August 14, 2015 •
News You Can Use Digest – August 14, 2015
Corruption Accusations Paint Troubling Picture of Politics in Philadelphia Region
Philadelphia Inquirer – Jonathan Tamari and Chris Palmer | Published: 8/9/2015
The recent indictments of public officials on corruption charges paint a damning picture of politics in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, one that has dominated front pages with stories of wealthy campaign donors, officials using their posts for their own ends, and the alleged abuse of taxpayer dollars. Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane, U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, and U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, along with two people charged in the George Washington Bridge scandal, have all insisted they have done nothing wrong. Still, the stream of charges adds a dark chapter to two states already widely regarded as among the most corrupt in the county.
How Transparent Is Your State’s Lobbying Disclosure?
Sunlight Foundation – Jonah Hahn | Published: 8/12/2015
A review by the Sunlight Foundation of lobbyist disclosure requirements found many states fail to address the legislative flaws that create loopholes, do not provide citizens with easily accessible information, and lack stringent transparency policies. For example, the foundation said that in many states, trying to locate and view a lobbyist’s registration form is either impossible or logistically complex. In 33 states, lobbyists are not mandated to disclose their expenditures in a comprehensive fashion. The foundation ranked the states on how well each one performed on criteria such as reporting thresholds, document availability, and transparency on expenditures.
Donors Descend on Schumer and Others in Debate on Iran
New York Times – Jonathan Weisman and Nicholas Confessore | Published: 8/12/2015
Approaching a vote on the Iran nuclear accord, tens of millions of dollars are flowing into ad campaigns and contributors leveraging access to undecided Democrats in the U.S. Senate. Donors said they did not believe any senator would vote based on threats to give or withhold money, and none admitted to giving such ultimatums. But with super PACs poised to dump tens of millions of dollars into Senate races next year, the passions of big contributors – and their ability to change a candidate’s fortunes – are a keenly felt undercurrent to the debate. Some of the biggest donors to super PACs also have strong opinions about the Iran deal and Israel’s security.
Lawrence Lessig Wants to Run for President – in a Most Unconventional Way
Washington Post – Philip Rucker | Published: 8/11/2015
Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig is launching an exploratory committee for the Democratic presidential nomination focused on his signature issue – reforming the nation’s campaign finance laws. “Jefferson’s truth, that all are created equal, has become Orwell’s meme, that some are more equal than others,” said Lessig. He said campaign finance reform is the first step toward addressing every other major issue in American politics. Lessig envisions a president that will serve with the singular goal of campaign finance reform, and step down once it is achieved to let the vice president serve out the remainder of the term. He hopes to crowd-fund $1 million by Labor Day.
New Challenge Filed to Party ‘Soft-Money’ Limits
Bloomberg BNA – Kenneth Doyle | Published: 8/4/2015
James Bopp renewed his attack on federal campaign finance law by filing suit on behalf of the Louisiana Republican Party that challenges restrictions on soft money contributions to political parties. BCRA bans soft money donations to national parties and restricts its use in federal elections by state and local parties. The limits are among the last BCRA provisions left intact following a series of court challenges to other campaign finance regulations. Last November, the Republican National Committee refused to provide an explanation when a similar case was abruptly dropped. But the move came shortly after the GOP won electoral victories that gave them majority control of both the House and Senate, and appeared to reflect a strategic shift away from such court challenges by at least some in the party.
From the States and Municipalities:
Alabama – Federal Court Upholds Alabama PAC-to-PAC Transfer Ban Law
Legal Newsline – Shaun Zinck | Published: 8/6/2015
A federal court upheld the constitutionality of Alabama’s law that bans transferring money from one PAC to another. The court found the state has a sufficiently important issue in preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption and the ban supports this interest, and the law was narrowly drawn so as to protect the state’s interest without being in violation of the First Amendment.
Florida – Trump, Gimenez Let Off Easy after Breaking Lobbying Law, Critics Say
FloridaBulldog.org – Francisco Alvarado | Published: 8/10/2015
Michael Muraswski is the advocate for the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust, whose role is to prosecute people who break the county’s conflict-of-interest and ethics laws. Critics accuse Muraswski of giving a free pass to rich, powerful, and politically connected individuals who break the rules, including Donald Trump and county Mayor Carlos Gimenez.
