News You Can Use Digest - August 21, 2015 - State and Federal Communications

August 21, 2015  •  

News You Can Use Digest – August 21, 2015

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Federal:

Facing Money Gap, Hillary Clinton Slowly Warms to ‘Super PAC’ Gifts
New York Times – Amy Chozik and Eric Lichtblau | Published: 8/17/2015

Republican presidential candidates have gained a near monopoly on donors of $1 million or more: 56 donors gave at least that much for a total of $124.2 million, outgiving Democrats’ biggest donors by about 12 to one. A single GOP contributor, Robert Mercer, a hedge fund magnate who gave $11.3 million, surpassed all of the million-dollar donors supporting Hillary Clinton, combined. Clinton’s allied super PACs, mindful that to resist the tide is to drown, are soliciting giant donations in earnest now, with her blessing. But the disparity, which has worried many Democrats, also has to do with the ambivalence, or outright disdain, that Clinton’s donors say they feel, and that some say they have picked up from her, about the role that super PACs should play.

Hillary Clinton 2016: Campaign wants donors to pay for their own food, parking
Politico – Kenneth Vogel | Published: 8/18/2015

Hillary Clinton’s campaign wants donors to pay for their own food and valet parking at fundraising events. The request filed with the FEC sketches out a novel plan under which the campaign would shift some fundraising costs to donors, without counting against their contribution limits. Campaigns usually either pay such costs directly or, in the case of smaller events in donors’ homes, allow hosts to contribute food, drink, and parking costs. But when hosts provide services and the tally exceeds $1,000, the FEC interprets those costs as in-kind donations because they are considered “necessary expenses incurred to provide an inducement for the making of a contribution.” And those in-kind contributions count against donors’ $2,700 limit for the primary election.

K Street Betting on Hillary
The Hill – Megan Wilson | Published: 8/20/2015

While many lobbyists are holding their pocketbooks in the early stages of the 2016 election cycle, Hillary Clinton received at least $625,703 from 316 registered lobbyists and corporate PACs during the first half of the year. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush ranks as a distant second in the influence industry, collecting $444,500 from 140 lobbyists. The donations are a shift from the last couple election cycles, especially on the Democratic side. Barack Obama made campaign promises in 2008 and 2012 not to take money from registered lobbyists, in addition to vowing to ban them from the administration, so the early donations signal K Street hopes to be back in good graces when the next administration takes over the White House.

From the States and Municipalities:

California – $240 Million Education Contract Illustrates State Lobbying Loopholes
KQED – Marisa Lagos | Published: 8/13/2015

Critics say California’s murky disclosure laws make it nearly impossible to know exactly what kinds of work private companies do to influence how thousands of state government contracts are awarded, including whether those same companies seek advantages with behind-the-scenes lobbying. A bill moving through the Legislature would force disclosure around lobbying for state contracts and put California in a group of just 18 states that require disclosure of procurement lobbying.

Florida – Florida Prison Problem Complicates Redistricting
Bradenton Herald – Jeremy Wallace | Published: 8/18/2015

Florida’s prison population is becoming a point of contention in the state Legislature’s attempt to redraw congressional districts. The last Census counted more than 160,000 people in correctional facilities, and they cannot vote. But they can skew how districts are drawn, and ultimately who represents the state in the U.S. House. The federal government has required states to count prisoners as residents of the towns where they are held, not where they are from. Peter Wagner, executive director of the Prison Policy Initiative, said counting prisoners where they are incarcerated means states are giving people living in communities with prisons more voting power and representation than they should have when it is clear inmates are not part of the town and counties they are counted in.

Indiana – Waivers from State Ethics Laws on the Decline
Indianapolis Star – Chelsea Schneider | Published: 8/17/2015

State records show Indiana officials have been issuing fewer waivers that would let state employees take related jobs in the private sector before a yearlong wait. Data show about 10 were granted each year over the past decade, but just one has been allowed so far this year. They could continue to decline because the General Assembly tightened the process by requiring all waivers to go before the Indiana State Ethics Commission. Before the law changed, department heads had wide discretion in determining whether to lift restrictions.

Missouri – Missouri House Is Developing New Intern Rules to Prevent Sexual Harassment
Kansas City Star – Jason Hancock | Published: 8/17/2015

The Missouri House is working on new intern rules aimed at preventing sexual harassment after recent scandals led two legislators to resign. Tighter rules for administering internships are part of an early draft of the policy, which also calls for the establishment of an ombudsman so interns could report problems. The scandals also have brought renewed attention to legislative ethics reform. To many lawmakers, Missouri’s status as the only state with no campaign contribution limits, no caps on lobbyist gifts, and no restrictions on lawmakers becoming lobbyists contributes to an anything-goes atmosphere underlying the sexual harassment of interns.

