News You Can Use Digest - April 29, 2016 - State and Federal Communications

April 29, 2016  •  

News You Can Use Digest – April 29, 2016

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National:

Dennis Hastert Sentenced to 15 Months, and Apologizes for Sex Abuse
New York Times – Monica Davey, Julie Bosman, and Mitch Smith | Published: 4/27/2016

A judge sentenced former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert to 15 months in federal prison for paying $1.7 million in hush money to cover up sexual abuse from decades ago. He also must undergo sex offender treatment, two years of supervised release after his time behind bars, and a $250,000 fine to go to a fund for crime victims. Shortly before learning his sentence, Hastert admitted for the first time that he sexually abused boys decades ago when he was the wrestling coach for Yorkville High School. U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Durkin took Hastert to task, saying, “Nothing is more stunning than having the words serial child molester and speaker of the House in the same sentence.”

With Uncertainty at Top of Ticket, Republicans Back Off in Some States
New York Times – Jonathan Martin | Published: 4/21/2016

The Republican National Committee is scaling back its financial commitments to some of the most hotly contested states because of flagging fundraising, the most concrete evidence yet of how the party’s divisive and protracted presidential race is threatening the entire GOP ticket in November. The party is also taking steps to create a separate fundraising entity dedicated to U.S. Senate races, an acknowledgment that many of the wealthiest contributors are increasingly focused on protecting Republican control of Congress rather than a presidential campaign they fear is lost.

Federal:

Congressmen Challenge ‘Bipartisan Shakedown’ Pressuring Members to Raise $18,000 Every Day
WCMH – Chance Seales | Published: 4/24/2016

When U.S. Rep. David Jolley came to Capitol Hill after winning a special election in 2014, he was surprised to discover what his leading priority was expected to be – fundraising. In an interview with “60 Minutes,” Jolley said he met behind closed doors with party leadership, where he was told he had six months to raise $2 million. “Your job, new member of Congress, is to raise $18,000 a day …,” Jolley said he was told. To do so, he said, members are given lists of names and scripts. Because members are not allowed to fundraise on Capitol grounds, the campaign arms of the parties have setup call bank headquarters where members can duck in to spend a few hours on the phone.

The Rise of Trump Studies
Politico – Darren Samuelsohn | Published: 4/24/2016

As Donald Trump’s surprise presidential candidacy disrupts everything it touches, it has now entered the academic realm, launching a new wave of what might be called Trump Studies. From philosophy to law to computer science and history, researchers are finding they cannot look away from Trump. For some, the popularity of the celebrity real estate developer is the perfect tent pole to hang their existing research on. For others, his candidacy is like an experiment on a national scale, blowing up conventional wisdom about how American politics and society work.

Trump’s ‘Woman’s Card’ Comment Escalates the Campaign’s Gender Wars
Washington Post – Anne Gearan and Katie Zezima | Published: 4/27/2016

While celebrating his sweeping victories in five recent primaries, Donald Trump mocked Hillary Clinton’s qualifications, saying she would be a bad president who lacks “strength.” The remarks seemed like a preview of a general-election strategy to use Clinton’s potential to be the first female president against her. It also crystallized the question of how the nation will reckon with its first presidential election between a man and a woman. What was once subtext – latent sexism in American life and the question of what is off-limits when contemplating a woman as commander in chief – is now a full part of the political debate.

From the States and Municipalities:

Alaska – Lobbyists Bought $100 Meal for Alaska Senate President before Vote on Building
Alaska Dispatch News – Nathaniel Herz | Published: 4/27/2016

Alaska Senate President Kevin Meyer accepted a $100 meal from two lobbyists for one of the developers of state lawmakers’ Anchorage offices a week before voting to buy those offices for $32.5 million. Under the state’s ethics laws, lawmakers and legislative employees are barred from accepting gifts from lobbyists, though there are exceptions for tickets to charity events and food and drinks “for immediate consumption.” Meyer said the idea that lawmakers should pay for their own meals when they dine with lobbyists is an issue that should be debated. But the very idea seemed to perplex him. “We could pay for our own way; I’m just trying to think how that would work,” said Meyer.

California – Here Are All the Sports Events California State Lawmakers Attended for Free
Los Angeles Times – Javier Panzar | Published: 4/26/2016

California lawmakers passed a measure two years ago to tighten restrictions on gift-giving. The bill would have outlawed entertainment-related gifts and any gift over $200 in value. It was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown, who said the bill would further complicate gift rules “without commensurate benefit” to the public. The Los Angeles Times tallied the free baseball, football, basketball, and golf games that state lawmakers attended in 2015 and who paid for them. “There are always ways to get money to politicians and essentially treat politicians to nice events; the gift limits, they do some work, but there are loopholes,” said Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor and president of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission.

California – The Most Influential Person on the Coastal Commission May Be This Lobbyist
Los Angeles Times – Kim Christensen | Published: 4/23/2016

Lobbyist, political insider, and owner of a consulting firm, Susan McCabe enjoys a close relationship and prominent standing with a state agency that regulates development along California’s 1,100-mile coast. Unlike other regulatory agencies in the state, the California Coastal Commission may be lobbied directly. Although legislation is pending to change it, state law allows members to communicate or meet privately with interested parties, as long as they disclose those contacts and what was discussed. In the last 15 months, commissioners have reported more than 100 ex-parte exchanges with McCabe, far more than with anyone else who represents business interests or environmental causes.

