News You Can Use Digest – August 18, 2017 - State and Federal Communications

August 18, 2017  •  

News You Can Use Digest – August 18, 2017





In Ukraine, a Malware Expert Who Could Blow the Whistle on Russian Hacking
New York Times – Andrew Kramer and Andrew Higgins | Published: 8/15/2017

A hacker known as Profexer wrote computer code alone in an apartment and sold his handiwork on the anonymous portion of the internet known as the Dark Web. Profexer’s posts, already accessible only to a small band of fellow hackers and cybercriminals looking for software tips, blinked out in January, just days after American intelligence agencies publicly identified a program he had written as one tool used in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee. But while Profexer’s online persona vanished, a flesh-and-blood person has emerged: a fearful man who the Ukrainian police said turned himself in early this year, and has now become a witness for the FBI.

Inside the Elizabeth Warren Merchandising Empire
Politico – Lauren Dezenski | Published: 8/13/2017

Elizabeth Warren is not just a progressive icon, she is a merchandising industry unto herself. The U.S. senator and presidential prospect is at the center of a sprawling business built around her appeal to liberals across the country, a reminder of the devotion she inspires on the left and the footprint she will cast in the 2020 Democratic primary. Warren’s campaign store has expanded beyond traditional political fare such as buttons, bumper stickers, tote bags, and T-shirts to offer a line of products that capitalize on the “Nevertheless, she persisted” meme spawned by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s much-publicized admonishment of Warren on the Senate floor earlier this year.

Justice Dept. Demands Data on Visitors to Anti-Trump Website, Sparking Fight
New York Times – Charlie Savage | Published: 8/15/2017

The Department of Justice has requested information on visitors to a website used to organize protests against President Trump. Dreamhost, a web hosting provider, claimed that complying with the request would amount to handing over roughly 1.3 million visitor IP addresses to the government, in addition to contact information, email content, and photos of thousands of visitors to the website, which was involved in organizing protests against Trump on Inauguration Day. “hat information could be used to identify any individuals who used this site to exercise and express political speech protected under the Constitution’ First Amendment,”DreamHost wrote in a blog post.

Revocation of Grants to Help Fight Hate Under New Scrutiny After Charlottesville
New York Times – Ron Nixon and Eileen Sullivan | Published: 8/15/2017

A grant awarded by the Obama administration to an organization dedicated to combating right-wing domestic extremists was rescinded by the Trump administration. After the violent clash in Charlottesville, the move to pull back the money from an organization dedicated to helping people leave hate groups is receiving renewed scrutiny. The decision to rescind the grant highlights the different approach between Donald Trump and Barack Obama over whether Muslim extremists or white supremacist groups pose a greater domestic threat. Organizations that received funding from the Trump administration work almost exclusively on programs to deal with terrorist threats from Islamic extremists, even as research shows white supremacist groups have been linked to most domestic terrorist attacks in recent years.

From the States and Municipalities:

Alabama: Alabama Ethics Commission Punts on Lobbyist Opinion
Montgomery Advertiser – Brian Lyman | Published: 8/16/2017

The Alabama Ethics Commission voted to table a staff opinion that would have specifically classified site consultants as lobbyists under state law. State Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield argued the opinion could imperil what he characterized as “confidential” negotiations for various economic development projects. “If companies considering multiple states to relocate existing operations were to have to disclose themselves publicly to the state, would they … consider Alabama when they have other states to consider where their confidentiality will be protected?” Canfield asked.

California: Hundreds of Dollars in ‘Gifts’ from Contractors to Supervisor Nelson Raise Legal Questions
Voice of OC – Nick Gerda | Published: 8/16/2017

Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson received more than $700 worth of wine and cigars from two contractors after he voted to award them county contracts, and his handling of the items may be a way around the county’s gift ban. Nelson used campaign funds to reimburse the lobbying firm Potomac Partners for $539 worth of wine, and Kevin McCarthy for $169 worth of cigars. Nelson said his approach is legal because he repaid the contractors, and the wine and cigars are not for his personal use, but rather for “officeholder” purposes. “Nobody anticipated that some guy that was doing business with the county could bring in an unsolicited gift, and then you just pay for it [with campaign funds the contractor contributed to] and it’s no longer a gift,” said Shirley Grindle, who helped write the county’s gift ban.

District of Columbia: ACLU Sues Washington, D.C., Transit System for Removing Milo Yiannopoulos Ads
Los Angeles Times – Matt Pearce | Published: 8/10/2017

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is suing the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority for pulling or rejecting controversial ads, which the organization claims violates freedom of speech. In the lawsuit, the ACLU is representing a wide range of plaintiffs, including an abortion provider, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and conservative firebrand Milo Yiannopoulos. One of the rejected ads featured the text of the First Amendment in English, Spanish, and Arabic, which the group proposed after President Trump escalated his feud with the media earlier this year. The authority rejected the ad on the grounds it “intended to influence members of the public regarding an issue on which there are varying opinions” or “intended to influence public policy.”