Illinois – Illinois’ Corrupt Women
WUIS – Maureen Foertsch McKinney | Published: 8/1/2015
The term “Old Boys Network” is shorthand for the culture that breeds political corruption. A new study from the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute contends the term is gender-inaccurate. “Unsupervised, Ensnared, Relational, and Private: A Topology of Illinois’ Corrupt Women” takes a look at the women of the state who have been convicted for abusing their office. It challenges the notion that “female public officials have a deterrent effect on corruption” and examines the methods and motivations most common among female officials who have been convicted.
Michigan – Recordings: State rep asked aide to hide relationship
MLive.com – Chad Livengood | Published: 8/7/2015
Michigan Rep. Todd Courser distributed a fake e-mail that suggested he had sex with a male prostitute so he could hide his relationship with another state representative. Both lawmakers are Christian conservatives who frequently refer to their faith. Courser, a married father of four, said in an audio recording that the e-mail was intended to create a “complete smear campaign” of false claims so a public revelation about his relationship with state Rep. Cindy Gamrat would seem “mild by comparison.” The Detroit News interviews suggested the representatives used their taxpayer-funded offices to maintain and cover up their relationship.
Missouri – MEC Dismisses Complaint against Redmon
Missouri Times – Travis Zimpfer | Published: 8/11/2015
The Missouri Ethics Commission dismissed a complaint against state Rep. Craig Redmon over allegations he allowed lobbyist gifts for others to be reported as his. The commission said it found no inaccuracies in lobbyist expenditures for the past three years. The agency said it also did not find any expenditures that should have been reported to other public officials. Redmon at first was paraphrased by The Kirksville Daily Express and later told The Associated Press that he sometimes has told people to put under his name expenses that actually were made for others. He has since denied any such action. Redmon says he misspoke and was not paying attention to questions.
Montana – Campaign Finance Rules Released, Upcoming Public Hearings
Helena Independent Record – Alexander Deedy | Published: 8/6/2015
Montana Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl is putting his proposed campaign finance regulations out for public comment. A public hearing on the proposed rules will be held in Helena on September 2 and 3. Comments may also be submitted to the commissioner’s office. Motl has said the rules would allow corporate groups to spend money in campaigns, but they must say how much they are spending, where the money came from, and what it is being spent on. Motl must approve the final regulations before October 1.
Oklahoma – Democratic Party Sues Oklahoma Ethics Commission
The Oklahoman – Rick Green | Published: 8/11/2015
Oklahoma Democratic Party is suing the state Ethics Commission over new agency rules that prohibit any fundraising or distribution of election materials on state-owned property. Party officials argued the new rules are an improper restraint on free speech. The party had to call off a fund-raising activity planned for Oklahoma City Community College on July 25 after the commission “informally indicated an intention to enforce its rules,” the lawsuit said.
Pennsylvania – Montco DA Charges Attorney General Kane
Philadelphia Inquirer – Craig McCoy, Angela Couloumbis, and Jeremy Roebuck | Published: 8/6/2015
The Montgomery County district attorney filed criminal charges against Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane in a convoluted tale of political maneuvering and retribution that threatens the career of an official who was seen until recently as one of her state’s rising stars. Kane has been accused of illegally giving grand jury documents to a newspaper in order to embarrass a critic, and then trying to cover up her actions with false testimony to a different grand jury. Kane has admitted to leaking material, but insisted it was not covered by grand jury secrecy requirements.
Rhode Island – Secretary of State Seeks Overhaul of RI Lobbying Statutes
The Associated Press – Jennifer McDermott | Published: 8/12/2015
Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea said she has questioned whether there are people and organizations lobbying in Rhode Island without registering to do so, either because they are ignoring the law or do not know about it. Because she does not have power to investigate, Gorbea now sends educational letters to people she thinks may be lobbying based on media reports. “Without proper legal investigative processes, you’re left with trying to be fairly broad in terms of outreach,” said Gorbea. She has suggested a new lobbying statute to provide a framework for investigations and hearings, and to grant her subpoena power. Lawmakers did not pass the bill during the 2015 session.
Texas – Texas Watchdog Group Calls another Political Titan to Account
New York Times – Manny Fernandez | Published: 8/6/2015
State Attorney General Ken Paxton, former Gov. Rick Perry, and ex-U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay are all Texas officials who have been indicted while in office over the past decade. They also have one other thing in common: the complaints leading to their indictments were initiated by Texans for Public Justice, the low-budget, nonprofit watchdog group that Craig McDonald runs out of a basement office in Austin. Critics dispute McDonald’s claim that Texans for Public Justice is nonpartisan, saying it has used the courts to serve as a political attack machine against Republicans.
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