December 19, 2014 •
News You Can Use Digest – December 19, 2014
A State Guide to Political Corruption, According to the Reporters Who Cover It
Washington Post – Niraj Chokshi | Published: 12/8/2014
With Congress stuck in the least productive rut in American history, the bulk of important legislative action is taking place in the states. But according to one study, all that power might not be in the best hands. Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics published a study looking at state-level corruption throughout the U.S. But instead of relying on conviction data, researchers surveyed some 280 regional reporters and asked them to grade each of the three branches of government in their state on legal and illegal corruption.
Energy Firms in Secretive Alliance with Attorneys General
New York Times – Eric Lipton | Published: 12/6/2104
An investigation by The New York Times found attorneys general in at least a dozen states are working with energy companies and other corporate interests to push back against the Obama administration’s regulatory agenda. The companies in turn are providing them with record amounts of money for their political campaigns, including at least $16 million this year. They share a common philosophy about the reach of the federal government, but the companies also have billions of dollars at stake. And the collaboration is likely to grow: for the first time in modern American history, Republicans in January will control a majority of attorneys general’s offices.
Payouts to McCrory, Sanford from Mortgage Broker Raise Ethical Questions
Charlotte Observer – Michael Biesecker and Mitch Weiss (Associated Press) | Published: 12/16/2014
Soon after taking office, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory and U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford accepted six-figure stock payouts from an online mortgage broker, a move that experts say raises ethical if not legal concerns. They were directors at Tree.com, the corporate parent of the website LendingTree. As board members, they were entitled to restricted company stock if they held their positions long enough. Both resigned after their election victories, which would have rendered their unvested stock worthless had the board not taken special action to provide them early payouts. McCrory and Sanford deny they did anything improper by accepting the payments from Tree.com, which were not fully described in their ethics statements.
Every Election Is the Most Expensive Election. Or Not.
New York Times – Derek Willis | Published: 12/16/2014
Despite the efforts of the FEC, which has been faithfully disseminating campaign finance data since 1975, there are limitations in the ways that data is collected and summarized that make generating totals and comparisons very difficult. In a paper presented at the American Political Science Association conference this year, Temple University professor Robin Kolodny challenged the idea that we know each election is more expensive than previous ones, or that we even know how much campaigns really cost. Kolodny concludes this lack of knowledge fuels our perceptions of money in politics as an issue.
G.O.P. Angst Over 2016 Led to Provision on Funding
New York Times – Nicholas Confessore | Published: 12/13/2014
A campaign finance provision in the federal omnibus spending bill that will significantly raise certain contribution limits began with what Republican leaders regarded as an urgent problem: how would they pay for their presidential nominating convention in Cleveland in 2016? The talks ended with a bipartisan agreement that would allow wealthy donors to begin giving more than $1 million every election cycle to each party’s national committees.
Jeb Bush’s Decision to Explore Presidential Bid Scrambles the 2016 GOP Field
Washington Post – Matea Gold and Philip Rucker | Published: 12/16/2014
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said he would “actively explore” a presidential run, immediately sending reverberations through the potential GOP field, tying up donors whom other candidates are courting, and forcing contenders to accelerate their own considerations for 2016. Bush became the first Republican to take an overt step toward a White House bid. He announced he would create a PAC, allowing him to raise money and travel the country ahead of an eventual decision.
From the States and Municipalities:
Arizona – Registration Rule for Political Groups Ruled Too Vague
Arizona Daily Sun – Howard Fischer (Capitol Media Services) | Published: 12/6/2014
A federal judge ruled an Arizona law defining a political committee is unconstitutionally vague. Deputy Secretary of State Jim Drake said at the very least, the judge’s order eliminates the requirements for disclosure of funding by groups pushing or opposing ballot measures. It is not unusual for these campaigns to cost millions of dollars. But attorney Paul Avelar of the Institute for Justice said he reads the ruling to apply to all the independent groups pushing to elect or defeat candidates. The order does not bar the state from requiring political committees to register. But legislators will have to redo the law in a fashion that courts find to be constitutional.
Arkansas – Questions Surround Constitutional Amendment on Ethics, Term Limits
Arkansas News – John Lyon (Arkansas News Bureau) | Published: 12/8/2014
Rep. Warwick Sabin and Sen. Jon Woods are aiming to end the confusion surrounding their co-authored and recently passed constitutional amendment, Issue No. 3. But the head of the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce said he expects the amendment to face multiple court challenges. The measure enacts significant ethics reforms for state legislators, such as restricting gifts, eliminating corporate campaign contributions, and extending the lobbying period for former legislators once their service is complete. The amendment also extends term limits to 16 years in either chamber of the state Legislature or a combination of both.
