News You Can Use Digest - December 15, 2017 - State and Federal Communications

December 15, 2017  •  

News You Can Use Digest – December 15, 2017





‘Fake News,’ Trump’s Obsession, Is Now a Cudgel for Strongmen
New York Times – Steven Erlanger | Published: 12/12/2017

Around the world, authoritarians, populists, and other political leaders have seized on the phrase “fake news,” and the legitimacy conferred upon it by an American president, as a tool for attacking their critics and, in some cases, deliberately undermining the institutions of democracy. Though the term has been around at least since the 1890s, Donald Trump is most responsible for making it a part of the current global conversation. Social media, with its huge reach and its vulnerability to manipulation, has helped to amplify criticism from political leaders and undermine trust in traditional journalism.

For Female Lobbyists, Harassment Often Accompanies Access
New York Times – Trip Gabriel and Julie Bosman | Published: 12/8/2017

Charges of harassment are cascading through statehouses across the country, leading to investigations, resignations of powerful men, and anguish over hostile workplaces for women that for years went unacknowledged. Amid this reckoning, one group of victims has stood apart: lobbyists. Part of a frequently disparaged profession, female lobbyists have emerged as especially vulnerable in Legislatures and in Congress because, unlike government employees, they often have no avenue to report complaints and receive due process. Lobbyists who have been harassed are essentially powerless in their workplaces, all-dependent on access to mostly male lawmakers for meetings and influence to advance legislation and earn their living.

State Lawmakers Blur Line Between Public, Personal Interests
Center for Public Integrity – Ryan Foley (Associated Press) and Liz Essley Whyte | Published: 12/6/2017

State lawmakers around the country have introduced and supported policies that directly and indirectly help their own businesses, their employers, and sometimes their personal finances. The Associated Press and the Center for Public Integrity and found numerous examples in which lawmakers’ votes had the effect of promoting their private interests. Even then, the votes did not necessarily represent a conflict-of-interest as defined by the state. That is because Legislatures set their own rules for when lawmakers should recuse themselves. In some states, lawmakers are required to vote despite any ethical dilemmas. Many legislators defend votes that benefit their businesses or industries, saying they bring important expertise to the debate.


‘Journalism for Rent’: Inside the secretive firm behind the Trump dossier
Washington Post – Jack Gillum and Shawn Boburg | Published: 12/11/2017

Fusion GPS bills itself as a corporate research firm, but in many ways, it operates with the secrecy of a spy agency. The small firm has been under public scrutiny for producing the document known as the Trump dossier. Senior executives summoned to testify before Congress invoked their right against self-incrimination, and the firm is resisting a congressional subpoena for bank records that would reveal who has paid for its services. But hundreds of internal company documents reveal how Fusion has used investigative reporting techniques and media connections to advance the interests of a range of clients on Wall Street, in Silicon Valley, and in the nation’s capital. The firm has played an unseen role in stories that dominated headlines in recent years.

Doubting the Intelligence, Trump Pursues Putin and Leaves a Russian Threat Unchecked
Washington Post – Greg Miller, Greg Jaffe, and Philip Rucker | Published: 12/14/2017

Nearly a year into his presidency, Donald Trump continues to reject the evidence that Russia waged an assault on a pillar of American democracy and supported his run for the White House. The result is without obvious parallel in U.S. history, a situation in which the personal insecurities of the president – and his refusal to accept what even many in his administration regard as objective reality – have impaired the government’s response to a national security threat. Rather than search for ways to deter Kremlin attacks or safeguard U.S. elections, Trump has waged his own campaign to discredit the case that Russia poses any threat and has resisted or attempted to roll back efforts to hold Moscow to account.

Foreign Lobbyists Contributed More Than $4.5 Million to Candidates in 2016 Elections
MapLight – Andrew Perez, David Sirota, and Jay Cassano | Published: 12/4/2017

During the last election, lobbyists for foreign governments gave more than $4.5 million to federal lawmakers and candidates. Foreign lobbyists and their firms’ PACs were also responsible for bundling $5.9 million in donations for candidates and party committees. Because the contributions come from foreign governments’ U.S.-based lobbyists, they effectively circumvent American laws designed to bar direct foreign donations. Under federal law, foreign nationals are banned from donating to any federal, state, or local campaigns, or political parties. But foreign governments frequently hire U.S. citizens to represent their interests, and those people face no such contribution ban.

From the States and Municipalities:

Colorado: Taxpayer Groups File Suit Against Denver to Prevent Disclosure of Nonprofits’ Donors in Election Spending
Denver Post – Jon Murray | Published: 12/13/2017

A lawsuit filed by the Goldwater Institute on behalf of two conservative groups says changes to the campaign finance law approved by the Denver City Council in September violate free speech provisions. The ordinance requires clubs, associations, corporations, and groups that advocate for or against local ballot measures to meet the disclosure requirements of issue committees once they raise and spend at least $500. Once it passes that threshold, an issue committee must identify by name and address each donor who gave $50 or more within that calendar year. The legal challenge, in targeting disclosure requirements’ impact on nonprofit groups, raises an issue that goes back more than a decade in Colorado, pitting donor privacy against the interest of campaign transparency.

