News You Can Use Digest - December 4, 2015 - State and Federal Communications

December 4, 2015  •  

News You Can Use Digest – December 4, 2015



Where do Ads Shaping State Politics Come From? Increasingly, These Outside Players
Time – Ashley Balcerzak (Center for Public Integrity) | Published: 12/2/2015

Groups independent from candidates or parties are taking a larger role in shaping political campaigns. Thirty-three outside groups spent more than $32 million on their own political ads this year, accounting for more than one-third of the estimated $86 million in broadcast television ad spending in seven states with major races. That represents more than one in four political spots aired, compared with less than one in five ads in both 2011 when the same states had comparable races and in 2014 when major races occurred in 45 states. “People who want to make change in policy are looking increasingly at state and local politics, and there is an increased capacity of these national organizations to raise money and distribute it,” said Campaign Finance Institute Executive Director Michael Malbin.


A Mole in the Koch Machine?
The Hill – Jonathan Swan | Published: 12/2/2015

Hillary Clinton’s well-financed ally David Brock has a team that claims to be coordinating with moles inside the corporate and political empire of the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch. The anti-Koch unit within the Bridge Project told The Hill it has covert channels feeding information from within the private world of the Kochs, the most influential campaign donors in conservative politics. The claim is a new indication the left may be countering what Politico recently reported was a Koch operation that “conducts surveillance and intelligence gathering on its liberal opponents,” partly with help from a former CIA analyst.

Campaigns Turn to a Cheaper Medium to Get Voters’ Ears: Radio
New York Times – Nick Corasaniti | Published: 12/3/2015

Radio listeners, stuck in their cars for long stretches, may be the closest thing to a captive audience for political commercials. And in Iowa and New Hampshire, at least, they are already being pummeled with appeals, both positive and negative, by the presidential contenders and their allies. Television advertising is still king, both in terms of total spending and number of times that ads run, and will continue to eat up the bulk of campaign budgets. But if radio spending is still minuscule by comparison, that is partly because it is so inexpensive.

GOP Rider Would Boost Party Spending
Politico – Kenneth Vogel and Seung Min Kim | Published: 11/25/2015

U.S. Senate Republicans plan to insert a provision into a government-funding bill that would expand the amount of money that political parties could spend on candidates. The provision, which sources say is one of a few campaign finance related riders being discussed in closed-door negotiations over a $1.15 trillion omnibus spending package, would eliminate caps on the amount of cash that parties may spend in coordination with their candidates. Watchdogs argue it would allow wealthy donors to exercise even more influence with members of Congress. And they cried foul over the possibility that the provision could be slipped into the spending bill that Congress is working to pass before a December 11 deadline to avoid a government shutdown.

From the States and Municipalities:

California – California Campaign Law’s Loopholes Allow Donors to Skirt Limits
San Jose Mercury News; Associated Press –   | Published: 11/30/2015

Two days after California’s elected tax board gave SpaceX exemptions worth millions of dollars last year, the rocket company donated $7,500, at the request of board President Jerome Horton, to a nonprofit group founded by his wife. SpaceX made the contribution as a sponsor of a public conference headlined by Horton as he was running for re-election. Such donations are among the ways that businesses and others with matters before the Board of Equalization have benefited its members despite a law to prevent conflicts-of-interest. Other ways to bypass the contribution caps include giving through PACs, donating just below the legal limit, and contributing to board members’ outside projects.

California – Fast Times at Rancho Santiago: Official’s passion for golf pays dividends for contractors
Voice of OC – Adam Elmahrek | Published: 12/2/2015

Peter Hardash’s job is vice chancellor of business operations for the Rancho Santiago Community College District, which makes him the gatekeeper of millions of taxpayer dollars that end up being spent on construction-related contracts. But his passion is golf. Luckily for Hardash, his passion and his job often intersect. Companies that do business with the district have lavished nearly $3,500 in gifts, primarily golf-related, on Hardash over a span of two years. Meanwhile, they have reaped almost $12 million in contracts. Oftentimes Hardash has submitted contracts to the district’s Board of Trustees within days of the vendors buying him rounds of golf, or, in one instance, just a week after offering him tickets to the Toshiba Classic golf tournament.

California – S.F. Ethics Commission Hires Director with Long Experience in L.A.
San Francisco Chronicle – Lizzie Johnson and Heather Knight | Published: 11/24/2015

LeeAnn Pelham, who finished a 10-year term as head of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission in 2011, will start as executive director of the San Francisco Ethics Commission in January, replacing John St. Croix. Pelham most recently served as director of ethics and corporate governance for the Santa Clara Valley Water District. St. Croix held the post for 11 years and was criticized by some for being slow to act and going too easy on those accused of ethics breaches. Critics of St. Croix are hopeful Pelham will reinvigorate the commission and push to strengthen ethics rules.

