News You Can Use Digest - April 10, 2015 - State and Federal Communications

April 10, 2015  •  

News You Can Use Digest – April 10, 2015

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National:

This Conservative Group is Tired of Being Accused of Climate Denial – and Is Fighting Back
Washington Post – Tom Hamburger, Joby Warrick, and Chris Mooney | Published: 4/5/2015

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the conservative partnership of state lawmakers and corporations, is threatening defamation lawsuits against activists who say or suggest the group denies global warming. ALEC recently sent letters to Common Cause and the League of Conservation Voters, asking them to “cease making false statements” and “remove all false or misleading material.” Both organizations have said ALEC, through the policies it lobbies for in states, denies the scientific consensus that humans are significantly changing the climate. They said they would not follow ALEC’s demands. ALEC, among other policies, encourages states to fight regulations and laws meant to combat climate change, like the Environmental Protection Agency’s carbon rules for power.

Federal:

Comcast Recruits Its Beneficiaries to Lobby for Time Warner Deal
New York Times – Eric Lipton | Published: 4/5/2015

Comcast, the media conglomerate long known for its aggressive lobbying operation, has enlisted a vast network of allies to press federal regulators to approve its proposed $45 billion takeover of Time Warner Cable. Letters to Congress supporting the transaction and praising Comcast have come from the Houston Area Urban League and the Dan Marino Foundation in Florida, among others. The argument for the merger has been reinforced by academic papers from groups like the International Center for Law and Economics. More endorsements have come in from elected officials like Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant. But there is a common element to dozens of these appeals: the senders received money from Comcast in recent years, either as a charitable donation, corporate support, or a political contribution.

K St. Firms on Edge about Hacking Threat
The Hill – Elise Viebeck | Published: 4/8/2015

Fearing a data breach, public policy shops on K Street are scrambling to lock down their networks against intrusions by hackers, cyber criminals, and foreign governments. Some firms have begun to encrypt their emails and undergo annual security audits in hopes of avoiding an attack that could tarnish their reputations and send clients fleeing to competitors. The pursuit of better data security is intensifying at a time when Chinese and Russian hackers are targeting Washington with increasingly sophisticated online attacks. Law, lobby, and consulting firms are often privy to sensitive information from their corporate clients, making them appealing targets. But while some firms are focused on strengthening their cyber defenses, experts say progress across the industry is uneven.

Menendez Indictment Marks First Big Corruption Case Involving a Super PAC
Washington Post – Matea Gold | Published: 4/2/2015

The case against U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez is the first time that super PAC donations have figured prominently as evidence of a political corruption scheme, renewing questions about how independently such groups operate. The indictment. The indictment against Menendez and Dr. Salomon Melgen hinges in part on $600,000 that Melgen gave to the Senate Majority PAC, a Democratic super PAC, earmarked to support Menendez’s 2012 re-election bid. The Justice Department argues the donations were among the things of value Melgen offered Menendez so the senator would use his position to help Melgen’s businesses. The case illustrates how super PACs, which can accept unlimited contributions and are supposed to be walled-off from the candidates they support, are viewed by donors as vehicles to ingratiate themselves with politicians.

Network of ‘Super PACs’ Says That It Has Raised $31 Million for Ted Cruz Bid
New York Times – Nicholas Confessore | Published: 4/8/2015

A set of newly formed super PACs backing U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz for president expects to collect more than $31 million in contributions in one week. Although super-PACs have radically changed the pace at which committees backing presidential candidates can raise money, the Cruz haul is remarkable. There are no known cases in which an operation backing a White House hopeful has collected this much money in such a short period of time.

From the States and Municipalities:

California – California Lawmakers’ Campaign Debt Piled High in 2014
Sacramento Bee – Jim Miller | Published: 4/7/2015

Many California lawmakers and unsuccessful candidates continue to live with reminders of costly campaigns. Lawmakers reported about $3.7 million in unpaid bills and personal loans from last November’s elections. Debt retirement fundraisers around the Capitol have been common in recent weeks. Yet such fundraising has long troubled campaign finance watchers. “When you’re raising the money for yourself, it’s going into your own pocket – you’re more grateful to the donor,” said Robert Stern, the former top attorney at the Fair Political Practices Commission who helped write the Political Reform Act.

Florida – When Leaders Became Lobbyists
InsuranceNewsNet.org – Jason Garcia | Published: 4/5/2015

Since 2006, more than two dozen former lawmakers in Florida have made the jump to lobbying, about one of every eight who have left the Legislature over the last five election cycles. The list includes two former House Speakers (Dean Cannon and Larry Cretul) and two former Senate presidents (Mike Haridopolos and Ken Pruitt). In some respects, the transition into lobbying is a logical extension of the skills that legislators need to advance into leadership positions in the first place. Once in a top spot, legislative leaders must be able to understand and work on a broad range of public policy issues and cultivate, maintain, and balance relationships with all manner of businesses and advocacy groups.

