February 10, 2017 •
News You Can Use Digest – February 10, 2017
Scores of State Lawmakers Took Trips Subsidized by Controversial Turkish Opposition Movement
Center for Public Integrity – Liz Essley Whyte | Published: 2/9/2017
Scores of state lawmakers from around the country have accepted trips subsidized by affiliates of a Turkish opposition group, which is blamed by that country’s government for a failed coup attempt. The Center for Public Integrity found some state lawmakers who went on the trips later introduced resolutions supporting Turkish opposition leader Fethullah Gulen’s controversial Hizmet movement. And some have supported charter schools that are part of a network of roughly 160 taxpayer-funded schools run by friends of the movement. Among those who went on the trips were legislators who had rarely traveled overseas. Many had little knowledge of Gulen or Turkish politics, and few of their states have trade connections to Turkey.
Kellyanne Conway Promotes Ivanka Trump Brand, Raising Ethics Concerns
New York Times – Richard Pérez-Peña and Rachel Abrams | Published: 2/9/2017
President Trump’s official counselor, Kellyanne Conway, may have broken an ethics rule when she told television audiences to “go buy Ivanka’s stuff.” Federal employees are banned from using their public office to endorse products. Conway, appearing on “Fox & Friends” from the White House briefing room, was responding to boycotts of Ivanka Trump merchandise and Nordstrom’s discontinuation of stocking her clothing and shoe lines, which the retailer said was in response to low sales and which the president assailed as unfair. Don Fox, former general counsel and acting director of the Office of Government Ethics, said: “Conway’s encouragement to buy Ivanka’s stuff would seem to be a clear violation of rules prohibiting misuse of public office for anyone’s private gain.”
The Silencing of Elizabeth Warren and an Old Senate Rule Prompted by a Fistfight
Washington Post – Derek Hawkins | Published: 2/8/2017
Republican senators voted to formally silence a Democratic colleague for impugning a peer, U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, by condemning his nomination for attorney general while reading a letter from Coretta Scott King. U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren had been holding forth on the chamber floor on the eve of Sessions’ expected confirmation vote, reciting a 1986 letter from King that criticized Sessions’ record on civil rights. Majority leader Mitch McConnell stepped forward with an objection, setting off an extraordinary confrontation in the Capitol and silencing a colleague, procedurally, in the throes of a contentious debate over President Trump’s cabinet nominee.
Under-the-Radar Change to Congressional Ethics Watchdog May Weaken It
Washington Post – Elise Viebeck | Published: 2/8/2017
While initial Republican efforts to weaken the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) were thought to have been rebuffed, one little-noticed change that slipped through afterward is prompting fears among watchdogs that it could undermine the OGE’s work. The change relates to how new members are chosen for the OCE’s board, which authorizes its investigations. Under the final House rules package, the speaker and minority leader no longer must agree on their respective appointments to the board – they merely have to notify each other before proceeding with their own selections. That is raising concerns it could make the OCE more vulnerable to partisanship and, in the process, weaken its investigations of misconduct by lawmakers.
From the States and Municipalities:
Alabama – Luther Strange Senate Appointment Dismays Some Alabama Republicans
U.S. News & World Report – Steven Nelson | Published: 2/9/2017
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley appointed state Attorney General Luther Strange to fill the Senate seat left vacant by Jeff Sessions, who was just confirmed as U.S. attorney general. The appointment follows questions about what role, if any, the Alabama attorney general’s office had in probing controversies swirling around the governor. The state attorney general’s office is conducting an investigation related to Bentley, against whom Strange requested impeachment efforts be stalled in November, citing “related work” by his office. Bentley is caught in a complex web of scandals involving an alleged affair with a now-former senior aide, and the alleged retaliatory firing of a state official who cooperated in the corruption prosecution of a legislative leader later sentenced to prison.
California – California’s Top Court to Decide Whether Emails and Texts Sent on Personal Devices Are Public Record
Los Angeles Times – Maura Dolan | Published: 2/2/2017
During a December hearing, the California Supreme Court appeared ready to rule that government business conducted on private telephones and computers must be made public. The quandary expressed by justices was how to fashion a rule to protect the privacy of government employees and still ensure that public business was open to inspection. Karl Olson, representing the news media, argued many public officials are deliberately using personal computers and telephones to conceal their communications Associations of cities, counties, and school boards throughout the state say any rule that requires them to turn over communications on private devices would be a huge and costly burden.
Connecticut – State Democrats Say Federal Campaign Finance Probe Has Ended
Washington Times – Susan Haigh (Associated Press) | Published: 2/2/2017
A federal investigation into whether Connecticut Democrats illegally raised money in support of the re-election of Gov. Dannel Malloy in 2014 has ended without criminal charges. Federal investigators looked into whether the Democratic Party illegally spent $278,000 in political contributions to pay for a mailing benefiting Malloy’s campaign. The money came from state contractors and was earmarked for federal candidates. But the state party argued the mailers touting Malloy’s record were part of an overall “get-out-the-vote” effort that also helped federal candidates.
