August 12, 2016 •
News You Can Use Digest – August 12, 2016
The Crusade of a Democratic Superlawyer with Multimillion-Dollar Backing
Washington Post – Robert Barnes | Published: 8/7/2016
Marc Elias, a go-to lawyer for Democrats in recount fights and redistricting battles, has now taken a prominent and somewhat controversial place among the coalition of groups challenging a wave of state election laws that were rewritten in recent years. With a multimillion-dollar commitment from George Soros, Elias is challenging laws that, he argues, diminish the impact of important Democratic Party constituencies of African Americans, Latinos, and young people. The states say they are seeking to combat voter fraud and protect confidence in the electoral process. But in the past month, a long list of judges, appointed by both Democrats and Republicans, have found the threat either negligible or nonexistent. Instead, the judges said, there is evidence the laws hinder minority participation in the process.
How Think Tanks Amplify Corporate America’s Influence
New York Times – Eric Lipton and Brooke Williams | Published: 8/7/2016
Think tanks have power in government policy debates because they are seen as researchers independent of moneyed interests. But in the chase for funds, think tanks are pushing agendas important to corporate donors, at times blurring the line between researchers and lobbyists. And they are doing so while reaping the benefits of their tax-exempt status, sometimes without disclosing their connections to corporate interests. On issues as varied as military sales to foreign countries, international trade, highway management systems, and real estate development, think tanks have frequently become vehicles for corporate influence and branding campaigns.
Think Tank Scholar or Corporate Consultant? It Depends on the Day
New York Times – Eric Lipton, Nicholas Confessore, and Brooke Williams | Published: 8/8/2016
The New York Times found an array of researchers at think tanks who had simultaneously worked as registered lobbyists, members of corporate boards, or outside consultants in litigation and regulatory disputes with only intermittent disclosure of their dual roles. With their expertise and authority, think tank scholars offer themselves as independent arbiters. But the analysis identified examples of scholars conducting research while corporations were paying them to help shape government policy. Many think tanks also confer “nonresident scholar” status on lobbyists, former government officials, and others who earn their primary living working for private clients. Largely free from disclosure requirements, the researchers’ work is often woven into elaborate corporate lobbying campaigns.
Trump’s Long Dalliance with Violent Rhetoric
Politico – Michael Crowley | Published: 8/10/2016
Even before Donald Trump’s remark that “Second Amendment people” might stop Hillary Clinton’s Supreme Court appointments, his associates and supporters had repeatedly called for violence against Clinton and Barack Obama, while right-wing leaders and militia groups that support Trump speak of an armed response to federal gun control efforts. Trump’s campaign said his remark was merely a call for gun owners to vote against Clinton this fall. But Democrats said Trump had, at a minimum, made a horribly ill-advised joke about mounting armed resistance. Some analysts said whatever Trump’s intended meaning, the comment was dangerous in a campaign already colored by violence, from assaults on protesters at Trump rallies to talk of rebellion and civil war among his far-right supporters.
From the States and Municipalities:
Alabama – How the University of Alabama System Funneled $1.4 Million Through a ‘Dark Money’ Web
AL.com – Connor Sheets | Published: 8/7/2016
Established and managed by current and former University of Alabama System officials, the Alabama Association For Higher Education operates outside public view as a “dark money” nonprofit. By funneling more than $1.4 million through the group, the UA System has been able to influence state government without illegally donating directly to candidates or having to report its spending on campaign finance disclosures. It is an approach that experts describe as either unique among the nation’s universities or the local representation of a growing but unnoticed national trend.
California – ‘It Became a Price War’: Signature gatherers rake in top dollar with crowded field of ballot initiatives
Los Angeles Times – Christine Mai-Duc | Published: 8/9/2016
Some individuals in California have benefited from what consultants and petition-gathering firms are calling an unprecedented year in the signature business. The number of initiatives circulated combined with the top dollar that many campaigns were willing – or, in some cases, forced – to pay to get them qualified for the November ballot has surprised veterans of the craft. Angelo Paparella, president of National Petition Management, one of the biggest firms managing the signature-gathering process for statewide campaigns, and his competitors, who often deal directly with campaign consultants, usually employ petition coordinator firms and contractors, who in turn recruit, train, and manage street teams of signature gatherers. Carl Towe, who owns one such coordinating firm, said he has never seen pay like this in the 30 years he has worked in the field.
California – Santa Monica Lobbyists Required to Register with City Hall
Santa Monica Daily Press – Matthew Hall | Published: 8/11/2016
The Santa Monica City Council passed new rules that will require lobbyists to register and report their activities. Registration opens September 19 and all lobbyists will have to register within 10 days of any lobbying activity or by October 31, whichever is first. The fees are $40 for initial registration and $25 for amendments and annual renewal.