Florida: Women in Florida Politics Fear #MeToo Moments Will Backfire
Miami Herald – Mary Ellen Klas | Published: 12/11/2017

Female staffers and lobbyists who returned to the Florida Capitol for pre-session meetings, discovered many male legislators will no longer meet with them privately. Accustomed to Tallahassee’s Southern culture, where men and women casually and routinely greet each other with hugs, legislators are doing an awkward dance to replace a hug with a handshake. And the fear of retaliation, against women who brought forward allegations or those who may in the future, is as raw as the fear that lawmakers’ political enemies could turn sexual harassment claims into new weapons.

Indiana: Council Defeats Pay-to-Play Veto
Fort Wayne Journal Gazette – Dave Gong | Published: 12/13/2017

The Fort Wayne City Council overrode Mayor Tom Henry’s veto of a “pay-to-play” ordinance that city officials say likely runs afoul of state and federal law. The ordinance limits corporate campaign contributions to elected city officials to $2,000 per calendar year. Donations from any employee who owns more than seven-and-one-half percent of a firm, as well as contributions from that employee’s spouse or live-in children, would count toward that limit. Any firm that exceeds that limit would be barred from bidding on city contracts.

Kentucky: Law Which Prohibits Legislators Accepting ‘Anything of Value’ from Lobbyists Has Been Ruled Unconstitutional by U.S. District Court Judge
Spectrum News – Don Weber | Published: 12/7/2017

U.S. District Court Judge William Bertelsman issued a final order on his June ruling that found Kentucky’s legislative ethics prohibition on gifts and campaign contributions from lobbyists is unconstitutional. Bertelsman, who ruled the laws were too vague to be enforced and violated lobbyists’ freedom of speech, issued a final order which included an injunction telling the Legislative Ethics Commission that it could not enforce the unconstitutional rules. In response to the final order, the Kentucky Chamber announced plans to file an amicus brief along with other business groups urging the appeal of the ruling.

Maryland: Supreme Court Will Take Up a Second Gerrymandering Case This Term
Washington Post – Robert Barnes | Published: 12/8/2017

The U.S. Supreme Court added a second partisan gerrymandering case to its docket, suggesting the justices are seriously considering whether voting maps warped by politics may sometimes cross a constitutional line. The court has never struck down a voting district as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. A ruling allowing such challenges could reshape American politics. The earlier case, from Wisconsin, was argued in October. The new case, a challenge to a Maryland congressional district, differs from the first case in several ways. It was brought by Republican voters rather than Democratic ones; it is focused on a single district rather than a statewide map; and it relies solely on the First Amendment rather than a legal theory that includes equal protection principles.

Minnesota: Smith to Take Franken’s Senate Seat, Run in 2018
Minnesota Public Radio – Brian Bakst and Tim Pugmire | Published: 12/13/2017

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton chose Lt. Gov. Tina Smith to take over Al Franken’s seat in the U.S.  Senate, keeping a Democrat in the seat for now but setting the stage for a freewheeling 2018 election that could shift the balance of power in Minnesota and in Washington. Franken had announced he would resign after being accused by women of sexual misconduct. Smith will serve as senator until at least next fall, when voters are expected to choose a candidate to fill the remaining two years of Franken’s term. Smith also said she plans to run for the office in that 2018 election.

Missouri: Lobbyist Play Part, Spend Cash in Jefferson City
Kirksville Daily Express – Jason Hunsicker | Published: 12/11/2017

The role of lobbyists in the Missouri Legislature has grown over the last two decades from advocating for businesses, organizations, and causes to include the education of elected officials because of term limits. Their role also includes spending money on lawmakers. Some argue the expenditures lead to undue influence, or at least that perception, which has led in recent years to the introduction of various measures that would reform how lobbyists interact with lawmakers. Lobbyist Michael Gibbons estimated 80 percent of the work lobbyists do is educating lawmakers on issues, from the history of a proposal to how it impacts and relates to various groups across the state.

South Carolina: Rep. Rick Quinn Pleads Guilty in S.C. Corruption Case in Deal That Drops Charges for Kingpin Father
Charleston Post and Courier – Seanna Adcox and Glenn Smith | Published: 12/13/2017

State Rep. Rick Quinn resigned from the South Carolina House and entered a guilty plea to one count of misconduct in office. His plea is part of a deal in which charges against his father, political consultant Richard Quinn, were dropped. But Richard Quinn’s firm will pay a $3,000 fine for failing to register as a lobbyist. The elder Quinn also agreed to testify before a grand jury. Prosecutors alleged Richard Quinn & Associates was paid millions of dollars by some of South Carolina’s most prominent companies and institutions to illegally push bills in the General Assembly. Rick Quinn was secretly and illegally paid some of that money to use his position as a lawmaker to advocate for the proposals, prosecutors said.

Washington: PDC Complaints Becoming Weapons in Political Wars
Spokane Spokesman Review – Jim Camden | Published: 12/10/2017

Some 45 years ago, Washington voters got so tired of hidden money in questionable campaigns that they overwhelmingly approved an initiative with rules on campaign giving and spending. They also set up a commission to make sure the rules were followed. Now those rules are being used by citizen activists and political parties as weapons against their adversaries. Complaints are flooding both the Public Disclosure Commission and the Washington attorney general’s office, which can also investigate and sanction candidates or campaigns for violations.


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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