News You Can Use Digest - April 1, 2016 - State and Federal Communications

April 1, 2016  •  

News You Can Use Digest – April 1, 2016

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National:

Feeling G.O.P. Peril, Muslims Try to Get Out Vote
New York Times – Alan Rappeport | Published: 3/24/2016

American Muslims are watching in growing horror as Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz battle for the Republican presidential nomination, outdoing each other with provocative proposals that have included Muslim registries, immigration bans, and fleets of police patrolling their neighborhoods. National advocacy groups are planning to fend off policies they consider hostile to Muslims with a more proactive strategy: driving up the Muslim vote. Organizations are encouraging mosques to turn themselves into voter registration centers before the November election so Muslims can make their voices heard at the polls. Registration drives are expected to ramp up significantly in June, during Ramadan, when attendance at Islamic centers peaks. Although Muslims make up only about one percent of the U.S. population, civil rights groups have set a goal of registering a million new voters.

Federal:

How Clinton’s Email Scandal Took Root
Washington Post – Robert O’Harrow, Jr. | Published: 3/27/2016

Since Hillary Clinton’s private email account was brought to light a year ago, the matter has been a source of nonstop national news. The FBI is now trying to determine whether a crime was committed in the handling of that classified material. It is also examining whether the server was hacked. The Washington Post reviewed documents and interviewed more than a dozen knowledgeable government officials to understand the decisions and the implications of Clinton’s actions. The resulting scandal revolves around questions about classified information, the preservation of government records, and the security of her email communication.

Surprising Source of GOP Petition
CBS News – Arden Farhi | Published: 3/29/2016

A man who says he authored a petition to allow open carry of guns at the Republican National Convention says he did it to test the limits of the party’s support for the Second Amendment. The petition, which has attracted national attention, reads as if it was written by a supporter of gun rights. Instead, the man behind the petition is a self-professed liberal Democrat and gun control advocate. In response to questions about the petition, the Secret Service said only law enforcement personnel will be allowed to carry firearms at the event.

Union ‘Persuader’ Rule to Offer Rare Look inside DC Consulting
The Hill – Megan Wilson | Published: 3/27/2016

The U.S. Department of Labor finalized the so-called union persuader rule that requires third-party lawyers and outside consultants to disclose when they are paid to advise businesses on resisting union-organizing campaigns. The rule takes effect on July 1. The rule covers activities like conducting union-avoidance seminars, providing materials for employers to distribute to workers, and writing talking points. Registered lobbyists in Washington, D.C. often lament that while their activities are heavily regulated, other professionals in the advocacy industry do similar work without any disclosure requirements at all. Craig Holman, a lobbyist for Public Citizen, said the Labor Department’s persuader rule could show the value in expanding advocacy disclosure beyond registered lobbyists.

From the States and Municipalities:

Alabama – Governor of Alabama, Robert Bentley, Says He Won’t Quit
New York Times – Alan Blinder | Published: 3/30/2016

Rebekah Caldwell Mason announced her resignation, saying she would no longer serve as Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley’s senior political adviser after he publicly admitted making inappropriate remarks to her but denied the two ever had an affair. It was uncertain whether it would be politically feasible for Bentley to remain in office. Some lawmakers are talking of impeaching the governor. His former pastor said Bentley was no longer a member of the Tuscaloosa congregation where he was once a deacon. The Alabama Ethics Commission said it would investigate whether Bentley and Mason had committed wrongdoing.

Arizona – Bill Overhauling Campaign Finance Laws Heads to Arizona Governor
Arizona Daily Star – Howard Fischer (Capitol Media Services) | Published: 3/29/2016

The Arizona Legislature passed a bill that rewrites campaign finance law, including a provision that would remove food, beverages, and invitations from the list of what is considered a political contribution or expenditure under state law. It also eliminates existing law that requires groups that spend money to influence elections to register first with the state. Critics call the legislation a back-door attempt to expand the influence of anonymous political spending in elections. Senate Bill 1516 now goes to the governor.

Arkansas – Ex-Judge Gets 10-Year Sentence for Taking Bribe
Arkansas News – John Lyon | Published: 3/24/2016

A former Arkansas judge was sentenced to 10 years in prison in federal court after he pleaded guilty to lowering the amount of damages a jury awarded in a civil suit in exchange for campaign contributions. Michael Maggio, a former state District Court judge, reached a plea deal where he admitted to receiving the bribes to reduce a $5.2 million judgment in a civil negligence case against a nursing home company to $1 million. Maggio met with an unidentified person who said he could provide about $50,000 in campaign funds in return for a favorable ruling in the civil case. Maggio was removed from office in 2014 after admitting he disclosed information about the adoption of a child by actress Charlize Theron, which was handled by another judge in the state.

California – Lobbying Class Teaches Sacramento State Students ‘Rough and Tumble’ Politics
Sacramento Bee – Taryn Luna | Published: 3/28/2016

Richie Ross is best known as a campaign consultant for many of California’s highest ranking Democrats and a longtime lobbyist and ally of the United Farm Workers. But he has a side job that few have heard about: helping to teach undergrads at Sacramento State University how to develop and carry an actual bill through the state Legislature. In the course description, “Making a New Law” is defined as “hands-on and grounded in rough and tumble politics.” Few universities offer lobbying majors or programs specifically geared for students interested in the profession. Ross said internships can provide valuable experience, but do not necessarily give students an insider’s perspective.

