December 23, 2015 •
News You Can Use Digest – December 23, 2015
‘Dark Money’ Biggest Campaign Finance Challenge Facing States
Denver Post – Geoff Mullvihill (Associated Press) | Published: 12/21/2015
With the presidency at stake in 2016 – as well as a dozen gubernatorial races, 34 U.S. Senate contests, all seats in the U.S. House, and scores of mayoral races, state legislative seats, and ballot initiatives – dark-money spending is expected to grow, and handling it has become the biggest campaign finance challenge for states nationwide. Some Legislatures are trying to collect and publish the sources of these donations, but most states allow independent groups to spend unlimited cash on political ads with little transparency. At least one state, Wisconsin, is moving away from disclosure: Gov. Scott Walker signed laws that blur the lines between the activity of candidate campaigns and groups that in almost all other states are supposed to act independently.
Sanders Data Controversy Spotlights Powerful Gatekeeper
Politico – Nancy Scola | Published: 12/20/2015
While Bernie Sanders may have calmed a controversy by apologizing to Hillary Clinton for his campaign’s viewing and downloading of her voter data information, the extent of the damage done to both campaigns is not yet clear. If nothing else, it has reminded Democrats of the risks of leaning so heavily on one private company to provide its technology infrastructure. At the heart of the matter is a firm that functions as the digital plumbing of the Democratic Party: NGP VAN. Democrats are nearly wholly dependent on it, which is why the breach and the Sanders campaign’s subsequent cutoff from the system is so rattling the party.
Trump Played a Clever Trick When He Called Clinton’s Bathroom Visit ‘Disgusting’
Washington Post – Zachary Goldfarb | Published: 12/22/2015
Donald Trump made another polarizing comment when he said it was “too disgusting” to talk about Hillary Clinton’s use of the bathroom during the last Democratic debate and she had got “schlonged” by Barack Obama when she lost to him in the 2008 Democratic primary. Trump was surely talking off-the-cuff in his usual style, and the comments were criticized as offensive and sexist, but it was another example of his mastery in exploiting the psychological biases of conservatives who see much to dislike in today’s society and express support for Trump in the polls. In fact, academic research has shown conservatives have a particular revulsion to “disgusting” images. The research – still debated – suggests psychological and even biological traits divide people politically. These are attributes that may help explain why Trump has been so popular among a segment of the electorate, confounding political and media elites.
As TV Ad Rates Soar, ‘Super PACs’ Pivot to Core Campaign Work
New York Times – Nick Corasaniti and Matt Flegenheimer | Published: 12/22/2015
Soaring advertising costs in early primary states are compelling major super PACs to realign their tactics, de-emphasizing the costly broadcast television buys that had been their main role in past presidential campaigns in favor of the kind of nuts-and-bolts work that candidates used to handle themselves. They are overseeing extensive field operations, data-collection programs, digital advertising, email lists, opposition research, and voter registration efforts. No one yet knows whether field and data efforts spearheaded by outside groups will be as effective as they are in the hands of a candidate.
Hospitality and Gambling Interests Delay Closing of Billion-Dollar Tax Loophole
New York Times – Eric Lipton and Liz Moyer | Published: 12/20/2015
As congressional leaders were hastily braiding together a tax and spending bill of more than 2,000 pages, lobbyists swooped in to add 54 words that temporarily preserved a loophole sought by the hotel, restaurant, and gambling industries, along with billionaire Wall Street investors, that allowed them to put real estate in trusts and avoid taxes. They won support from Senate Minority leader Harry Reid, who responded to appeals from executives of casino companies, politically powerful players and huge employers in his home state. And the lobbyists even helped draft the crucial language. The small changes, and the enormous windfall they generated, show the power of connected corporate lobbyists to alter a huge bill that is being put together with little time for lawmakers to consider. Throughout the legislation, there were thousands of other add-ons.
How America’s Dying White Supremacist Movement Is Seizing on Donald Trump’s Appeal
Washington Post – Peter Holley and Sarah Larimer | Published: 12/21/2015
For large numbers of Americans, Donald Trump’s blunt rhetoric surrounding immigration, minority groups, and crime may sound like finely tuned retrograde vitriol. But for a growing number of white nationalists flocking to the campaign’s circus-like tent, the billionaire sounds familiar, like a man fluent in the native tongue of disaffected whites. It is a language they never thought they would hear a mainstream politician in either party use in public. And they are desperately hoping Trump’s rise from reality-show figure to Republican front-runner may be the beginning of something that transcends the campaign trail.
New FEC Chairman Aims to Calm Agency at War with Itself
Center for Public Integrity – Dave Levinthal | Published: 12/21/2015
Matthew Petersen was appointed FEC chairperson for 2016. The Republican Petersen says his tenure at the agency’s helm will prove decidedly different than that of Democrat Ann Ravel, the current chair who has used her office’s meager power – a bully pulpit, mainly – to its maximum. Personal and ideological rifts have meant commissioners have largely been unwilling to tackle the nation’s thorniest election law issues this year, such as the degree to which super PACs may work with the political candidates they support. Even if the FEC in 2016 is kinder and gentler, reform activists worry it will be no more functional, and possibly less.
From the States and Municipalities:
California – Critics Decry Contributions to Councilman Englander from Taser Execs Seeking LAPD Camera Contract
Los Angeles Times – David Zahniser | Published: 12/21/2015
As voters went to the polls in 2011 to crack down on what some referred to as “pay-to-play” practices at Los Angeles City Hall, passing a measure to limit the political influence of companies that seek government business. Measure H prohibits firms seeking lucrative city contracts from making campaign contributions to the politicians who have final say over those agreements. But that law may prove to be toothless in the case of Taser International, the company currently up for a $31.2-million contract to provide thousands of body cameras to the Los Angeles Police Department. Last year, a dozen donors affiliated with Taser, half of them company executives, put $8,400 into the re-election bid of Councilperson Mitch Englander, who heads the council’s Public Safety Committee, which recently reviewed the effort to buy 6,140 cameras and 4,400 Tasers. Englander says the campaign money is not covered by the ballot measure’s restrictions.