Illinois – Redflex to Pay $20 Million to Chicago to Settle Lawsuit over Bribery Scheme
Chicago Tribune – David Kidwell | Published: 2/6/2017
A red-light camera company whose former chief executive pleaded guilty to a federal bribery charge will pay $20 million to settle a lawsuit with the city of Chicago. The deal ends a lawsuit the city filed against Redflex Traffic Systems, accusing Redflex of fraud and making false statements when it contracted in 2003 to run Chicago’s red-light camera enforcement program. Former Redflex Chief Executive Officer Karen Finley and former Chicago transportation official John Bills were convicted in a $100 million kickback scheme. Finley was given a two-year prison term and Bills received a 10-year sentence. Bills was accused of accepting envelopes stuffed with cash, along with gifts to help Redflex obtain contracts in a decade-long scheme.
New Mexico – Lobbyist Loophole Fix Stalls in Senate Committee
New Mexico In Depth – Sandra Fish and Trip Jennings | Published: 2/8/2017
A New Mexico Senate committee failed to approve a bill that would close a loophole a new law that allows lobbyists to disclose much less about how they spend money on public officials than they used to. The law passed last year removed a requirement for lobbyists to report expenses spent on individual lawmakers below $100. Previously, lobbyists had to report all spending, itemizing expenses spent above $75 per lawmaker and reporting the cumulative amount of expenses below $75 per lawmaker. As of July 1, 2016, lobbyists did not have to report any spending below $100 per lawmaker. The legislation’s sponsor said he will try again to get Senate Bill 168 passed by the Rules Committee.
New Mexico – Strange Bedfellows: How four Capitol couples negotiate love, lobbying, and legislating
Santa Fe Reporter – Matt Grubbs | Published: 2/8/2017
Four couples roaming the halls of the New Mexico Capitol have a unique relationship – one is legislator and the other is a lobbyist. The relationships bring with it both a comfortable familiarity and a set of unique pitfalls. State law does not speak specifically on the issue of a lobbyist-lawmaker relationship. The Governmental Conduct Act does say disclosure of potential conflicts “shall be a guiding principle for determining appropriate conduct. At all times, reasonable efforts shall be made to avoid undue influence and abuse of office in public service.”
Oklahoma – Capitol Influence: Lobbyists need more than money to succeed at state Capitol
Tulsa World – Barbara Hoberock and Randy Krehbiel | Published: 2/5/2017
To the public, influence at the state Capitol may seem to come down to who hands out the most campaign cash and hires the most lobbyists. Former legislative leaders acknowledged the roles of money and lobbyists in Oklahoma, but they also cited individual constituents, public opinion, unexpected events, lawmakers’ own experiences, and subtle and not-so-subtle attempts to shape perceptions of government.
Tennessee – Analysis: The power of Tennessee lobbyists
The Tennessean – Dave Boucher | Published: 1/28/2017
An analysis of lobbyist compensation, expenses, campaign expenditures, and legislative registration in recent years shows millions of dollars spent by hundreds of organizations every year to become power players at the statehouse. Lobbyists routinely meet with legislators, create client strategies, and often write the actual language in a bill. A winning strategy does not always mean passing a new law. Many times a win means defeating legislation or orchestrating a public campaign to educate key lawmakers. Some say this gives a handful of people too much influence. Lobbyists, however, say they merely represent the interests of a broad swath of constituents and do much more than try to win for their client.
Texas – Citizens United Lawyer Targets Texas Campaign Finance Laws
Arizona Daily Star – David Saleh Rauf (Associated Press) | Published: 2/7/2017
A case before the Texas Supreme Court could overturn longtime state laws that require certain political committees to disclose donors and ban direct political contributions from corporations. The conservative group King Street Patriots has been the focus of a longstanding lawsuit by the state Democratic Party accusing the organization of violating campaign finance laws by engaging in political behavior when it dispatched poll watchers on behalf of the Texas Republican Party during the 2010 election. But the nonprofit, represented by James Bopp, architect of the landmark Citizens United case, has fired back with a counterclaim challenging numerous provisions of the state’s campaign finance law.
Utah – Gold Coins, Posh Trips Form Backdrop in Utah Bribery Trial
Fresno Bee – Lindsay Whitehurst (Associated Press) | Published: 2/7/2017
A corruption scandal that prosecutors say connected wealthy businesspeople and powerful politicians against a backdrop of luxury vacations, gold coins, and a surreptitiously recorded meeting at a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop is set to come to a Utah courtroom. Former Utah Attorney General John Swallow is charged with 13 counts of bribery, evidence tampering, and other crimes. He was arrested in 2014, along with his predecessor and onetime boss, Mark Shurtleff, who had been attorney general for more than a dozen years. Authorities said the two hung a virtual “for sale” sign on the door to the state’s top law enforcement office, taking campaign donations and gifts like beach vacations in exchange for favorable treatment in investigations.
Washington – Trump EPA Official Juggles Two Jobs in Two Washingtons, and It Hasn’t Gone Well.
Washington Post – Lisa Rain and Bradley Dennis | Published: 2/7/2017
Washington Sen. Doug Ericksen defended his role at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), saying he could handle his Senate responsibilities while also helping the Trump administration. Ericksen stressed that his federal government job was only temporary, and has not hindered the Senate or an environmental committee he chairs. Ericksen is one of 10 people on the EPA transition team and is serving as communications director in Washington, D.C. for up to 120 days. Because of the job, he has missed significant time in Olympia during the first few weeks of the legislative session. Ericksen’s absence is the linchpin to party control of the state Senate, since Republicans control the chamber by just one vote. Without him, party-line votes are tied, with the lieutenant governor in a position to break the tie in Democrats’ favor.
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