News You Can Use Digest - April 24, 2015 - State and Federal Communications

April 24, 2015  •  

News You Can Use Digest – April 24, 2015



Bill Shuster Admits ‘Private and Personal Relationship’ with Airline Lobbyist
Politico – John Bresnahan, Anna Palmer, and Jake Sherman | Published: 4/16/2015

U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairperson of the House Transportation Committee, admitted he has a “close private and personal relationship” with a female lobbyist for an airline association whose job is to influence his panel. Shuster acknowledged he has been dating Shelley Rubino, vice president of government affairs for Airlines for America, while the committee he leads has been working to overhaul the Federal Aviation Administration. The House Ethics Manual does not address lobbying by romantic partners but does urge “special caution” when a spouse or other immediate family member is a lobbyist. Shuster said his office consulted with legal counsel to establish its own internal policy on personal relationships that “goes further than required by law.”

House Quietly Passes Tax Exemption for Megadonors
Politico – Kenneth Vogel and Hillary Flynn | Published: 4/16/2015

The U.S. House passed legislation that would protect major campaign donors from having to pay gift taxes on huge contributions to secretive political groups. The bill, which now heads to the Senate, is seen by fundraising operatives as removing one of the few remaining potential obstacles to unfettered big-money spending by nonprofit groups registered under a section of the tax code that allows them to shield their donors’ identities. While fundraising operatives say most donors do not pay taxes on their contributions to 501(c) groups, the law is somewhat ambiguous on whether gift taxes could be assessed. That has left donors fearing such gifts could bring scrutiny from the IRS.

Jeb Bush Prepares to Give Traditional Campaign a Makeover – Thomas Beaumont | Published: 4/21/2015

A report that Jeb Bush will delegate much of his presidential campaign’s work to a super PAC is prompting criticism from reform advocates and the threat of legal action. Bush has spent months developing a plan to give Right to Rise the authority to run activities such as advertising, phone banking, and data analysis for his campaign. Such groups can raise unlimited money to participate in campaigns but legally are not supposed to coordinate with a candidate’s operations. While super PACs have played major roles in campaigns before, supporting candidates who have fallen out of favor with voters, they have never served as the overt drivers of a candidate’s campaign operations, said Bill Allison, a senior fellow at the Sunlight Foundation.

From the States and Municipalities:

Arizona – Ariz. Court: Groups can’t conceal attack-ad funding sources
East Valley Tribune – Howard Fischer (Capitol Media Services) | Published: 4/21/2015

The Arizona Supreme Court refused to overturn an appeals court ruling against a political group that spent about $1.5 million during the state’s 2010 attorney general race. The high court left in place the ruling that found a television commercial by the Committee for Justice and Fairness advocated for the defeat of then-candidate Tom Horne and was not exempt issue advocacy. The association claimed its ad confronted issues of child safety. But the appellate court said – and now the state Supreme Court has agreed – that any commercial or mailer must be examined in its entirety, including its timing, to determine its real purpose.

Arkansas – 30-Day Grace Vexes State’s Ethics Panel
Arkansas Online – Michael Wickline | Published: 4/18/2015

The Arkansas Ethics Commission discussed new laws that came out of this year’s legislative session, including one that gives elected officials a 30-day grace period to return improper gifts from lobbyists and correct reporting errors. Commissioners asked Executive Director Graham Sloan a number of questions about Act 1280, which allows a state elected official to avoid sanctions if the official unwittingly receives an improper gift from a lobbyist and returns it, or pays the donor an amount equal to or greater than the value of the gift, within 30 days of the discovery of the violation.

California – Drinks, Dinners, Favors Helped PG&E Lobbyist Build PUC Ties, Emails Show
Los Angeles Times – Marc Lifsher | Published: 4/21/2015

After many complaints about ties between the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), the state’s largest utility fired its chief lobbyist, Brian Cherry, his boss, and another vice president. PG&E also released a flood of documents that has sparked the biggest investigation of a state agency in the last decade. The documents, including emails between the utility and regulators, portrayed questionably cozy relations between then-PUC President Michael Peevey and top PG&E executives. “Cherry’s job was to know everybody and be on good terms with everybody,” said John Geesman, former executive director of the California Energy Commission. “You make friends so that your friends could help you.”

Florida – Even after the Gift Ban and Reform, Freebies Flow to Florida Lawmakers
Tampa Bay Times – Michael Van Sickler | Published: 4/17/2015

Powerful Florida lawmakers in both parties still get special interests to cover personal expenses, even after the gift ban and a subsequent reform in 2013. Committees set up by some legislators are legally allowed to reimburse their host lawmakers for expenses, as long as they can show it is related to the political mission of their committees. But a review of 84 committees operated by 75 state legislators show a handful of politicians routinely used their committees for reimbursements that could not easily be explained.