Missouri – Andrew Blunt’s Lobbying Work Faces Scrutiny as He Manages Father’s Re-Election Bid
Springfield News-Leader – Deirdre Shesgreen (USA Today) | Published: 12/18/2015
In the past nine months, lobbyist Andy Blunt has added seven new clients to his already packed roster, including the University of Missouri, which is paying him $10,000 a month, and the Missouri Cable Telecommunications Association, which hired him to serve as its executive director. In all, Blunt now has 36 clients, according to a review of Missouri Ethics Commission filings. Blunt’s allies say his long client list is a product of his hard work and political savvy. The 39-year-old Springfield native says he never lobbies his father, U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, or any other federal official – establishing a “bright line” between his clients’ priorities in Jefferson City and his father’s political pull in Washington. But critics say Andy Blunt has used his last name and family connections to build a lobbying empire. And they argue his dual roles as a Missouri lobbyist and the senator’s campaign manager are rife with possible conflicts-of-interest.
Missouri – Missouri Legislative Staffers Earn Big Money as Political Consultants
Kansas City Star – Jason Hancock | Published: 12/20/2015
Statehouse staff members doing campaign work has long been a way of life at the Missouri Capitol. It is legal, as long as political work is not done on taxpayer time. Many see no harm in the practice, since it typically involves low-level legislative aides. Senior staff, who earn much bigger checks from campaigns, say they go to great strides to keep the two worlds separate. To critics, the scenario represents a potential conflict-of-interest, with the integrity of the legislative process compromised when staff members who earn taxpayer-funded salaries are also getting paid by outside interests with a stake in policy outcomes. Since most staff are not mandated to file the same sort of financial disclosures required of lawmakers, the flow of money can be difficult to track.
New Mexico – Can New Mexico Break Its Cycle of Corruption?
Governing – Alan Greenblatt | Published: 12/21/2015
The recent resignation, conviction, and incarceration of former Secretary of State Dianna Duran for embezzlement and money laundering has already prompted calls for major changes to New Mexico’s ethics and campaign finance laws. But watchdogs are skeptical that change will come. That is because for one, the Legislature is scheduled to meet for only 30 days in 2016. And although House Democrats introduced an ethics package, it is not certain how much momentum it will get, partially because many advocates worry the public has already grown too skeptical to think it is worthwhile to demand systemic change.
New Mexico – SOS Updates Guidelines for New Mexico Lobbyists
New Mexico In Depth – Sandra Fish | Published: 12/22/2015
The New Mexico secretary of state’s office published an updated set of guidelines for lobbyists. New Mexico in Depth reviewed lobbyists’ campaign contributions between 2013 and 2015. It noted it often was unclear if the lobbyist or an employer made donations reported by lobbyists. KOB-TV ran a series of stories about inconsistencies in campaign accounts, most of which occurred because of lax lobbyist reporting. The online reporting system is being updated to allow lobbyists to include the employer who makes a contribution. Lobbyists are asked to avoid reporting campaign donations cumulatively, instead listing individual contributions so they can be more easily compared to candidate reports. The rules also clarify that cumulative reporting of spending on lawmakers for meals and drinks of less than $75 per person should be more detailed than a single entry of all expenses for “various legislators.”
New York – Albany Trials Exposed the Power of a Real Estate Firm
New York Times – William Rashbaum | Published: 12/18/2015
One man who was a key player in the corruption cases against former New York lawmakers Dean Skelos and Sheldon Silver never appeared in the courtroom: Leonard Litwin, the 101-year-old owner of Glenwood Management, an influential developer that is among the state’s most prodigious political donors. The two trials revealed how entwined the interests of Glenwood and other developers are with the business of the state. Testimony, documents, emails, and other evidence provided the most detailed look to date at the ways in which Glenwood and others worked the levers of power to marshal tens of millions of dollars in campaign contributions through a maze of limited liability companies, trade associations, and political groups.
Pennsylvania – Scandal’s Web Trips Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane
New York Times – Michael Wines | Published: 12/18/2015
By themselves, the emails were arresting enough: videos, photographs, cartoons, and jokes, some depicting sex acts; others mocking or demeaning blacks, gays, Muslims, and even the poor and uneducated. But just as disturbing is where they were found: on Pennsylvania government computers, in email accounts whose owners included some of the state’s most powerful figures. Since Kathleen Kane, Pennsylvania’s attorney general, released the first of the messages last year, a cabinet officer and a state Supreme Court justice have resigned, another justice is clinging to his job, and scores more have been censured or fired. It is the sort of scandal that an ambitious politician could easily ride to public acclaim and higher office. But for Kane, the email scandal has become a last-ditch weapon in a struggle to keep her job, and perhaps her freedom.
Texas – Austin Officials to Create New Lobbying Registration, Reporting Rules
Austin American-Statesman – Lilly Rockwell | Published: 12/17/2015
After easing concerns from the city’s development-oriented industries, the Austin City Council approved a proposal to strengthen lobbying registration requirements. The proposal would require more people engaged in advocacy at City Hall to register, and it bolsters the city’s ability to enforce its lobbying laws. The council’s vote directed the city manager to craft this ordinance, which will return to the council for final approval next year.
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