December 23, 2016 •
News You Can Use Digest – December 23, 2016
Suspected of Corruption at Home, Powerful Foreigners Find Refuge in U.S.
Miami Herald – Kyra Gurney, Analji Tsui, David Iaconangelo, and Selena Cheng | Published: 12/9/2016
Wealthy politicians and businesspeople suspected of corruption in their native lands are fleeing to a safe haven where their wealth and influence shield them from arrest. They have entered this country on a variety of visas, including one designed to encourage investment. Some have applied for asylum, which is intended to protect people fleeing oppression and political persecution. The increasingly popular destination for people avoiding criminal charges is no pariah nation. It is the United States.
The Future of Campaign Finance Reform Is at The State and Local Level
Huffington Post – Paul Blumenthal | Published: 12/20/2016
Portland’s passage of an ordinance establishing public funding for campaigns came on the heels of similar victories in South Dakota and Missouri, as well as in Berkeley, California, and Howard County, Maryland. These successes showcase the broad bipartisan support across the country for campaign finance reform that boosts the power of small donors to counter the dominance of big money. These wins, while big in their own right, were supposed to be overshadowed by changes at the U.S. Supreme Court level. Donald Trump is likely to appoint someone whose thought process lines up with that of late Justice Antonin Scalia, meaning the five-vote majority that wrote Citizens United would maintain its power and campaign finance laws would continue to fall. So reformers rest their hopes where they can: at the state and local levels.
Access to Donald Trump, for $500,000: Pitfalls for Presidents’ Families
New York Times – Eric Lipton | Published: 12/20/2016
The initial invitation from Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump dangled a rare opportunity for donors willing to give $500,000 and more: a private reception with the new president the day after his inauguration and a hunting or fishing excursion with one of the brothers. But after the details about the “camouflage & cufflinks”-themed fundraiser first leaked, a spokesperson for President-elect Donald Trump said neither he nor his adult sons were involved in plans for the event. The confusion over the family’s connection to the fundraiser showed the degree to which Trump has failed to set rules that would protect his family from allegations of influence-peddling or draw clear lines between himself and the interests of his children, who will take over management of his business empire, watchdog groups said.
Donald Trump Is Holding a Government Casting Call. He’s Seeking ‘The Look.’
Washington Post – Philip Rucker and Karen Tumulty | Published: 12/21/2016
The parade of potential job-seekers passing the media cameras at Trump Tower has the feel of a casting call. It is no coincidence that a disproportionate share of the names most mentioned for jobs at the upper echelon of the new administration are familiar faces to viewers of cable news. Given Donald Trump’s own background as a master brander who ran beauty pageants as a sideline, it was probably inevitable he would be looking beyond their résumés for a certain aesthetic in his supporting players. “You can come with somebody who is very much qualified for the job, but if they don’t look the part, they’re not going anywhere,” said a person familiar with the transition team’s deliberations.
Former Philadelphia Congressman Chaka Fattah Sentenced to 10 Years in Prison
Philadelphia Inquirer – Jeremy Roebuck | Published: 12/13/2016
Former U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, who was convicted in June of more than 20 counts corruption, was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Fattah repeatedly bribed others and stole campaign contributions, charitable donations, and federal grant money, prosecutors said. He will pay $614,000 in damages and will be supervised for three years after his release. Fattah’s son is serving a five-year prison sentence for defrauding Philadelphia banks and the IRS to cover gambling debts and other personal expenses.
From the States and Municipalities:
New Alaska House Leaders Embrace Loophole to raise Campaign Cash from Lobbyists
Alaska Dispatch News – Nathaniel Herz | Published: 12/18/2016
Republican leaders of Alaska’s incoming House majority coalition are embracing a fundraising loophole that allows them to collect money from lobbyists, who are otherwise restricted from donating to legislators and candidates. House Democrats, who joined with the Republicans to form the majority coalition, have been some of the most vocal supporters of legislation to limit the flow of special-interest money into the state’s campaigns. But they are now collaborating with the fundraising efforts of their new GOP colleagues, Reps. Gabrielle LeDoux and Paul Seaton.
Denver Officials Move Closer to Listing Their Gifts Online and Tightening Ethics Rules
Denver Post – Jon Murray | Published: 12/20/2016
Denver is moving closer to adopting ethics code reforms and revamping lobbyist and gift disclosure rules that will make it easier for citizens to see who is wooing officials with meals and tickets. Besides discussing a new dollar limit on event tickets from each donor with a city interest, the most significant proposed changes also may be the simplest: make elected and appointed officials’ gift disclosures available online, and do it more often, every six months instead of annually.
