News You Can Use Digest - December 20, 2018 - State and Federal Communications

December 21, 2018  •  

News You Can Use Digest – December 20, 2018





Lawmakers Push Review of New Member Events After Complaints Over Lobbyists at Harvard Orientation
Washington Post – Jeff Stein | Published: 12/14/2018

Harvard invited lobbyists to speak at its orientation program for incoming members of Congress and paid for travel and board for the newly elected members of the House to attend. Under House rules, that arrangement would typically be subject to an extensive review by the ethics committee before members could be cleared to attend. But Harvard’s program was not for sitting members of Congress, it was for members to-be, who will not be sworn in until January. Lawmakers say they are planning to review House ethics rules for incoming members, bringing new scrutiny to Harvard’s decades-long orientation program, as well as a broader review of how lobbyists reach incoming freshman lawmakers.

Targets of U.S. Sanctions Hire Lobbyists with Trump Ties to Seek Relief
MSN – Kenneth Vogel (New York Times) | Published: 12/11/2018

As the Trump administration has increasingly turned to sanctions, travel restrictions, and tariffs to punish foreign governments as well as people and companies from abroad, targets of those measures have turned for assistance to K Street’s corridor of law, lobbying, and public relations firms. The work can carry reputational and legal risks, since clients often come with toxic baggage and the U.S. Treasury Department restricts transactions with entities under sanctions. As a result, it commands some of the biggest fees of any sector in the influence industry. And some of the biggest payments have been going to lobbyists, lawyers, and consultants with connections to Trump or his administration.

From the States and Municipalities:

Arizona: Bennett Loses Court Bid to Get Public Financing for Gubernatorial Campaign
Arizona Capitol Times – Howard Fischer (Capitol News Srevices) | Published: 12/14/2018

A judge rejected the latest bid by Ken Bennett to get public financing for his failed gubernatorial bid in Arizona, or at least reimburse himself for the money he spent. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Teresa Sanders acknowledged Bennett said he did have enough valid signatures on five-dollar donation forms to qualify for $839,704 which was available for candidates in the Republican primary for governor earlier this year. Bennett said he fell short only because some county election officials incorrectly classified some of them as invalid. But Sanders said there is nothing in Arizona law that provides an opportunity for a candidate to “rehabilitate” previously disqualified contribution slips.

Florida: ‘He Got Screwed’: Gillum absent from indictment after DeSantis bashed him as corrupt
Politico – Marc Caputo | Published: 12/12/2018

City Commissioner Scott Maddox and political consultant Janice Paige Carter-Smith were indicted on bribery and other charges in the first results to emerge from a years-long investigation into corruption in Tallahassee. Florida Gov. Rick Scott issued an executive order suspending Maddox from the commission. Maddox had served as mayor, while Carter-Smith was his chief of staff and business partner. The indictment alleges they conspired to run two companies as one, known as Governance, in a far-reaching racketeering scheme. It did not name Andrew Gillum, who was Tallahassee’s mayor at the time and was accused on the gubernatorial campaign trail this year of being tied to the suspected wrongdoing the FBI was investigating.

Kansas: Kansas Lawmakers Can Quickly Become Lobbyists, but Many States Make Them Wait
Wichita Eagle – Jonathan Shorman | Published: 12/20/2018

Kansas has no law stopping legislators from immediately becoming a lobbyist after they leave office, unlike the majority of states. At least 38 states have some kind of waiting period for lawmakers who want to become lobbyists. Supporters of the waiting periods say they are needed to stop lawmakers from being influenced by potential future employers while they are in the Legislature. Others question their usefulness. U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins’ move to set up a lobbying firm while still in Congress drew attention to Kansas’ lack of a waiting period. While Jenkins is a federal lawmaker, her new firm plans to lobby at both the state and federal level. Federal rules require Jenkins to wait a year before lobbying at the federal level.

New Hampshire: Sununu, Inner Circle Received Thousands from Lobbyist-Funded Nonprofit
Manchester Union Leader – Todd Feathers | Published: 12/15/2018

Lobbying firms and corporations donated to New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu’s inaugural party committee, helping raise $450,000. But when all the festivities were finished, there was still money left over in the accounts of The Sununu Inaugural Celebration Inc., a 501c(4) organization set up to pay for the parties. And most of the surplus funds have since been paid out to Sununu, his immediate family, and his closest advisers. The transactions create the appearance of conflicts-of-interest and improper profiteering, tax attorneys and ethics experts say, and raise a number of legal questions. The explanations for the payments are vague. Reports filed with the secretary of state’s office simply state the purposes as “expenses” or “travel.”

New Jersey: GoFundMe Violates Election Law, but Candidates Keep Using It
Bergen Record – Nicholas Katzban | Published: 12/17/2018

In a race for seats on the Rutherford school board, Kevin Wilson and Hesham Mahmoud challenged three incumbents in November’s election. The two received $375 in contributions through GoFundMe, which they reported to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC). But no matter the amount, the commission said use of the site for political fundraising is prohibited due to the difficulty in tracing the source of the donations. GoFundMe’s compliance director, Stephanie Olivo, said ELEC’s policy on crowdfunding is guided by an advisory opinion issued in 2001. The statement does not address crowdfunding sites, specifically, but does outline the services that must be available through an online vendor, that would ensure each transaction complies with election law.

