April 17, 2015 •
News You Can Use Digest – April 17, 2015
Europe at Risk of Corruption from Lobbying – Report
BBC – Damian Grammaticas | Published: 4/14/2015
Lack of control over lobbyists threatens to undermine European democracies, said Transparency International, which is calling for new regulations. In a report assessing legal and other safeguards against opaque lobbying practices in 19 of the 28 European Union (EU) states and three EU institutions, it found only two countries – Slovenia and Lithuania – had even half the level of protection that the organization thought was necessary to protect against “undue influence” by vested interests. Among Transparency International’s concerns were lack of public documentation of who is lobbying whom, with what resources, and for what purpose. Others included failure to control the “revolving door” of staff moving between government institutions and private enterprises.
Florida Mailman Lands a Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn, Hoping to Send a Message
Washington Post – Mike DeBonis and Marc Fisher | Published: 4/15/2015
A postal worker from Florida delivering a protest message to Congress landed a lightweight gyrocopter on the West Lawn of the Capitol. Doug Hughes was taken into custody, with possible charges pending. He guided his aircraft at low speed through protected airspace and landed it on Congress’s front lawn to raise awareness about the amount of money spent on elections. “I have no intention of hurting anyone,” Hughes wrote on his website. The U.S. Secret Service denied anyone had tipped off its Tampa field office to Hughes’s intentions. Air defense systems did not detect the copter as it entered restricted airspace above Washington, D.C. No one tried to stop the gyrocopter.
Hillary Clinton’s Goal: Keep Bill Clinton happy, involved
Politico – Annie Karni | Published: 4/13/2015
When Hillary Clinton ran for president in 2008, her campaign staff was intimidated by her husband’s star power, concerned that she would be seen only in relation to him. Bill Clinton’s role during that campaign was an ongoing frustration for him and his team. The feeling within his inner circle, sources said, was that if he had been allowed to have a bigger say in strategy from the beginning, the campaign would not have ended up where it did. Now, after four years as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton is more firmly established as independent figure. Her new team has more confidence that she will be seen by voters as her own woman, with an identity separate from her husband. Thus they will not be afraid to place him in the spotlight when the time is right, while taking full advantage of his skills as a strategist behind the scenes.
In Accepting Bitcoin, Rand Paul Raises Money and Questions
New York Times – Eric Lichtblau | Published: 4/9/2015
In announcing his candidacy for president, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul waded into new waters when he said he would accept campaign contributions in Bitcoins, a largely untraceable virtual currency, in amounts up to $100. While some state and federal candidates in California, Colorado, New Hampshire, and elsewhere have started accepting Bitcoins, Paul is the first presidential candidate to do so. The novelty of the payment method is likely to help Paul highlight his edgy appeal to other libertarians, tech-savvy voters, young people, and others who favor Bitcoin. But it also raises questions about whether illegal contributions could make their way into campaigns more easily.
From the States and Municipalities:
Arizona – Gov. Doug Ducey Signs Elections-Related Measures
Arizona Capitol Times – Bob Christie (Associated Press) | Published: 4/14/2015
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed a series of bills into law that address campaign finance, voter initiatives, third parties, and political committees. House Bill 2415 allows candidates to take up to $6,250 from an individual donor per election cycle, up from $5,000. House Bill 2649 modifies the definition of “political committee.” State Elections Director Eric Spencer said he crafted the legislation to specify that groups only need register as a political committee if they are organized for the purpose of affecting elections.
Missouri – Though Petition Seeks His Ouster, Ferguson Mayor Says He Is Best Leader for City
New York Times – John Eligon | Published: 4/12/2015
Ever since a white Ferguson police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager eight months ago, the city’s mayor, James Knowles, has been thrust into the spotlight in a national debate over race, class, and law enforcement. Among some activists who have taken to the streets, Knowles is viewed as a tone-deaf public official who allowed a racist and corrupt government to operate under his nose. Knowles has defended himself by saying that concerns about racial bias had not been raised on his watch as a public servant, and now that big problems had been laid bare, he was the person best qualified to help the city usher in vital reforms. But that is not enough for a handful of residents who, with support from outside groups, are trying to have Knowles recalled.
Montana – Legislature Clears Campaign Finance Bill; Headed to Governor
The Missoulian; Associated Press – | Published: 4/15/2015
Montana lawmakers gave final approval to a bill requiring more disclosure for so-called dark money spending. Under Senate Bill 289, certain groups would be required to publicize reports on political donations and expenditures if they spend money supporting or opposing candidates or ballot issues. The measure aims to shed light on anonymous money that began flowing into elections after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling.
