates for school boards.
In its opinion, the court decided the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance’s interest in keeping politics out of school elections is not sufficient grounds for limiting contributions in that manner.
Because of this ruling, individuals may contribute up to $1,000 for a candidate for school board, the same limit imposed on other candidates for office in Kentucky.
September 10, 2010 •
Last week we had a great response to our Gov 2.0 Summit Highlighted Site of the Week. So for those of you who would like more government-meets-social media, we have some nice Web sites to highlight today.
Since the last presidential election we have all seen an explosion in the use of social media by politicians, government agencies, and elected officials. The conversations are exploding, but where can you find it all?
GovTwit claims to host “the world’s largest list of government agencies and elected officials on Twitter, tracking state/local, federal, contractors, media, academics, non-profits and government outside of the U.S.” GovTwit has political Tweetstreams, search functions, and a listing of those newest to the directory – the Prime Minister of Israel was newest as of the writing of this post.
Are you curious about who has the most Twitter followers among elected officials and news media figures? GovTwit has the List for that ranking. (President Obama tops the list, BTW, with 4,877,222 followers.) You can also search Youtube videos and twitpics, although I could not see how some of them related to politics. GovTwit also runs a blog that is worth reading.
Another resource was brought to my attention through Eric Brown’s great blog – PoliticalActivityLaw.com. The site is called the Government and Social Media Wiki. This is huge! What you get on this wiki is a database of Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, LinkedIn, Youtube, and other social media accounts for – are you ready for this? – members of the U.S. House and Senate, U.S. House and Senate Committees, federal agencies, state Governors, and state government agencies and officials, with more on the way.
September 9, 2010 •
Nine Cleveland-area doctors have filed a lawsuit in a Cleveland federal court challenging an Ohio law which says they cannot make political contributions to the Ohio Attorney General or local county prosecutors if they treat patients on Medicaid.
The plaintiffs, who wanted to make campaign contributions to the reelection campaign of Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, allege the provisions of Ohio Revised Code section 3599.45 violates their First Amendment rights.
The plaintiffs are seeking an order from the U.S. District Court declaring the law unconstitutional as well as an order enjoining the Ohio Secretary of State from enforcing it.
September 8, 2010 •
Governor Chris Christie announced a series of ethics reform measures, including those intent on closing pay-to-play loopholes and curtailing the unlimited transfer of campaign money between county and municipal committees.
The proposal would end the “fair and open contract” exception for businesses which make reportable campaign contributions at the legislative, county, and municipal levels, yet are able to receive contract awards valued greater than $17,500 with local governments – a practice not permitted at the state or gubernatorial level. The new legislation would also restrict the practice of “wheeling” by imposing contribution limitations on county and municipal committees which transfer money between committees and transfer committee contributions to out-of-county or out-of-municipality candidates.
September 8, 2010 •
Unions and corporations in Michigan are allowed to pool funds for independent expenditures under an agreement reached between Secretary of State Land and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.
The Chamber filed for, and was granted, a preliminary injunction against Land’s initial interpretation of Michigan’s campaign finance laws in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision. Land ruled the Chamber may make independent expenditures but could not set up a PAC to make them. Under the stipulated ruling, corporations, organization, and unions are still prohibited from making direct corporate contributions or using a PAC to do so.
State and Federal Communications, Inc. provides research and consulting services for government relations professionals on lobbying laws, procurement lobbying laws, political contribution laws in the United States and Canada. Learn more by visiting stateandfed.com