Lobbyists Spent Nearly Half a Million Dollars to Woo Louisiana Legislators in 2016
New Orleans Advocate – Elizabeth Crisp | Published: 12/18/2016
Nearly $500,000 has been spent entertaining state legislators this year, roughly $3,300 in lobbyist spending per lawmaker, as the Louisiana Legislature spent a record-setting 19 weeks in session sorting through the state’s fiscal woes. A review of disclosure data shows the $476,019.20 tab that lobbyists have run up in 2016 far outpaced the amount spent in any of the eight years since the state began requiring more detailed expenditure reporting. At least 593 registered lobbyists pushed for or against legislation as it made its way through the Capitol this year. “Every interest pretty much has a lobbyist in Baton Rouge,” said Pearson Cross, a political science professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
Appeals Court Overturns Convictions in Probation Department Scandal
Boston Globe – Milton Valencia | Published: 12/19/2016
A U.S. appeals court judge overturned the convictions of three former Massachusetts Probation Department officials accused of running a rigged hiring scheme. Probation Commissioner John O’Brien and his deputies, Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke, were convicted in July 2014. Prosecutors said they hired employees based on political connections, not merit, then lied when they certified the hires were done correctly. Judge Juan Torruella in his ruling said O’Brien and others misran the department and made efforts to conceal the patronage hiring system. “But not all unappealing conduct is criminal,” Torruella wrote. He said the government did not adequately prove O’Brien accepted a gratuity since there was not sufficient linkage between O’Brien’s offering favored candidates a job and him getting a specific item of value in return.
Lawmakers’ Revolt Sinks Book Deal, Newspaper Bill
Bergen Record – Salvador Rizzo | Published: 12/19/2016
A book deal for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will have to wait. State lawmakers said they would not vote on a measure changing an ethics law that barred Christie from cashing in on a book deal while in office, at the same time giving millions of dollars in pay raises to lawmakers’ staff, judges, and other officials. The measure had buy-in from leaders in the Democrat-led Legislature and was on a fast track to the governor’s desk at the same time as a measure viewed by some as a vendetta by Christie against the state’s newspapers. But rank-and-file members all but revolted in closed-door meetings when faced with the book-deal legislation, and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto said a separate bill that would end the requirement that government legal notices be published in newspapers will be postponed until next year.
De Blasio Is Fined $48,000 for Campaign Finance Violations
New York Times – J. David Goodman | Published: 12/15/2016
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has been fined almost $48,000 for violating spending rules during his 2013 mayoral campaign. The city council also passed a bill to limit the activities of outside nonprofit political groups, a measure aimed squarely at the Campaign for One New York, a nonprofit political group created by de Blasio and his aides that is at the center of state and federal inquiries into his fundraising.
N.Y. Pay-to-Play Plot Fueled by Bribes, U.S. Says
Bloomberg.com – Bob Van Voris and Chris Dolmetsch | Published: 12/21/2016
A former official at the country’s third-largest pension fund and two broker-dealers were charged in what a federal prosecutor described as a classic bribery scheme. Navnoor King, the former head of the New York State Common Retirement Fund’s fixed income trades, received more than $100,000 worth of bribes from broker-dealers Deborah Kelley and Gregg Sconhorn, prosecutors said. Regulators found Kang steered about $2 billion in fixed-income trades to firms represented by Kelley and Schonhorn, resulting in millions of dollars in commissions. Prosecutors said in exchange, Kang received a $10,000 all-expenses-paid trip to Montreal, tickets to a Paul McCartney concert, a $17,420 Panerai wristwatch, dinners at upscale restaurants, prostitutes, and cocaine.
North Carolina Governor Signs Bill Limiting His Successor’s Power
Governing – Pat Jarvis (Raleigh News & Observer) | Published: 12/19/2016
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed bills that will limit the authority of his successors and reduce Democrats’ power over election regulation in the wake of two contentious special sessions. Senate Bill 4 would create a commission merging the current State Board of Elections, State Ethics Commission, and the lobbying-regulation functions of the secretary of state’s office. Protesters disrupted a House debate about the changes to election law, chanting and prompting House Speaker Tim Moore to order police to clear the public gallery.
Rep. Jim Merrill Indicted in S.C. Statehouse Probe; Suspended from Office
Charleston Post & Courier – Schuyler Kropf and Glenn Smith | Published: 12/15/2016
South Carolina Rep. Jim Merrill was indicted on 30 charges that accuse him of misconduct in office as far back as 2002 as well as a series of ethics violations. The indictment says Merrill illegally used his office to pocket at least $1.3 million, either directly or through his business, Geechie Communications. He also failed to disclose receiving payments of more $673,000 from trade, advocacy, and political groups in violation of state ethics law, according to the indictment. Crangle, head of South Carolina Common Cause, said he suspects as many as three or four more people are facing indictments.
Smarter Corruption: How Lost Trust evolved into ‘Capitol Gains’
Charleston Post & Courier – Tony Bartelme and Doug Pardue | Published: 12/17/2016
“Operation Lost Trust” in 1990 ended much of the overt vote selling that went on at the South Carolina Legislature. But the recent indictment of a powerful state lawmaker showed, prosecutors believe other forms of graft and influence-peddling have taken its place, schemes that are more difficult to pierce. Where cash once was transferred in brown bags and envelopes, prosecutors now say money moves through a murky system of legislative caucuses, PACs, campaign accounts, and private businesses – and enormous sums are at stake.
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