Nevada – Bill to Toughen Nevada Campaign Finance Rules Clears Senate
Las Vegas Review-Journal – Sandra Chereb | Published: 4/9/2015
The Nevada Senate passed legislation that would bar lawmakers from accepting gifts from lobbyists and would require candidates file more frequent campaign finance reports. Senate Bill 307, which now goes to the Assembly, also would require lobbyists to report any expenditures made to lawmakers for educational trips, informational meetings, or events, though they would not constitute a gift or political contribution. The bill would require candidates to file campaign finance reports more than twice as often as they do now.
New York – Dean Skelos, New York Senate Leader, and His Son Are Said to Be Focus of Corruption Inquiry
New York Times – William Rashbaum, Susanne Craig, and Thomas Kaplan | Published: 4/15/2015
The New York Times reported a federal grand jury is considering evidence in a possible case against New York Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son. The focus is on the business dealings of Adam Skelos, including his hiring by an Arizona company that won a local government contract in New York although it was not the low bidder, and a $20,000 signing bonus he received from a title insurance company that never employed him. Investigators are trying to determine whether the elder Skelos used his political influence to help the company, AbTech Industries, which won a $12 million storm-water treatment contract from Nassau County, the senator’s home district.
Rhode Island – Lawmaker McKiernan Allowed to Work with Lobbyists under R.I. Ethics Code, Commission Says
Providence Journal – Katherine Gregg | Published: 4/14/2015
The Rhode Island Ethics Commission said ethics rules do not prohibit state Rep. Daniel McKiernan from forming a law partnership with two other attorneys who are registered lobbyists. The commission noted the code generally allows public officials to enter into most private business associations. It then limits their ability to use their office to benefit themselves or their partners by requiring them to not participate in matters that would financially affect the business. The ethics panel lost its jurisdiction over the General Assembly following a 2009 state Supreme Court decision.
Tennessee – Tennessee House Votes Bible as Official State Book
The Tennessean – Dave Boucher | Published: 4/15/2015
The state House passed a bill to make the Bible the official book of Tennessee, despite opposition from Republican leaders and an attorney general’s opinion that the measure would violate the state and federal constitutions. Rep. Jerry Sexton, a former pastor, argued his proposal reflects the Bible’s historical, cultural, and economic impact in Tennessee. But several opponents raised concerns about putting the Bible on par with other more innocuous state symbols like the official salamander, tree, and beverage. The measure would need to be approved by the Senate before heading to the desk of Gov. Bill Haslam, who opposes it.
Texas – Lawmakers in No Rush to Disclose Wining and Dining
Texas Tribune – Jay Root | Published: 4/15/2015
Two bills aimed at requiring disclosure of lobbyist spending on Texas lawmakers and officials are on the verge of expiring in the Senate State Affairs Committee, according to the sponsor of the measures. Sen. Kirk Watson said he has been told not to expect even a public hearing on the bills, let alone a committee vote. Technically, under current law, a lobbyist who spends more than $114 on any one state official has to report the name of the person who is being entertained with food and drink. But that almost never happens. Watson wants to reduce the reporting threshold to $50, and he would require a detailed disclosure even if multiple lobbyists banded together to get around that lower limit.
Utah – Gay Rights, Religious Rights and a Compromise in an Unlikely Place: Utah
Washington Post – Niraj Chokshi | Published: 4/12/2015
A federal judge in 2013 struck down Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage, giving a lift to activists who had been pushing the state to adopt legislation protecting gay men and lesbians against discrimination in areas such as housing and employment. And as the question of same-sex marriage worked its way through the courts, ultimately winning a date before the U.S. Supreme Court, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints grew eager to reach an amicable compromise on gay and religious rights. It was determined to avoid what church officials saw as a polarized debate in several other states. Eight days after a compromise bill on the issue was introduced, it was signed into law with support from the gay rights group Equality Utah, the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, and the church, uniquely influential in a state where about three in five residents are Mormon.
Virginia – Virginia General Assembly Vote on Gifts Must Wait until Friday
Roanoke Times – Markus Schmidt and Jim Nolan (Richmond Times-Dispatch) | Published: 4/15/2015
Virginia lawmakers delayed a vote on ethics reform legislation over concerns the measure could be interpreted as putting a $100 lifetime limit on gifts to public officials from lobbyists and others who have financial interests with the state. The General Assembly instead decided to reconvene on April 17 to clarify that the $100 gift limit was per year. Legislators were expected to go along with that change as well as one intended to make it clear they cannot accept trips to widely attended events.
West Virginia – Ethics Commission Grapples with Trinkets Ban
Charleston Gazette – Eric Eyre | Published: 4/9/2015
The West Virginia Ethics Commission will refine its guidance for a soon-to-be enacted law that prohibits elected officials from using public funds to feature their name or likeness on specific items. House Bill 2457 prevents “public officials, their agents or anyone on public payroll” from using their name or likeness on any publicly owned vehicles, in advertising, or on trinkets – small items such as magnets and cups. Commissioners said there needs to be clarification on are what exactly a trinket is and what type of advertising is prohibited.
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