August 26, 2016 •
News You Can Use Digest – August 26, 2016
Inside Facebook’s (Totally Insane, Unintentionally Gigantic, Hyperpartisan) Political-Media Machine
New York Times Magazine – John Herrman | Published: 8/24/2016
Facebook, in the years leading up to this year’s election, has not just become nearly ubiquitous among American internet users; it has centralized online news consumption in an unprecedented way. According to the company, its site is used by more than 200 million people in the U.S. each month. A 2016 Pew study found 44 percent of Americans read or watch news on Facebook. Its algorithms pick text, photos, and video produced and posted by established media organizations large and small, local and national, openly partisan or nominally unbiased. But there is also a new and distinctive sort of operation that has become hard to miss: political news and advocacy pages made specifically for Facebook, uniquely positioned and cleverly engineered to reach audiences exclusively in the context of the news feed.
Study: Outside groups, secret money far more prominent than ever before
Center for Responsive Politics – Robert Maguire | Published: 8/24/2016
A new study shows outside groups that can raise and spend unlimited money, sometimes without disclosing the sources of their funds, make up a larger portion of election spending than at any point in the last 16 years. The two main proponents of the growth in outside groups’ overall share of election advertising are super PACs and politically active nonprofits. The former only came into existence in 2010, and since then has come to dominate the field. Politically active nonprofits, on the other hand, have been active in every cycle going back to 2000, but what may be the same in quality is not the same in quantity. These groups are the driving force behind the growth in “dark money” in elections.
Foundation Ties Bedevil Hillary Clinton’s Presidential Campaign
New York Times – Amy Chozick and Steve Eder | Published: 8/20/2016
The Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation has thrived on the generosity of foreign donors who gave hundreds of millions of dollars to the charity. But as Hillary Clinton seeks the White House, the funding has become an Achilles’ heel for her campaign and, if she is victorious, potentially her administration. With Mrs. Clinton facing accusations of favoritism toward foundation donors during her time as secretary of state, the organization will no longer accept corporate contributions should she win in November. But while the move did not resolve the question of how her administration would handle longtime donors seeking help from the U.S., or whose interests might conflict with the country’s own.
The Lobbying Law at the Center of Manafort’s Trouble with Ukraine
The Hill – Megan Wilson | Published: 8/21/2016
Paul Manafort resigned as Donald Trump’s campaign chairperson after he had been ensnared in a wide-ranging Justice Department investigation about U.S. connections to the alleged corruption by former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Questions have been swirling about Manafort’s representation of Yanukovych for years, but recent reports have intensified the drum beats about whether he acted unlawfully as a “foreign agent” by lobbying for a foreign leader without registering that activity. The recent revelations, if true, suggest Manafort could face legal troubles stemming from violation of a World War II-era lobbying statute, the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
From the States and Municipalities:
California – Little-Regulated Accounts Offer a Path to Political Clout in Sacramento
Marin Independent Journal – Jessica Calefati and Kaitlyn Landgraf (Bay Area News Group) | Published: 8/20/2016
Ballot measure committees, the accounts that are supposed to promote or oppose state and local initiatives, are in practice paying for California lawmakers’ consultants and polling firms, new suits, and trips to Mexico. And the money for the politicians’ perks comes in the form of five-figure donations from the same special interests that state rules were intended to curtail. Under the vague language of the law, elected officials can legally operate these committees, but the way they are doing it appears to bend state laws and rules governing how the money may be spent. No state agency adequately monitors the situation. Of the nearly $3 million spent by these committees since 2013, only one dollar out of every four dollars was used to help pass or defeat measures that actually made it to the ballot.
Connecticut – Malloy Releases Funds Withheld from CT Watchdog Agencies
CT Mirror – Keith Phaneuf | Published: 8/19/2016
After criticism from lawmakers and good government groups, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy’s administration relented and restored the $183,000 they had proposed to cut from three watchdog agencies. Following a meeting with the heads of the Office of State Ethics, Freedom of Information Commission, and State Elections Enforcement Commission, the Office of Policy and Management announced it would restore the funding. Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes steered clear of acknowledging the budget holdbacks would have violated a 2004 law that prohibits the executive branch from unilaterally cutting the three watchdog agencies. Carol Carson, executive director of the Office of State Ethics, said the agencies are committed to prudently managing their budgets and whenever possible return money at the end of the year to the general fund.