North Carolina – Deeper Probe of NC Video Sweepstakes Money Sought
Raleigh News & Observer – Craig Jarvis and Anne Blythe | Published: 8/20/2015

Millions of dollars was spent recent elections in a futile attempt to keep the video sweepstakes industry legal in North Carolina, with much of the spending directed by a man later charged in Florida with racketeering. The free-wheeling spending on politicians, lawyers, and lobbyists has raised suspicions, although one probe by the state elections board found no campaign finance violations. Democracy North Carolina, whose complaint prompted the two-year elections board inquiry, now wants the U.S. attorney and the Wake County district attorney to determine whether laws against corruption, bribery, or other offenses were broken, and for authorities to take another look at potential election law violations.

Ohio – Was Council Members’ Football Trip Worth More Than $250?
Columbus Dispatch – Lucas Sullivan | Published: 8/14/2015

The trip that four Columbus City Council members took with a lobbyist to watch the Big Ten Championship football game would have cost about three times the $250 they paid, a travel expert and stadium officials say. Ohio ethics laws state that if the difference between the cost paid for the trip and the actual fair market value exceeds $75, officials must pay the difference or disclose it as a gift on their financial-disclosure forms. The four council members who went –Andrew Ginther, Shannon Hardin, Michelle Mills, and Eileen Paley – all eventually paid $250 to watch Ohio State beat Wisconsin. Paley and Hardin disclosed the trip on their ethics forms, but Ginther and Mills did not.

Oklahoma – Ethics Commission Votes to Suspend Rules after Lawsuit
Albany Times Union; Associated Press –   | Published: 8/14/2015

Some state property can be used again for political fundraising and distribution of campaign materials after the Oklahoma Ethics Commission decided to suspend rules against these activities. The action came after the state Democratic Party filed a federal free speech lawsuit against the panel.

Oklahoma – Oklahoma Sen. Rick Brinkley Pleads Guilty to Fraud Charges after Stealing More than $1.8M from BBB
The Oklahoman – Nolan Clay and Rick Green | Published: 8/20/2015

State Sen. Rick Brinkley pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges and resigned from the Oklahoma Legislature. He was accused of embezzling $1.8 million as head of the Better Business Bureau of Tulsa and failing to report about $148,390 in income on his 2013 tax return. A civil lawsuit filed by the Better Business Bureau alleged Brinkley used its money to pay “his mortgage, pool cleaner, personal credit card invoices, and to support a hidden gambling habit.” Brinkley was on track to become the president pro tem of the Senate in two years. His future began to unravel after questions were raised about a $49,693 check he had written from his campaign account to the Better Business Bureau.

Pennsylvania – Lobbyist Spending in Harrisburg Trending Upward
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – Chris Potter | Published: 8/16/2015

In 2007, when Pennsylvania lobbyists began reporting their activity, they spent $84,175,726. By 2014, the total was $106,283,183. The Marcellus Shale Coalition is the state’s most active lobbying concern. It reports spending just under $14.1 million since 2010. A handful of individual companies reported their own million-dollar expenditures. Six of Pennsylvania’s top 10 lobbying interests work in health care or insurance. “The ideal situation would be if representatives were hearing from citizens, rather than people paid to influence them,” said Mark Singel, a former Pennsylvania lieutenant governor who now works as a lobbyist for the Winter Group.

Wisconsin – Audit of Wisconsin Elections Board Finds No Major Problems with Handling of Investigations
Minneapolis Star Tribune – Scott Bauer (Associated Press) | Published: 8/20/2015

A Legislative Audit Bureau report found no major problems with the way the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB) handles complaints. “It puts to rest any questions as to whether the six board members exercise independent judgment when they make decisions about complaints, investigations, and penalties,” said GAB Director Kevin Kennedy. As much as Kennedy may wish that to be the case, Republicans who control the Legislature, along with Gov. Scott Walker, have said for months they plan to make significant changes to the board, including possibly doing away with it and starting over. The audit follows a more comprehensive one released in December that looked at the GAB’s entire operation, not just investigations. In that report, the bureau did not recommend that the GAB be overhauled or dismantled.

Jim SedorState 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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