Maryland – Fundraising Ban Loophole Allows Some Maryland Lawmakers to Take Lobbyist Cash
Washington Post – Fenit Nirappil | Published: 4/22/2016

State lawmakers in Maryland who are running for Congress and local office are exempt from the ban on campaign fundraising during the annual legislative session, enabling them to take money from lobbyists and others with business before them. State lawmakers competing in those races took at least $33,000 from lobbyists and executives of groups trying to sway government officials during the session. The donations are legal and just a sliver of a multimillion-dollar haul, but they raise concerns from good government advocates who say they violate the spirit of the fundraising ban, which aims to insulate legislators from undue influence.

Missouri – Some Progress on Missouri Ethics Reform, But Does It Go Far Enough?
Kansas City Star – Jason Hancock | Published: 4/26/2016

Cleaning up Missouri’s ethics laws was a top priority of Republican leaders entering the 2016 session. With time running out on this year’s legislative session, how much progress they have made toward that goal is in the eye of the beholder. Missouri is the only state in the nation with the trio of no caps on campaign contributions, no limits on lobbyist gifts to legislators, and no waiting period after leaving office before lawmakers can return to the Capitol as lobbyists. As a result, six-figure campaign donations have become a normal part of politics, lawmakers collectively accept $900,000 a year in lobbyist-provided meals, alcohol, trips, and event tickets, and lobbyists’ ranks have swelled with former legislators and staff cashing in on their expertise and connections. Changing that dynamic took on new urgency after a series of controversies rocked the General Assembly in 2015.

New Jersey – Birdsall CEO Gets 4 Years in Huge N.J. Pay-to-Play Scheme
Newark Star-Ledger – S.P. Sullivan (NJ Advance Media) | Published: 4/22/2016

Howard Birdsall, the former head of one of New Jersey’s most prestigious engineering firms, was sentenced to four years in prison in a “pay-to-play” corruption case that brought about the demise of the company that bore his family’s name. The judge also ordered Birdsall to forfeit $49,808 that represented illegal campaign contributions he made. Birdsall and six other of the firm’s executives, as well as the firm itself, were indicted in 2013 on charges they masked corporate campaign contributions as individual political donations in order to skirt the state’s “pay-to-play” laws and get contracts it otherwise would have been disqualified from.

New York – De Blasio Team Violated Campaign Finance Laws, Report Says
New York Times – William Neuman and Jesse McKinley | Published: 4/22/2016

The state Board of Elections found New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and his political team committed “willful and flagrant violations” of campaign finance laws in efforts to oust Republican senators and referred the matter for criminal prosecution. The board’s investigation, and a subsequent continuing inquiry by local prosecutors, is looking at whether there was an effort to illegally circumvent limits on campaign contributions to individual candidates by directing money instead through Democratic Party county committees and a statewide party campaign committee. The county and statewide committees can receive contributions of up to $102,300, which is much greater than the general election limit of $11,000 per donor on contributions to candidates’ campaigns.

North Carolina – Federal Judge Upholds North Carolina Voter Rules
New York Times – Alan Blinder and Richard Fausett | Published: 4/25/2016

A federal judge upheld North Carolina’s controversial new voting law, dealing a blow to critics who said the state’s rules will discourage minorities from casting ballots during this fall’s presidential election. The law reduces the number of days of early voting, prohibits people from registering and voting on the same day, stops ballots cast in the wrong precinct from being counted, and requires a photo ID to vote. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit will be the first to consider an appeal, which the law’s opponents said they would pursue. The ruling is an early signal of how federal judges might regard changes and challenges to voting laws in the aftermath of a Supreme Court decision that effectively eliminated a portion of the Voting Rights Act that had forced nine states, mostly in the South, to obtain advance federal approval before changing their election laws.

Virginia – McDonnell Trial: Supreme Court justices express skepticism of former Virginia governor’s conviction
Washington Post – Robert Barnes and Laura Vozzella | Published: 4/27/2016

The U.S. Supreme Court appeared likely to rule that federal bribery and corruption laws are unfairly ensnaring public officials. A clear majority of justices during oral arguments sided with lawyers for former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell, who is appealing his conviction for accepting more than $175,000 in gifts and loans from a wealthy executive in exchange for government favors. The problem, many justices agreed, is that the laws characterize common favors as criminal acts. “Officials routinely arrange meetings for donors, take their calls, politely listen to their ideas, and refer them to aides,” McDonnell’s attorneys argued in legal papers. “In criminalizing those everyday acts, the government has put every federal, state, and local official nationwide in its prosecutorial crosshairs.”

Virginia – Virginia Governor Restores Voting Rights to Felons
New York Times – Sheryl Gay Solberg and Erik Eckholm | Published: 4/22/2016

Gov. Terry McAuliffe issued an executive order that will allow more than 200,000 ex-cons in Virginia to register to vote in the upcoming presidential election, one of the biggest actions taken by a state to instantly restore voting rights. The change applies to all felons who have completed their sentences and been released from supervised probation or parole. The governor’s decision particularly affects black residents of Virginia: one in four African-Americans in the state has been permanently banned from voting because of laws restricting the rights of those with convictions. The move led to accusations that McAuliffe was playing politics; he is a longtime friend of, and fundraiser for, Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee for president, and former President Bill Clinton.

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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