Florida – On 2nd Try, Miami-Dade Commissioners Approve Petition Count
Miami Herald – Douglas Hanks | Published: 8/22/2016
Miami-Dade County commissioners agreed to start counting nearly 130,000 signatures tied to a proposed ballot measure on new campaign finance rules, but warned they still might halt the proposal over concerns raised by county attorneys. Only about 52,000 valid signatures are needed to win a spot on the November ballot. The proposed rules would impose a broad package of restrictions against campaign donations by vendors and lobbyists, prime sources of financial support for county officeholders.
Massachusetts – Donors Behind Charter Push Keep to the Shadows
Boston Globe – Mark Levenson | Published: 8/20/2016
A new $2.3 million ad boosting the expansion of charter schools in Massachusetts lists the campaign’s top five donors on screen, in accordance with state law. But the bland names, including Strong Economy for Growth and Education Reform Now Advocacy, give no hint of who is writing the checks. Four of the five donors to the pro-charter committee are nonprofit groups that do not, under state law, have to disclose their funders, allowing the individuals backing the effort to remain anonymous. The cloak of secrecy surrounding the financing of what could be the most expensive ballot campaign in state history has frustrated election officials and underscored the proliferation of untraceable money in political races across the country.
Missouri – Judge Tosses Out Effort to Keep Missouri Campaign Contribution Limits Off Ballot
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Kurt Erickson | Published: 8/25/2016
Cole County Circuit Court Judge Patricia Joyce rejected an attempt to remove a voter initiative from the November 8 ballot that would impose limits on campaign contributions in Missouri for the first time since 2008. Attorney Chuck Hatfield said in court that the initiative unfairly limits some classes of businesses and associations from giving money to campaigns, but Joyce ruled the proposal mirrors federal law and is not unconstitutional. The decision will be appealed.
New York – Cuomo Signs Ethics Bill, with Few Cheers
Albany Times Union – Chris Bragg | Published: 8/24/2016
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation that reforms the state’s lobbying, ethics, and campaign finance laws. But watchdog groups criticized the bill for what they say is a failure to address conditions that have fueled some of Albany’s corruption cases in recent years. The new law includes restrictions on independent expenditure groups intended to reduce coordination with a candidate’s campaign. Another provision requires issue-oriented lobbying groups, designated as 501(c)(4) organizations, that spend more than $15,000 in a year on lobbying to disclose donors who give more than $2,500. The previous limits had been $50,000 and $5,000.
New York – NY State Ethics Watchdog Investigating Nonprofit with Ties to Large Corporate Political Donor
Nonprofit Quarterly – Larry Kaplan | Published: 8/23/2016
The New York Joint Commission on Public Ethics is looking into the nonprofit Pledge 2 Protect, created in 2013 to fight a marine waste transfer station on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. By law, nonprofits like Pledge 2 Protect must, if they spend more than $50,000 on lobbying, report the names of donors who contribute more than $5,000. Those amounts would be cut in half under a law awaiting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature. Almost $700,000 made its way to Pledge 2 Protect the year it was formed with no indication of where the money really came from. The money was given first to a law firm, then to the group, so the only name that had to be disclosed was that of the law firm, not the actual donors. Among the opponents of the waste transfer station was Glenwood Management, a real estate firm that figured prominently in the corruption case against former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
Tennessee – Power Opens Door to Sexual Harassment
The Tennessean – Dave Boucher and Joel Ebert | Published: 8/21/2016
Powerful institutions and harassment at times go hand-in-hand. State Capitols are sometimes hotbeds of sexual harassment themselves. Most Legislatures are largely male, part-time, and require members to travel away from home, creating a fraternity atmosphere. In Tennessee, where 22 out of 132 lawmakers are women and 85 percent are white, the political culture has included limited policies and safeguards, leaving women with few options.
Wisconsin – Ethics Commission Will Be Able to Make Political Donations
Minneapolis Star Tribune – Scott Bauer (Associated Press) | Published: 8/23/2016
Members of the Wisconsin Ethics Commission will be able to make political donations. The commission voted to continue with the current practice allowing them to give to candidates and campaign committees. Nothing in state law bars Ethics Commission members from donating to the very politicians they are regulating. Commission members are partisan appointees, unlike their predecessors on the Government Accountability Board who were judges and prohibited under the law from donating.
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