Illinois – Chicago Waiting to See if Runoff Truly Has Humbled Rahm Emanuel
New York Times – Monica Davey | Published: 4/8/2015

Mayor Rahm Emanuel defeated challenger Jesus Garcia on April 7, capturing a second term in Chicago’s first-ever runoff election. Yet the fallout for Emanuel from the past six weeks, a period of frenetic campaigning and humbling public self-examination, will be lasting. A tangible bloc of dissent has loudly made its case in a city where Emanuel and the mayors before him had often governed with little effective opposition and most council members in lock step. Even given a decisive margin of victory, the episode has raised a sense of vulnerability around Emmanuel’s political career, and an expectation from some here that his second term in City Hall may look different, in style and perhaps substance, from the first.

Missouri – Missouri House Passes Lobbyist Gift Cap, Cooling Off Period
Kansas City Star – Jason Hancock | Published: 4/2/2015

The Missouri House passed legislation that would cap lobbyist gifts at $25 and ban lawmakers from becoming lobbyists for at least one year after leaving office. Those two provisions differ from the version passed by the state Senate earlier this year, meaning differences have to be worked out before it could be sent to the governor. Missouri is currently the only state with the no caps on lobbyist gifts, no limits on campaign contributions, and no “cooling-off” period for lawmakers.

Missouri – Suicides by Missouri Politicians Raise Questions about State Ethics
KSMU – Frank Morris | Published: 4/9/2015

In February, state Auditor Tom Schweich, a leading candidate for the Republican Party’s nomination for governor, shot himself. Then in March, his press secretary, Spence Jackson, took his own life. The tragedies have sparked fresh scrutiny of Missouri’s increasingly bruising political system. Friends said Schweich was distraught over a coordinated assault from Republicans colleagues backing his chief primary opponent. With voting still more than a year away, they had already launched an attack ad, in the style of the Netflix series House of Cards. Former U.S. Sen. Jack Danforth said Missouri politics has devolved into an arena where ruthless operatives, financed by a wealthy few, battle for power.

New Jersey – Indictments May Be Near in George Washington Bridge Scandal
New York Times – Kate Zernike | Published: 4/8/2015

The New York Times reported that indictments may be coming soon in the investigation into improper lane closures at the George Washington Bridge that has also led to questions about conflicts-of-interest possibly involving Gov. Chris Christie and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The probe was launched a few months after three lanes were closed to the bridge in 2013, causing gridlock in Fort Lee. Emails revealed the lanes were shut down on the orders of a Christie aide. Some believe the lane closures were retribution for the failure of Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich to endorse Christie’s bid for re-election. The Times reported federal prosecutors may bring indictments under a statute that makes it a crime to use the bridge for something other than it intended purpose.

New York – Cuomo Expands Lobbying Oversight to Localities
Capital New York – Jimmy Vielkind | Published: 4/3/2015

The new ethics laws approved in New York as part of the budget deal greatly expand state oversight of municipal lobbying. New York’s lobbying law requires anyone who spends more than $5,000 in an attempt to influence any local law or ordinance, or any pending procurement action, to register its activities with the Joint Commission on Public Ethics. The law had applied to government entities with more than 50,000 people; that threshold was decreased to 5,000 people and was expanded to include school districts of any size. Experts said the onus of disclosure is on the person or company doing the lobbying.

Utah – Tribe’s Infighting Offers Glimpse into Redskins Foundation’s Tactics
Washington Post – John Woodrow Cox | Published: 4/2/2015

A Utah tribal leader was ousted from office for accepting gifts from the Washington Redskins, which council members say wrongly linked their tribe to the National Football League team’s divisive name. Members of the council of the Paiute Indian Tribe said they voted unanimously to remove Chairperson Gari Lafferty, who was accused of misconduct and ethical violations for taking an autographed football and a trip to Washington to attend a game last year. Lafferty said the tribe does not have an official position on the name, but she does not have a personal problem with it. She said the allegations are more related to her leadership style.

Virginia – Norment Won’t Discuss Lobbyist Relationship
The Daily Press – Travis Fain | Published: 4/6/2015

Virginia Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment acknowledged seeing a lobbyist “personally” in a response to a state bar complaint lodged against him. A pair of Senate Republicans said they have no reason to believe Norment pushed legislation one way or another based on a relationship with a lobbyist. Nothing in Senate rules forbids a physical relationship with a lobbyist; neither do state ethics rules. Adultery, though, is a misdemeanor under Virginia law. During his career, Sen. John Watkins said he has heard of “maybe a dozen” relationships between legislators and lobbyists, staffers, or state agency officials. “From time to time, yeah, it happens – we’re all human beings,” said Watkins.

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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