News You Can Use Digest - August 1, 2014 - State and Federal Communications

August 1, 2014  •  

News You Can Use Digest – August 1, 2014

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National:

Move on for DRPA to Reveal Vendors’ Political Donations

Philadelphia Inquirer – Paul Nussbaum | Published: 7/30/2014

The Delaware River Port Authority’s (DRPA) audit committee reviewed a proposal to restore public access to vendors’ political contributions. Under current rules, contractors doing or seeking business with the DRPA must disclose to the agency any political contributions made in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. But the DRPA withholds those reports from the public. New Jersey’s “pay-to-play” laws require contractors of state agencies to disclose their political contributions, which must be a matter of public record. But the DRPA, as a bi-state creation of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, is not bound by that “pay-to-play” law.

Federal:

Koch-Backed Seniors Group Low-Balling Election Spending?

The Center for Public Integrity – Michael Beckel | Published: 7/30/2014

A review by The Center for Public Integrity appears to show the 60 Plus Association appears to have vastly understated its level of election spending on federal tax filings. The organization told the FEC it spent about $4.6 million on political ads and “voter contact” phone calls endorsing or denouncing federal candidates during the three months prior to the 2012 election. But it reported spending $35,000 on “direct and indirect political campaign activities” during its entire 2012 fiscal year to the IRS. It did not count toward that amount $4 million in spending it reported separately as “educating seniors by influencing the election of political candidates.”

Mini-Mega Donors Dominate Downtown Giving

Roll Call – Kate Ackley | Published: 7/29/2014

Individual lobbyists typically do not reach into the highest levels of personal campaign contributions; that is an echelon billionaires dominate. But K Street’s elite “mini-mega” donors have gone past the former federal limit of $123,200 the U.S. Supreme Court threw out this spring in its McCutcheon decision. Now that lobbyists can give to all congressional candidates, as well as to party coffers and PACs, K Street’s biggest donors have to search for new ways of saying “no.” And sometimes that translates into a simple “yes.”

Outside Money Drives a Deluge of Political Ads

New York Times – Ashley Parker | Published: 7/27/2014

In the first full midterm election cycle where outside groups have developed a sophisticated infrastructure, the consequences are already becoming apparent: a harshly negative tone dictated by the groups and a nearly nonstop campaign season that could cause voters to tune out before Election Day. The impact can be especially magnified during midterm elections because outside organizations are not distracted by a presidential race and can allocate even greater resources to single congressional contests. In many cases, candidates in individual districts, or even states, are no match financially for groups that oppose their politics.

From the States and Municipalities:

Arkansas – Tough Road for Ethics, Term Limits Item

Arkansas Business Journal – Andrew DeMillo (Associated Press) | Published: 7/27/2014

A ballot proposal to restrict lobbyists’ gifts to lawmakers and loosen Arkansas’ term limits was touted as a compromise way to put major ethics reforms on the November ballot. But the proposed constitutional amendment is facing growing opposition focused primarily on its term limits provisions. The state Republican Party’s vote to oppose the ballot measure was the latest sign of trouble for a proposal that does not have an organized campaign on its behalf and turned into a political liability for several GOP lawmakers during the spring primary campaign.

Florida – Why Won’t Florida GOP Leaders Talk about Hunting Trips to King Ranch in Texas?

Tampa Bay Times – Michael Van Sickler and Craig Putnam | Published: 7/25/2014

Florida Gov. Rick Scott in February 2012 visited the historic King Ranch in Texas, one of North America’s premier hunting grounds. State House leaders have accepted similar excursions in the past three years. The trips, records indicate, were financed all or in part with contributions from Florida’s sugar industry, right down to the hunting licenses. A 2006 state law prohibits lawmakers from directly accepting gifts like free meals and travel, but a loophole still allows them to be feted like VIPs.