New York: JCOPE’s New Regs Constrained by Settlement
Albany Times Union – Chris Bragg | Published: 12/19/2018

A settlement was reached in a lawsuit challenging the Joint Commission on Public Ethics’ (JCOPE) new regulations on lobbying. Under the terms of the agreement, the 92 pages of rules are defined simply as a “statement” for how the agency plans to administer and enforce state lobbying law. New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood’s office agreed the regulations will not in and of themselves have the force and effect of law. That makes the guidelines different from some regulations traditionally created by state agencies, violations of which can on their own be the basis for penalties. But JCOPE Executive Director Seth Agata argued that, in practical terms, the settlement would have virtually no effect, and the agency still planned to vigorously enforce the regulations as planned.

North Carolina: Secrecy Provision in Elections Board Bill Prompted Cooper Veto
WRAL – Matthew Burns | Published: 12/18/2018

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said he will veto legislation that again overhauls the state elections board because it also would make investigations of potential campaign finance violations confidential. The bill comes amid an investigation by the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement into suspicious absentee voting in the Ninth Congressional District, and Cooper said lawmakers should be more concerned about building public confidence in elections than in protecting politicians who bend the rules. House Bill 1029 also would place a four-year statute of limitations on investigations, with the clock starting once the board knows, or should have known, about a violation of the state’s campaign finance rules.

North Dakota: Wary of New Ethics Rules, North Dakota Lobbyists Rethink Plans for Legislator Receptions
Bismarck Tribune – John Hageman | Published: 12/13/2018

Some lobbying groups are rethinking plans to hold events with state lawmakers after North Dakota voters passed a ballot measure establishing new ethics rules in the state constitution. Industry group leaders cited language in Measure 1 that prevents lobbyists from giving gifts to public officials. Although that provision is not effective for two years and includes exceptions for educational and social settings meant to “advance opportunities for North Dakota residents to meet with public officials,” lobbyists said they were taking a conservative approach to the new rules.

Oklahoma: State Rule Would Disclose Hidden Backers of Groups Trying to Affect Legislation
Oklahoma Watch – Paul Monies | Published: 12/17/2018

The Oklahoma Ethics Commission is proposing to close a gap in law that keeps certain funding and spending on efforts to influence legislation a secret. Although sources and amounts of money are typically required to be disclosed when groups seek to influence an election involving candidates or state ballot questions, little must be revealed when a group tries to push or oppose legislation. The proposed rule would mandate certain disclosures for groups that pay for communications about pending bills. Commission Executive Director Ashley Kemp said the proposal just adds another category for what is called “indirect lobbying” at the Legislature.

Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Ethics Commission Fines Workers Comp Law Firm’s Lobbying Wings for Late Disclosure of Influence Peddling
Allentown Morning Call – Steve Esack | Published: 12/7/2018

A pair of lobbying groups connected to the law firm Pond Lehocky Stern Giordano violated Pennsylvania’s lobbying law and were fined. If at least $2,500 is spent to lobby legislation, the lobbyists involved are given 10 days to register and must file quarterly expenditure reports. The State Ethics Commission determined PA Works Now and Citizens to Protect Our Pennsylvania failed to register and did not report $115,800 spent on professional lobbyists, online posts, billboards, and flyers aimed at defeating two Workers’ Compensation bills. PA Works Now did not register its lobbying activities until 388 days after it started. PA Works Now must pay a fine of $13,580 and Citizens to Protect Our Pennsylvania was fined $15,500.

South Carolina: SC Lawmaker Benefiting from Law Change That Opened Top State Agency Slot for Him
Charleston Post and Courier – Jamie Lovegrove | Published: 12/10/2018

As South Carolina lawmakers considered reauthorizing the state’s land preservation agency this year, they proposed restricting legislators from taking over the department for one year after leaving office. But in the final version of the bill, the one-year waiting period for the Conservation Bank was removed. Now, just a few months after the bill passed, a lawmaker who has supported the agency for years stands to benefit from that last-minute change. State Rep. Mike Pitts, who oversaw the agency’s budget and headed the House ethics committee, announced he is retiring to take over the Conservation Bank.

Vermont: As Ethics Panel Director Steps Down, Differing Explanations Are Offered – Mark Johnson | Published: 12/14/2018

Vermont Ethics Commission Executive Director Brian Leven has resigned but he and the panel’s chairperson have offered different reasons why the separation occurred. Leven said he believed the commission exceeded its authority in an advisory opinion involving Gov. Phil Scott issued earlier this year. After taking the executive director job last December, he said he resigned because he and the commission were at odds over what powers the Legislature intended to give the board. Commission Chairperson Madeline Motta said the panel and Leven parted ways because of his “work performance.”

Washington: Facebook, Google to Pay Washington $450,000 to Settle Lawsuits Over Political-Ad Transparency
Seattle Times – Jim Brunner | Published: 12/19/2018

Google and Facebook agreed to pay $455,000 for violating Washington’s campaign finance law. Google will pay $217,000 and Facebook will pay $238,000 in response to two lawsuits filed by state Attorney General Bob Ferguson that accused the companies of not obeying the state law requiring them to maintain detailed records about who is paying for online political ads on their platforms. The lawsuits came after the state’s Public Disclosure Commission issued regulations related to a new law and passed an emergency rule that clarified digital ad companies like Google and Facebook are subject to state law requiring them to maintain publicly available information about political ads, just like television stations and other media.

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