August 17, 2018 •
News You Can Use Digest – August 17, 2018
Independents Uneasy About Taking Cash, Even from Indie Group
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Marina Villeneuve (Associated Press) | Published: 8/9/2018
Hoping to capitalize on voter frustration over growing polarization in politics, a group fueled partly by what critics call “dark money” plans to spend $3 million this year to support and elect independents. But some lawmakers are declining their help. Unite America is endorsing and providing polling for independent gubernatorial and legislative candidates across the country. Some independents, however, are reluctant to accept the support because they distrust influence by any outside, special interest group. They are also wary of any link to so-called dark money, contributions from groups such as nonprofits that do not have to disclose their donors under federal law.
Lax State Ethics Rules Leave Health Agencies Vulnerable to Conflicts
Politico – Brianna Ehley, Sarah Karlin-Smith, Rachana Pradhan, and Jennifer Haberkorn | Published: 8/12/2018
A lack of transparency in state ethics laws prevents the public from having visibility into conflicts by officials who may oversee millions of dollars in spending and make decisions that affect thousands of people. A review of ethics rules found that in one out of five states, top public health officials are not subject to any disclosure for financial holdings. Even when states do have rules on the books, they vary widely, and loopholes abound. Watchdogs and ethics experts say the uneven rules, and ill-defined consequences if problems are identified, make it virtually impossible to know whether officials might have conflicts that skew their decision-making, or to hold them accountable if lapses do occur.
Charges Against Rep. Chris Collins Highlight Lack of Trading Limits for Congress
Chicago Tribune – Bill Allison and Erik Wasson (Bloomberg) | Published: 8/9/2018
The indictment of U.S. Rep. Christopher Collins on insider trading charges, along with his colleagues’ holdings in the biotechnology company at the center of the case, highlight how members of Congress face few restrictions on their investments and service on corporate boards, creating the potential for conflicts-of-interest. Unlike executive branch officials, who must resign from outside positions and divest assets that could pose conflicts, Congress relies on public disclosure as the main mechanism for keeping lawmakers honest. In the past, that has led to a number of scandals involving investment decisions that resulted in charges of self-enrichment and insider trading.
Trump Offers White House Staffers a Special Perk at His Golf Club
Politico – Annie Karni and Eliana Johnson | Published: 8/13/2018
White House staffers who displayed proof of their administration job are getting discounted merchandise from the pro shop at President Trump’s Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club. The administration officials get discounts ranging from 15 percent on regular merchandise to 70 percent off clearance items. The discount amounts to the same perk given to Bedminster members who pay a reported $350,000 annually. Watchdogs raised concerns about the practice, noting it amounts to a conflict-of-interest and is considered a gift if the discount is not available to all government employees.
Voting Rights Advocates Used to Have an Ally in the Government. That’s Changing.
MSN – Michael Wines (New York Times) | Published: 8/12/2018
During the Obama administration, the U.S. Justice Department would often go to court to stop states from taking steps to suppress voter rights. But 18 months into President Trump’s term, there are signs of change: the department has launched no new efforts to roll back state restrictions on the ability to vote, and instead often sides with them. In the national battle over voting rights, the fighting is done in court, state by state, over rules that can seem arcane but have the potential to sway the outcome of elections. The Justice Department’s recent actions point to a decided shift in policy at the federal level toward an agenda embraced by conservatives who say they want to prevent voter fraud.
From the States and Municipalities:
California – Ex-Assemblyman Matt Dababneh, Under Legislative Investigation on Sexual Misconduct Allegations, Sues Lobbyist for Defamation
Los Angeles Times – Melanie Mason | Published: 8/14/2018
Former California Assemblyperson Matt Dababneh, who resigned amid allegations of sexual harassment and assault, is suing the lobbyist who accused him of pushing her into a hotel bathroom and masturbating in front of her. Dababneh sued Pamela Lopez for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. He is seeking unspecified damages. A letter from the Assembly Rules Committee said an investigator determined Lopez’s allegation was “substantiated” and in violation of Assembly policy.
California – It’s an Election Year, and California’s Campaign Watchdogs Are Busy Fighting Among Themselves
Sacramento Bee – Taryn Luna | Published: 8/13/2018
After years of limiting commissioners to $200 per month, members of the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) moved in February to pay themselves on an hourly basis. They have debated whether to loosen campaign finance restrictions on lawmakers and argued over how much power to give their chairperson. As the FPPC focuses on internal issues, they are missing an opportunity to become one of the leading campaign finance agencies in the country, said Jessica Levinson, a political ethics expert at the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “They are not only missing that opportunity, they watched it go by, they waved at it and they kept arguing about how much they were going to charge per diem,” Levinson said.