Florida: FBI Agents Went Undercover in Florida’s Capital for the ‘Biggest Investigation in Years’
USA Today – Sean Rossman | Published: 8/14/2017

Mike Miller was a developer willing to spend millions of dollars to revitalize downtown Tallahassee as the capital city longed to rebrand itself. But Miller was not what he appeared to be. After spending nearly two years infiltrating the ranks of up-and-coming entrepreneurs and wooing the town’s politicians, he vanished – until early this summer, when a pair of FBI subpoenas were served on City Hall. Miller, it turned out, was no ordinary developer. He was an undercover FBI agent, the lynchpin in an elaborate scheme to ferret out public corruption – a multi-year investigation of local politicians, their friends, and millions of dollars in taxpayer redevelopment money.

Illinois: Lobbyist Registrations Surge After Fines Tied to Emanuel Emails
Chicago Sun-Times – Fran Spielman | Published: 8/16/2017

An “all-time record” of 759 lobbyists are now registered with the Chicago Board of Ethics, a 27 percent increase over the last year, according to Steve Berlin, the board’s executive director. Board of Ethics Chairperson William Conlon noted the registration surge coincided with the agency’s decision to come down hard on those who lobby Mayor Rahm Emanuel through the mayor’s private emails, but fail either to register as lobbyists or report the activity. “So much is being made public that it is now very hard to hide in the gray area,” said Cindi Canary, founder of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

Louisiana: Conflict of Interest or Educational Opportunity? La. Legislators Have Benefited from $73K-Worth of Free Travel Since 2016
New Orleans Advocate – Elizabeth Crisp | Published: 8/12/2017

State lawmakers in Louisiana accepted complimentary hotel stays, travel, and conference admissions valued at more than $73,000 combined since January 2016. The trips, which do not face the same caps that limit gifts from lobbyists, are reflected in signed affidavits that lawmakers must file with the state Board of Ethics within 60 days of traveling for free to conferences and seminars or to give speeches to sponsoring groups. Some watchdogs question whether special interests use the trips as a way to win face time and curry favor with lawmakers often at beach-side locales or in major cities; legislators generally defend them as taxpayer-money saving educational opportunities.

Oklahoma: State Ethics Rules Often Hide Sources of Lobbyists’ Gifts, Meals
Oklahoma Watch – Trevor Brown | Published: 8/13/2017

A review of thousands of gifts and meal purchases made during the first six months of 2017 found it is impossible to confirm through records who was bankrolling efforts to influence policymakers for a quarter of the record-setting $485,000 that lobbyists spent on state officials and legislators. That is because Oklahoma, unlike dozens of other states, does not require lobbyists to reveal what bill or topic they are discussing when they buy a meal for a state official. Lobbyists also do not have to list what client they are representing when they buy a meal or a gift.

Oregon: Oregon Judge to Decide If Political Spending Limits Are Legal
Portland Oregonian – Gordon Friedman | Published: 8/15/2017

Oregon is one of six states with no limits on campaign donations and spending. State law also allows individuals and groups to pay for political ads without disclosing they are the source. Multnomah County voters overwhelmingly approved new limits on political contributions last year. Now Multnomah County Circuit Judge Eric Bloch will begin the process of determining whether the measure is constitutional. Bloch promised to provide as a ruling “as quickly as I possibly can.” That is expected to be before September 1, when the new campaign spending limits take effect. Bloch said his decision will likely not be the final one, given that both sides have indicated their openness to appeals.

South Carolina: Emails: South Carolina AG coordinated with key figure in statehouse probe on letter booting special prosecutor off case
Charleston Post and Courier – Glenn Smith | Published: 8/5/2017

Legal observers criticized South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson for sharing confidential information and for seeking advice concerning a potential criminal investigation with one of the subjects of that probe. They said Wilson should not have asked his longtime political consultant and friend Richard Quinn Sr. in October 2014 to help edit a letter that would have informed independent prosecutor David Pascoe that he would play no further role in any future prosecutions stemming from an investigation into statehouse corruption. The exchange came as Pascoe prepared to dig deeper into a State Law Enforcement Division report detailing alleged misdeeds by sitting lawmakers. Named in that document were Quinn and his son, state Rep. Rick Quinn, who was also identified as a potential target of the probe.

Texas: Federal Court Invalidates Part of Texas Congressional Map
Texas Tribune – Alexa Ura and Jim Malewitz | Published: 8/15/2017

A federal court invalidated two congressional districts in Texas, ruling they violated racial discrimination prohibitions. The three-judge panel’s unanimous decision could lead to a battle to redraw the districts in time for the 2018 elections. The court ordered the Texas attorney general’s office to indicate whether the state Legislature would take up redistricting to fix those violations. Otherwise, the state and its legal foes will head back to court on September 5 to begin re-drawing the congressional map.


State 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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