Hawaii – High Court Rejects Challenge to Hawaii Campaign Finance Laws
WRAL; Associated Press –   | Published: 11/29/2015

The Hawaii Supreme Court rejected an appeal from a company that spent about $9,000 on newspaper advertisements during the 2010 election cycle. The ads from A-1 A-Lectrician, Inc. were critical of Blake Oshiro, a candidate for the state Legislature. Hawaii law requires any entity that spends more than $1,000 to influence elections to register as a PAC, triggering reporting and disclosure requirements. The company argues the law is too burdensome and should apply only to entities whose primary purpose is political activity.

Illinois – A Wealthy Governor and His Friends Are Remaking Illinois
New York Times – Nicholas Confessore | Published: 11/29/2015

Kenneth Griffin, the billionaire founder of one of the world’s largest hedge funds, and a small group of rich supporters from all over the country have poured tens of millions of dollars into Illinois, a concentration of political money without precedent in the state’s history. Their wealth has shifted the balance of power; they helped elect Bruce Rauner as governor last year. The rich families remaking Illinois are among a small group around the country who have channeled their wealth into political power, taking advantage of regulatory, legal, and cultural shifts that have carved new paths for infusing money into campaigns.

Kansas – Wichita City Council Votes to Change Local Campaign Finance Law, Increase Salaries
Wichita Eagle – Kelsey Ryan | Published: 12/1/2015

The Wichita City Council voted to allow campaign contributions from corporations, unions, and PACs in local elections. The majority said they did not think the move would greatly affect elections, particularly since the contributions would be limited to $500, like individual donations. But those against the measure cited concerns about opening up elections to party-affiliated groups like PACs. They said they were concerned about transparency since PACs do not have to report their individual donors.

New Campaign Reform Rules Filed with State
Great Falls Tribune – Phil Drake | Published: 11/24/2015

Montana Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl adopted new campaign finance rules that he says will improve the transparency and reporting of money spent to influence elections. They will be in effect during the 2016 campaign season. The new rules require candidates and political committees to file their reports electronically, which will make them immediately available online. The rules require candidates to file campaign finance reports at both 35 days and 12 days before elections. The 35-day reporting requirement is new. They also require third-party groups to report spending if their communication mentions a candidate or uses an image of them within 90 days of an election.

Nevada – Appointees to Key Positions in Nevada Remain Little-Known to Taxpayers
Las Vegas Review-Journal – Sean Whaley | Published: 11/30/2015

As a recent nationwide report noted, taxpayers do not know much about members of the Nevada Public Employees Retirement System, the individuals charged with managing the state retirement system for nearly all state and local government employees. The same is true for appointees to other boards and commissions. The appointed members of the Transportation Commission, who recently voted to award a $559 million highway contract, do not have to disclose potential financial conflicts. And members of the state Ethics Commission also are not required to file disclosure statements. The report found 47 states require state-level public officials to file financial disclosure forms, but few require detailed information. While Nevada’s disclosure forms are easily accessible on the secretary of state’s website, there is no budget to check for compliance.

New York – Corruption Trial: Adam Skelos laid out lobbyists’ views of upstate, downstate
Albany Times Union – Chris Bragg | Published: 11/29/2015

Adam Skelos, the son of former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, believed he knew how things got done in Albany: do not hire a New York City lobbyist to influence the Senate Republican majority, which was led by his father until earlier this year. It is friendships, familiarity, and an upstate ZIP code that move the levers of power. The younger Skelos laid out those views of New York’s lobbying industry in a phone call recorded in February, recently disclosed as part of the father and son’s ongoing corruption trial, and his view of how to influence upstate lawmakers. In the call, Adam Skelos singles out one Albany lobbyist, Nick Barrella, managing partner of the Capitol Group, as especially effective in lobbying Senate Republicans. Adam Skelos said that is because Barrella and Dean Skelos have condos near one another in Florida, and their wives are “booze buddies, more or less.”

New York – Sheldon Silver, Ex-New York Assembly Speaker, Is Found Guilty on All Counts
New York Times – Benjamin Weiser and Susanne Craig | Published: 11/30/2015

Former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was convicted of charges he traded favors in exchange for about $4 million in bribes and kickbacks disguised as legal fees and lied about it to regulators. The conviction triggers his automatic expulsion from the Legislature. Silver’s trial overlapped with the corruption trial of former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos on charges that Skelos badgered companies to give his son more than $300,000 in exchange for his political support. Silver is the fifth state lawmaker to be convicted by federal prosecutors in 2015. Thirty New York lawmakers have left office since 2000 because of criminal charges or allegations of misconduct.

North Carolina – 7 Legislators Failing to Detail Campaign Payments to Themselves
Raleigh News & Observer – Colin Campbell | Published: 11/27/2015

A Raleigh News & Observer review of legislators’ latest campaign reports found most meticulously detail expenses they pay with campaign donations. Meal charges list the date, amount, and the name of the restaurant. Travel expenses usually list where the lawmaker went and why. But those details are missing from seven legislators’ 2015 reports. Instead, the reports show they paid themselves thousands of dollars as reimbursement for “expenses related to holding public office,” a method of reporting that appears to skirt the requirements of campaign-finance law.

Jim SedorState 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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