Colorado – Backers of Denver Campaign Finance Ballot Measure Agree to Deal That Would Delay Public Financing, Lower Limits
Denver Post – Jon Murray | Published: 8/14/2018
Backers of a Denver campaign finance initiative have agreed to a deal with city officials that would replace the measure on the November ballot with a revised version that delays the changes until after next year’s municipal election. Voter approval for the new proposal this fall would bring about drastically lower contribution limits for candidates seeking city offices and would ban direct corporate and union contributions. It also would institute a voluntary public financing system. While the gist of those elements is unchanged, the city council is set to begin the process of referring a replacement measure to the ballot that would make several changes to dates and details such as how quickly the city must issue public funds.
Georgia – Atlanta City Council Seeks to Require Lobbyists to Register with the City
Staff, Atlanta Daily World – | Published: 8/13/2018
A pair of ordinances were introduced in the Atlanta City Council that would require individuals and principles to register as lobbyists if they seek to influence legislative or administrative actions and encourage council members to report any violations of Georgia’s lobbying law. Atlanta currently doe not have any rules on lobbying in the city.
Illinois – Mayoral Hopeful Who Gave Thousands in Cash, Checks: ‘I’m just tired of white people telling me what to do.’
Chicago Tribune – Gregory Pratt | Published: 8/9/2018
Responding to what his Chicago mayoral campaign called an investigation by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, a defiant Willie Wilson defended his recent cash giveaways and said there is “nothing wrong” with his charitable foundation’s paperwork. The controversy stems from a church event in July, where Wilson handed out more than $200,000 in cash and checks. Gov. Bruce Rauner was at the event and later criticized the giveaway, but the state election board said Wilson apparently did not violate any election laws. Noting he was raised in the Jim Crow South, Wilson, who is black, said, “I’m just tired of white people telling me what to do.”
Maine – Maine Ethics Regulators Vote to Re-Open Taxpayer Campaign Funding for 2018
Bangor Daily News – Michael Shepherd | Published: 8/16/2018
Maine’s ethics commission said it will release about $3 million in public campaign funds for one gubernatorial candidate and over 200 legislative candidates. The commission voted to release the money held up by a typo in a budget law. Gov. Paul LePage’s administration recently agreed to comply with a judge’s order to release over $1 million in public campaign funding that LePage held up by refusing to sign routine financial orders. Several commissioners said that same logic should apply to more money held up because lawmakers did not fix the error.
Michigan – Michigan Senate Winner Still Shrouded in Mystery Following Primary Shocker
Detroit News – Jonathan Oosting | Published: 8/10/2018
Betty Jean Alexander of Detroit remains shrouded in mystery after scoring a shocking win over state Sen. David Knezek in a Democratic primary race that few thought would be competitive. Alexander, whom several local party leaders say they had never heard of, did not report spending any money on her campaign and has not granted any media interviews since her surprise victory. Lamar Lemmons III, a former state lawmaker and current Detroit school board member, is under scrutiny for his role in electing Alexander, whom he describes as a 53-year-old single mother with two children who works in an administrative job.
Pennsylvania – Could Abuse Report Lead to Laws Extending Rights to Sue the Church?
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – Liz Navratil and Angela Couloumbis | Published: 8/15/2018
In its report detailing a coverup of child sex abuse by Catholic bishops across Pennsylvania, a grand jury recommended giving older adults the right to file lawsuits for abuse they suffered as children. Political disagreements and lobbying have repeatedly stalled bills that would have retroactively loosened the statute of limitations for claims against the Catholic Church, leading to questions of whether the new findings would lead to change. While victims say the ability to sue could help them access services to cope with the trauma, lobbyists for the church and the insurance industry have opposed such legislation, saying a flood of lawsuits would deliver a crushing financial blow.
Vermont – Christine Hallquist Wins Vermont Primary, Becoming First Openly Transgender Major Party Nominee for Governor
Washington Post – Samantha Schmidt and Kayla Epstein | Published: 8/15/2018
Christine Hallquist won the Democratic gubernatorial primary in Vermont, becoming the first openly transgender candidate to be nominated for governor by a major party in the U.S. Hallquist, a first-time candidate, won in a crowded field of four Democrats. She is part of a progressive wave of political novices, women, and LGBTQ candidates running in this year’s midterm elections, many of them galvanized by the election and behavior of President Trump. But from here, her path to the governor’s office could be a narrow one, even though she is a Democrat running in a progressive state.
West Virginia – Lawmakers Impeach All 4 W.Va. Court Justices Over Spending
MSN, Associated Press – | Published: 8/14/2018
The West Virginia House voted to impeach all the justices on the state Supreme Court, a decision prompted by reports of extravagant spending on office renovations. If the justices are convicted in the Senate and removed, replacements will be named by Gov. Jim Justice. Most of the articles involved Chief Justice Allen Loughry, who has been suspended since June and is facing a federal indictment on charges of fraud and false statements. The court as a whole was impeached for not creating policies to rein in the wasteful spending. Two justices were charged with overpaying retired judges who fill in to hear cases, and Justice Robin Davis was charged with wasteful spending on her office remodeling. A fifth justice, Menis Ketchum, resigned in July before pleading guilty to fraud, having taken a state car for personal use.
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