California – The Coliseum Case is the Latest Embarrassment for D.A.’s Corruption Unit
Los Angeles Times – Paul Pringle and Rong-Gong Lin II | Published: 8/6/2016
A case that grew out of a Los Angeles Times investigation in 2011 has become the latest embarrassment for the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, which had already racked up a number of missteps in other high-profile, government corruption prosecutions. Two concert promoters accused in a bribery-and-embezzlement scheme involving raves at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum will avoid serving any jail time under a plea bargain with prosecutors who acknowledged they mishandled evidence in the high-profile corruption case. Boston College Law School professor George Brown said the district attorney’s office, like other county prosecution agencies, might be better off leaving public corruption cases to their federal counterparts.
Connecticut – Documents: Feds’ interest in Democrats’ Malloy fundraising predated 2014 election
Hartford Courant – Jon Lender | Published: 8/9/2016
The federal investigation into Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy’s re-election campaign began even before Election Day 2014, emails between the U.S. attorney’s office and the State Elections Enforcement Commission (SEEC) show. The emails indicate federal prosecutors contacted the SEEC at around the time that Republicans first filed a complaint alleging Malloy and state Democrats were trying to circumvent the Connecticut’s clean election law. A grand jury has been meeting to examine the Democrats’ fundraising since late April and has a subpoenaed contractors and state Democratic staffers.
Hawaii – How Ethics Commission Upheaval Is Playing Out in The Mayor’s Race
Honolulu Civil Beat – Nick Grube | Published: 8/8/2016
Mayoral candidates Charles Djou and Peter Carlisle have been sharpening their attacks in the weeks leading up to the August 13 primary, saying Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell does not care about ethics in government. Over the past several months, the city Ethics Commission has seen its longtime executive director, Chuck Totto, resign under pressure and its sole investigator quit while protesting the heavy-handed management practices of the political appointees who oversee the agency. Ethics investigations have lapsed, and the commission now finds itself fighting to maintain its credibility in an environment in which citizens across the country are becoming increasingly mistrustful of their government.
Illinois – Judge Denies Blagojevich’s Bid to Lighten 14-Year Sentence
ABC News – Michael Tarm (Associated Press) | Published: 8/9/2016
A federal judge resentenced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to 14 years in prison for his corruption conviction, reaffirming the decision originally handed down more than four years ago. Blagojevich won a chance at resentencing after an appellate court vacated five of 18 charges related to a scheme in which he tried to use his power as governor to extract favors and campaign money from other politicians. The former governor had requested the judge to reduce his sentence to five years in prison. Prosecutors called on U.S. District Court Judge James Zagel to keep the 14-year prison term in place, arguing Blagojevich did not deserve leniency, noting his corruption eroded trust in public officials.
Missouri – Contribution Limits, Tobacco Tax Increase Gain Enough Signatures to Appear on Missouri Ballot
Kansas City Star – Jason Hancock | Published: 8/9/2016
Secretary of State Jason Kander certified four ballot initiatives to go before voters in November, including two a limit on campaign contributions. The effort to reinstall contribution limits would amend the state constitution to cap donations to statewide candidates at $2,600. It also seeks to ban political committees from obscuring the source of their money, a tactic that has become more prevalent in recent years.
New York – Cuomo Cabinet Boat Trip Highlights Campaign Finance Law Concerns
Gotham Gazette – David Howard King | Published: 8/11/2016
The highest ranking members of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration recently boarded a boat in Columbia County and embarked for New York City. It was formally called a cabinet retreat, and the stated purposes for the trip was government related, separate from any strategizing for Cuomo’s 2018 re-election bid. And yet the administration says the cost of the boat trip was paid from the governor’s campaign funds. The use of campaign money to pay for government staff to take a working field trip appears to be completely legal under the state’s campaign finance law, but critics of the system say the law is too loose. Those who want to see reform say the current system allows elected officials to take in significant donations, including from entities with government business, and enhance their lifestyles by paying for extravagant meals, cars, and trips.
New York – Sparks at JCOPE Over Retroactive Donor Disclosure
Albany Times Union – Chris Bragg | Published: 8/9/2016
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) passed regulations that will govern the state’s lobbying disclosure rules should New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo sign an ethics reform package, as expected. Under current law, issue-oriented lobbying groups designated as 501(c)(4)s that spend more than $50,000 annually on lobbying must report donors of more than $5,000. The new law would lower those limits to capture groups that spend just $15,000 a year, and require their disclosure of donors of more than $2,500. Under the revised rules, the new, lower contribution limits would apply to donations and lobbying spending between July and December of this year, assuming Cuomo signs the bill.
Tennessee – Tennessee Lawmaker Convicted of Felony Tax Fraud
ABC News; Associated Press – | Published: 8/8/2016
A federal jury found Tennessee Rep. Joe Armstrong guilty on one count of filing a false tax return and an acquitted him on two other related felonies. Armstrong made roughly $321,000 when he used tobacco wholesaler Tru Wholesale to buy cigarette tax stamps for him at the 2006 rate of 20 cents per pack and then sell them after a 42-cent hike went into effect in 2007. Armstrong voted for the tax hike. It was not a crime for Armstrong to profit from a law on which he voted, nor was it a crime for Tru Wholesale owners Boyd Wyatt and Roger Cox to cut Armstrong in on the deal to hoard tax stamps until the hike went into effect. Hiding the money from the IRS, however, is criminal.
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