Georgia – State Ethics Agency Faces More Changes
Gainesville Sun – Christina Cassidy (Associated Press) | Published: 12/7/2014
It has been a tumultuous year at Georgia’s ethics commission, which has been hamstrung by a number of lawsuits filed by former employees, personnel issues, and allegations of outside influence with questions raised about its ability to ensure candidates, campaign committees, lobbyists, and others are disclosing their financial activities. Meanwhile, the agency has had 216 open complaints that have been pending an average of three years. A recent audit issued 42 recommendations that state lawmakers might consider to improve the effectiveness and independence of the commission.
Missouri – Ethics Bills Filed to Open Debate on Lobbying and Campaign Finance Rules
Columbia Daily Tribune – Rudi Keller | Published: 12/15/2014
Missouri Rep. Caleb Rowden filed a bill that would ban lobbyists’ gifts to individual lawmakers, their staff members, and families. It also would require subcontracting lobbyists hired by principal lobbyists to disclose the actual client being served. Rowden addresses campaign finance issues by requiring that legislators and statewide elected officials disclose donations greater than $500 within 48 hours during legislative sessions.
New York – After Ethics Panel’s Shutdown, Loopholes Live On in Albany
New York Times – Thomas Kaplan, William Rashbaum, and Susanne Craig | Published: 12/8/2014
Investigators for the Moreland Commission, an anti-corruption panel that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo created last year, found a slew of questionable activity. But Cuomo abruptly shut down the commission as part of a deal with the Legislature. In Albany, some of the most questionable conduct by elected officials has long been perfectly legal, safeguarded by the only people who can outlaw it: the lawmakers themselves. Before it was disbanded, the commission urged elected officials to close loopholes, toughen criminal statutes, increase disclosure requirements, and restrict how campaign funds could be spent. Now, eight months after its work was cut short, little in Albany has changed.
Ohio – Work of FBI Squad Evident in Columbus Payday Probe
Marietta Times; Associated Press – | Published: 12/11/2014
Columbus, Ohio’s growing population and increasing sophistication as a metropolis helped drive the FBI’s decision to dedicate a public corruption unit to the city. State Rep. Dale Mallory was fined for accepting Cincinnati Bengals tickets from lobbyists, Sen.-elect Sandra Williams was fined and sentenced to a suspended six-month jail term for selling Ohio State tickets her campaign purchased to a lobbyist and pocketing the proceeds. Two more state lawmakers, then- Reps. W. Carlton Weddington and Clayton Luckie, received prison time in the long-running investigation of payday-lending lobbyists. Two lobbyists also were convicted.
Pennsylvania – Two Philadelphia Lawmakers Charged in Sting Probe
Philadelphia Inquirer – Craig McCoy and Angela Couloumbis | Published: 12/16/2014
In a case that Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane said was “not prosecutable,” the Philadelphia district attorney’s office announced felony corruption charges against two state legislators accused of accepting cash from an undercover lobbyist who videotaped the exchanges. Reps. Ronald Waters and Vanessa Brown are charged with criminal conspiracy, bribery, conflict-of-interest, and failure to report on their financial interest disclosure forms – all stemming from allegedly accepting money in exchange for promised political actions. Kane dismissed the case in 2013, citing legal flaws, poor supervision, and a taint of racism to the investigation. District Attorney Seth Williams then took up the inquiry.
Rhode Island – Mollis Adopts Hearing Officer’s Decision that Corso Engaged in Unregistered Lobbying Related to 38 Studios
Providence Journal – Jennifer Bogdon | Published: 12/5/2014
Rhode island Secretary of State A. Ralph Mollis has adopted the decision by a hearing officer that attorney Michael Corso engaged in unregistered lobbying relating to 38 Studios. Corso, whose friendship with former House Speaker Gordon Fox helped bring the now bankrupt video-game company to the state, will face a $2,000 fine if he does not file the required reports. Mollis convened the administrative hearing process after media stories shed light on Corso’s role in advocating for $75 million in state-backed loan guarantees in a jobs-creation bill. The funding eventually went to 38 Studios.
Wisconsin – Republicans Seize on Audit Critical of State Elections Board
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – Patrick Marley | Published: 12/12/2014
An audit critical of the nonpartisan board that oversees ethics and elections in Wisconsin fueled calls for change from Republicans who control the Legislature. The long-awaited report detailed a number of problems with the Government Accountability Board, which began in 2008. The audit said board staff did not consistently follow a penalty schedule for enforcing campaign finance, lobbying, and code of ethics laws; did not conduct 16 required reviews over a four-year period to identify felons who may have voted illegally; and did not put in place written procedures for considering complaints.
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