Florida – Opa-locka’s ‘Shadow’ Force Moves Millions in City Contracts
Miami Herald – Jay Weaver, Michael Sallah, and Katie Lepri | Published: 3/28/2016

In a community where money begets political favors at City Hall, Dante Starks has known few equals in pulling the levers of government in Opa-locka, Florida. The lobbyist has helped steer millions of dollars in public works projects to clients, shut down police investigations, and pushed successfully for the firing of a city manager – all after his own arrest on public bribery charges nearly a decade ago. Now, Starks is at the center of a federal investigation that threatens to topple him and a cadre of elected leaders in the most comprehensive corruption probe in Miami-Dade County in decades. A federal grand jury has issued 18 subpoenas to current and former City Hall employees in a kickback investigation involving nearly every public works project in Opa-locka in the past 10 years.

Kentucky – Beshear Aide Charged in Kickback Scheme
Louisville Courier-Journal – Joseph Gerth, Andrew Wolfson, and Tom Loftus | Published: 3/26/2016

The former secretary of the Kentucky Personnel Cabinet allegedly took more than $200,000 in kickbacks to steer business to a consulting company and make illegal campaign contributions. Timothy Longmeyer was charged with bribery. The alleged kickback scam involved the Kentucky Employees’ Health Plan, which is administered by the department that Longmeyer headed. The state contracts with private insurance companies such as Humana and Anthem to provide services to employees. The affidavit alleged Longmeyer abused his authority over the health plan in order to get Humana and Anthem to give business to a consulting company in return for bribes from the company.

Michigan – Feds Charge 12 Detroit School Principals with Bribery
USA Today – Katrease Stafford and Tresa Baldas (Detroit Free Press) | Published: 3/29/2016

Thirteen former or current principals with the Detroit Public Schools (DPS) system face federal conspiracy and bribery charges in an alleged scheme to receive kickbacks from Allstate Sales, a school supplies vendor. According to the charges, the principals approved fraudulent invoices from the vendor in order to receive payment from DPS for supplies that were ordered. Allstate Sales reportedly provided cash, checks, or gift cards to the principals in many cases as kickbacks, instead of delivering the full amount of supplies that were ordered. The payments for all of the defendants total more than $800,000. U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said DPS suffered a loss of $2.7 million in the scheme.

Missouri – Lawmakers Bunking with Lobbyists Show More Cozy Connections in Capitol
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Kurt Erickson | Published: 3/30/2016

A review of data collected by the Missouri Ethics Commission shows at least 13 state legislators have had business relationships in the past year with lobbyists, ranging from the renting of sleeping rooms to the use of lawmaker-owned businesses. It is all perfectly legal for lawmakers to have business dealings with lobbyists under Missouri’s ethics laws, where candidates can take unlimited amounts of campaign money and be entertained by the companies and groups seeking to influence policy. The housing data comes from business relationships reported by lobbyists on their monthly reports. Along with reporting how much they spend on legislators, lobbyists must note any direct business relationships or partnership with any public official.

Montana – Montana Lawmakers Rarely Refrain from Voting on Personal Interests
Helena Independent Record – James DeHaven | Published: 3/27/2016

Montana law requires the disclosure of potential conflicts-of-interest for state lawmakers only ahead of votes that “have a direct and distinctive personal impact on the legislator.” The law also leaves questions about the determination and enforcement of such conflicts up to each lawmaker and a pair of partisan legislative ethics committees that have not met for at least the past decade. An analysis of more than 900,000 floor and committee votes over the past four legislative sessions found just 20 recorded instances of a lawmaker announcing a conflict-of-interest ahead of a vote. Records point to only three documented instances when a legislator abstained from a vote in light of that conflict.

Ohio – City Hall Scandals Prompt Ginther to Propose New Ethics Rules
Columbus Dispatch – Lucas Sullivan | Published: 3/28/2016

The Columbus City Council approved new ethics regulations that center on more accountability for lobbyists, increased campaign finance reporting for city candidates, and more disclosure of gifts and trips by elected officials. The rules, which go into effect in April, will increase the penalties for noncompliance. Under the reforms, lobbyists will be required to disclose expenditures and interactions with any elected city officials and some of their staff three times a year. Lobbyists who make false statements or disclosures will be subject to first-degree misdemeanors. There will also be additional disclosure beyond the state requirement for gifts provided to city officials, including the type of gift, who gave it, and the value.

South Carolina – Wilson Defends Firing of Pascoe, Johnson Refuses Job
Greenville News – Tim Smith | Published: 3/30/2016

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson defended his decision to fire David Pascoe, a special prosecutor he had appointed to investigate corruption within South Carolina’s Legislature. Pascoe filed a petition with the state Supreme Court asking it to immediately hold a hearing and rule on whether Wilson has the authority to remove him. Meanwhile, the man tapped by Wilson to lead the inquiry, Dan Johnson, is refusing to take the job until the Supreme Court issues a decision in the matter. Wilson said he was shocked and disappointed to learn of the plea deal with House Speaker Bobby Harrell that Pascoe had negotiated. Harrell pleaded guilty to six misdemeanor counts of misusing his campaign funds and avoided jail time with his sentence.

Jim SedorState and Federal Communications produces a weekly summary of national news, offering more than 60 articles per week focused on ethics, lobbying, and campaign finance.

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