Kansas – Kobach PAC Embroiled in Naming-Law Issue; ‘Stupid’ PAC Gets Letter from Ethics Panel
Wichita Eagle – Dion Lefler | Published: 4/22/2015

A new PAC in Kansas filed to organize under the name “It’s Time to Fix Stupid.” They got a letter from the state Governmental Ethics Commission saying: “The name of your political action committee, It’s time to fix stupid, must be changed or expanded upon to more clearly reflect your interest.” KCTU news director R.J. Dickens, chairperson and treasurer of the PAC, said the name is directly reflective of what the group wants to do. It bought a website,, and plans to use it to hold a “Stupid Tuesday” primary in August to identify what are deemed to be the stupidest state legislators and to direct campaign donations to those lawmakers’ opponents.

Kentucky – Head of State Ethics Agency to Take Top Post at Kentucky Registry of Election Finance
Lexington Herald-Leader – Jack Brammer | Published: 4/20/2015

John Steffen, executive director of the Kentucky Executive Branch Ethics Commission, is leaving the post to become head of the state Registry of Election Finance. Steffen will replace Sarah Jackson, who retired from the registry last fall. During his seven years as executive director, Steffen has been involved in several widely publicized cases, including investigations of former Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer, the state Fish and Wildlife Department, nepotism involving property valuation administrators, and the state merit hiring system.

Missouri – Resignations after Election of Black Mayor Put Missouri Hamlet in Spotlight
New York Times – John Eligon | Published: 4/23/2015

Before being sworn in to office on April 14, Tyus Byrd never could have imagined the national headlines she would grab as the first black mayor of Parma, Missouri. Upon her taking office, several employees of the rural hamlet, including the chief of police and two full-time police officers, resigned. All are white. Adding to the intrigue was that the man whom Byrd defeated, Randall Ramsey, mayor for more than three and a half decades during two separate stints, offered a cryptic reason for the resignations: “safety concerns.” With the nation roiled in a debate over law enforcement in minority communities, many Internet commenters wondered whether this was all about race. Many residents seem to believe what happened was because of tensions between an old government and the new one, not between the races.

Montana – Bullock Signs Campaign Finance Bill into Law
The Missoulian – Lisa Baumann (Associated Press) | Published: 4/23/2015

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock signed a bill into law that is meant to expose “dark money” in elections. Senate Bill 289 will require groups that spend money on elections at the state level to disclose their donors, including those that have been previously exempt from the practice. Organizations have been able to skirt laws requiring disclosure if their purpose and federal tax designation categorizes the group as dedicated to education or advocacy.

New York – Carl Heastie, New York Assembly Speaker, Benefited from Mother’s Embezzling
New York Times – Russ Buettner and David Chen | Published: 4/20/2015

The New York Times reported that Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie appears to have benefited from his mother’s past embezzlement. Heastie’s mother in 1998 pleaded guilty to writing checks from the nonprofit where she worked, using some of the money to buy a family home. As part of her restitution, she and her son, who also lived in the home, were to sell it and pay back the former employer. Heastie’s mother died shortly after her plea. Heastie did not sell the apartment until six years later, and pocketed a $200,000 profit, according to the report.

New York – New York State Elections Board Retains a Corporate Donation Loophole
New York Times – Jesse McKinley | Published: 4/16/2015

New York’s State Board of Elections split along party lines on closing the so-called LLC loophole in campaign finance rules, leaving it intact. Two commissioners proposed treating limited liability companies like partnerships, subject to more complete disclosures and donation restrictions. That would reverse the board’s 1996 decision. The board now treats LLCs as individuals, who can give up to $60,800 to a statewide candidate. Corporations, meanwhile, have much lower limits. Reform advocates say certain wealthy individuals use LLCs to hide their identities and donate large amounts to politicians in support of particular causes or interests.

Rhode Island – Campaign Finance Measures Sent to Governor
Providence Journal – Jennifer Bogdan | Published: 4/16/2015

The Rhode Island General Assembly approved a series of bills to tighten campaign finance reporting. If signed into law, the measures will require candidates and PACs to create a separate bank account for campaign funds and file bank statements for it with the state elections board. Candidates also could not serve as their own campaign treasurers if their accounts reach or expend $10,000 or more annually.

Virginia – Legislature Approves Ethics Bill with $100 Aggregate Gift Cap
Richmond Times-Dispatch – Jim Nolan and Markus Schmidt | Published: 4/17/2015

Virginia lawmakers gave final approval to an ethics reform package that includes an aggregate $100 annual cap on gifts. Legislation that passed at the close of the regular session would have meant officials could receive an unlimited number of gifts from the same source as long as none exceeded $100. Gov. Terry McAuliffe sought to close the loophole and put in place an aggregate $100 annual cap on gifts from a single source. But it got bogged down when it was discovered the language of the governor’s amendment could be interpreted to be a lifetime limit, rather than an annual one. Lawmakers returned to Richmond for an abbreviated session to resolve the issues with the bill.

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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