Illinois – Alderman Pushes through Watchdog Limits Week after Being Probed

Chicago Tribune – Bill Ruthhart and Hal Dardick | Published: 7/30/2014

Ald. Patrick O’Connor quickly pushed through an ordinance that limits the ability of the city council’s watchdog to investigate aldermen’s campaign finances, a week after that investigator received permission to open an ethics probe of O’Connor. The measure sponsored by O’Connor could hinder Legislative Inspector General Faisal Khan’s ongoing campaign finance probes, including the one of O’Connor.

Illinois – Illinois State Fair Managers Fined for Violating Gift Ban, Taking Free Beer Tickets

The Tribune; Associated Press –   | Published: 7/28/2014

Illinois State Fair Director Amy Bliefnick and former Du Quoin State Fair chief John Rednour, Jr. were fined by the Executive Ethics Commission for doling out hundreds of free beer tickets to top officials and other fairgoers in violation of the state’s ban on officials receiving gifts. The report noted Bliefnick has accepted more than $100 worth of free beer tickets each year since she became fair manager in 2005; she was fined $1,000. Rednour was penalized $5,000 after he admitted he solicited up to $8,000 in tickets from a vendor.

Massachusetts – 3 Guilty in Probation Case

Boston Globe – Milton Valencia | Published: 7/24/2014

Former Massachusetts Probation Commissioner John O’Brien was found guilty in a scheme to rig the agency’s hiring process to favor applicants who had the backing of powerful state legislators. O’Brien’s top aide, Elizabeth Tavares, was convicted of aiding and abetting the scheme, and a deputy, William Burke III, was found guilty of participating in a racketeering conspiracy. Prosecutors say O’Brien and his aides doled out jobs to the friends of state lawmakers over more qualified candidates. In return, prosecutors alleged, the legislators routinely boosted the Probation Department budget.

Massachusetts – Massachusetts Lawmakers OK PAC Disclosure Bill

Columbus Republic – Steve LeBlanc (Associated Press) | Published: 7/30/2014

The Massachusetts Legislature passed a campaign finance bill that would immediately increase transparency for super PACs. It also doubles how much money individuals can give to state candidates each year from $500 to $1,000, beginning in 2015. House Bill 4366 is expected to be signed into law by Gov. Deval Patrick.

New York – U.S. Attorney Warns Cuomo on Ethics Case

New York Times – Susanne Craig, Thomas Kaplan, and William Rashbaum | Published: 7/30/2014

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who is investigating New York Andrew Gov. Cuomo’s closing of an anti-corruption commission, is now threatening to probe the administration for possible obstruction of justice or witness tampering. The warning came after several members of the panel issued public statements defending the governor’s handling of the Moreland Commission, which Cuomo created last year with promises of cleaning up corruption in state politics but shut down abruptly in March.

Texas – Prosecutor: Price committed ‘shocking betrayal of public trust’

Dallas Morning News – Ed Timms and Kevin Krause | Published: 7/25/2014

Longtime Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price has been charged with accepting nearly $1 million in bribes. Price’s chief of staff and two political consultants were also charged in a 13-count indictment. U.S. Attorney Sarah Saldaña said that during a decade-long scheme, two political consultants, Kathy Nealy and Christian Campbell, provided Price with $950,000 in money, cars, and land. Authorities allege that in exchange for the bribes, Price voted in favor of lucrative contracts that were proposed by the consultants’ clients.

Virginia – Robert McDonnell Trial to Cast Unflinching Light on Virginia Couple’s Friends, Marriage

Washington Post – Matt Zapotosky | Published: 7/28/2014

The trial of former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, has begun in federal court. They are accused of accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from Jonnie Williams, the founder of a dietary supplements company, in exchange for helping to promote his products. Strident language in court filings point to a no-holds-barred battle that will pit the motives and credibility of the former first couple against Williams, who will testify for the prosecution under immunity. Defense attorneys have suggested the case is politically motivated and prosecutors have stretched the meaning of federal bribery laws to cover routine and long-accepted political courtesies.

Jim SedorState and Federal Communications produces a weekly summary of national news, offering more than 80 articles per week focused on ethics, lobbying, and campaign finance.

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