News You Can Use Digest - February 12, 2016 - State and Federal Communications

February 12, 2016  •  

News You Can Use Digest – February 12, 2016



Amid Federal Gridlock, Lobbying Rises in the States
Center for Public Integrity – Liz Essley White and Ben Weider | Published: 2/11/2016

The number of business and interest groups lobbying in state Capitols has risen nearly 11 percent in recent years as organizations have shifted some efforts away from the stalemates in Washington, D.C. to statehouses, which are more apt to act on key policy initiatives, according to a new study. The Center for Public Integrity found 101 businesses, associations, or interest groups had lobbyists in at least two-thirds of the states between 2010 and 2014. That includes 21 entities registered to lobby in every state at some point during that period.

Michele Fiore, the Gun-Toting, Calendar-Posing Politician Who Negotiated the Ore. Occupiers’ Surrender
Washington Post – Michael Miller | Published: 2/11/2016

The remaining occupiers of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon tentatively agreed to turn themselves in, largely thanks to Nevada Assemblyperson Michele Fiore’s intervention. Fiore acted as act as the de facto negotiator for the occupiers, at times agreeing with their radical views and at others, calming them down. If the standoff ends peacefully, Fiore will emerge as the most unlikely of saviors. The brash lawmaker is one of the most colorful, controversial political people in the country.


IRS Grants Long-Delayed Tax Exempt Status to Crossroads GPS
Politico – Kenneth Vogel | Published: 2/9/2016

Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS has been granted tax-exempt “social welfare” status. After deliberating for more than five years, the IRS sent a letter to Crossroads GPS in November telling the group that it qualifies under section 501(c)4 of the tax code that allows it to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money while keeping its donors’ identities secret. During the 2012 election cycle, Crossroads GPS technically abided by the social welfare requirement, reporting it spent only 39 percent of its total $189 million spending on “direct political activities.” But millions of the non-political expenditures involved issue advocacy without expressly advocating for or against a candidate. Campaign finance reformers are incensed by the decision, which they believe validates “dark money” spending on a huge scale.

Line Blurs Between PR, Lobbying
The Hill – Megan Wilson | Published: 2/9/2016

Many on K Street say that offering public relations services has become a necessity in an era when controlling the media message is just as important to clients as cultivating relationships, especially with the explosion of information online. “I think lobbying is changing,” said lobbyist Steve Elmendorf. “People realize that decision makers get their information in so many different ways than they used to, and there are more channels of information. You need to do more than just [direct] lobbying.”

The Politico 100: Billionaires dominate 2016
Politico – Kenneth Vogel and Isaac Arnsdorf | Published: 2/6/2016

The 100 biggest donors of 2016 election cycle have spent $195 million trying to influence the presidential election, more than the $155 million spent by the two million smallest donors combined. The analysis found the leading beneficiaries of checks from the top 100 donors were Jeb Bush’s floundering campaign for the Republican nomination, Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, and Ted Cruz’s insurgent GOP campaign. The intensifying courtship of ultra-rich political partisans, which is occurring in private on both sides of the aisles in luxury resorts and phone calls, stands in contrast to the public discussion on the campaign trail, which is dominated by the concerns of the lower- and middle-class just struggling to get by.

From the States and Municipalities:

California – Two Nonprofits Face More Than $47,000 in Fines over L.A. Lobbying Forms
Los Angeles Times – Emily Alpert Reyes | Published: 2/10/2016

Los Angeles Ethics Commission staffers have proposed a fine of $30,000 for the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) and $17,500 for the Hospital Association of Southern California for not properly reporting their lobbying at City Hall. The Los Angeles Times reported a year ago that LAANE had failed to fill out key parts of city forms that are supposed to publicly reveal its lobbying activities. Several of its employees had registered as lobbyists, but the nonprofit did not report any payments to those employees or any related expenses for years at a time. Nor did LAANE report any issues that its employees were lobbying about. Commission investigators found similar gaps in the lobbying forms filed by the Hospital Association of Southern California.

Florida – Manatee Judge John Lakin Says Inexperience Led Him to Take Baseball Tickets
Bradenton Herald – Kate Irby | Published: 2/8/2016

Facing possible disciplinary action by the Florida Supreme Court, a Manatee County circuit judge has apologized for using Tampa Bay Rays tickets supplied by a firm with a case pending in his court. Judge John Lakin acknowledged violating canons of judicial conduct but denied baseball tickets influenced his decision in the case. A notice of formal charges says Lakin in June presided over a personal injury case in which a client of the firm Kallins Delgado & Little sued Wal-Mart. A jury found Wal-Mart was not liable, and a day later, Lakin’s judicial assistant contacted the firm about tickets for a Rays game. Lakin used two tickets and did not advise Wal-Mart’s attorneys, despite the case not being final. In August, Lakin issued an order setting aside the jury’s verdict and granting a new trial.

Hawaii – ‘Good Government’ Measures Take another Go at Hawaii Lawmakers
Honolulu Civil Beat – Nathan Eagle | Published: 2/10/2016

Watchdogs in Hawaii have championed ethics reform legislation for years, along with the state ethics and campaign spending commissions. But the Legislature often balks, and in some cases even works contrary to them. It is early yet in the 2016 session, which runs until May. Many reform measures are still alive, and a handful are moving forward. In a few instances, bills that stalled last year have been resurrected.

Maine – Why it’s Hard to Figure out Who’s Influencing Maine Lawmakers
Bangor Daily News – Darren Fishell | Published: 2/10/2016

For the 50 lobbyists in Maine who spent the most in 2015, The Bangor Daily News attempted to link together what those entities spent with the legislation they sought to influence and what has, so far in this ongoing session, happened with those bills. It is an exercise the state ethics commission also is going through as it prepares for another update to its website that Jonathan Wayne, the agency’s executive director, said will bring “significant improvements in the next year.” Maine has a relative abundance of information about lobbying activity, albeit self-reported and unaudited. The problem is presenting that information in a way that is understandable.

Michigan – Judge Puts Michigan ‘Gag Order’ Election Law on Hold
Detroit Free Press – Kathleen Gray and Lori Higgins | Published: 2/5/2016

A federal judge has put a temporary stop on a controversial part of a recently passed campaign finance bill. Senate Bill 571, which included significant changes in Michigan’s election law, contained a provision prohibiting the use of public resources by public entities such as schools and libraries in the 60 days before an election. The provision was found to be unconstitutionally vague by the judge, as it did not clarify what was permissible. While several bills to fix the provision have subsequently been introduced, it is likely none of them will be passed by the upcoming March 8 election.

New Hampshire – Sanders Defeats Clinton in Decisive New Hampshire Primary Victory
Washington Post – John Wagner and Anne Gearan | Published: 2/9/2016

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders notched his first win of the 2016 presidential race, defeating Hillary Clinton in the New Hampshire Democratic primary by a large margin. The win for Sanders amounted to a forceful rejection of Hillary Clinton, who has a deep history with New Hampshire voters and offered policy ideas that seemed to reflect the politics of the state. But Sanders, who has proposed an emphatically liberal agenda, drew support from a wide cross-section of voters, even edging her out among women, boosted by his appeal among the young. The outcome provides a fresh burst of momentum for Sanders in a race that will soon broaden to more challenging terrain and that is widely expected to grow more combative as Clinton tries to regain her footing.

New Hampshire – Trump Notches an Easy Victory in New Hampshire’s Republican Primary
Washington Post – Philip Rucker and Robert Costa | Published: 2/10/2016

Donald Trump won the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary by a decisive margin, claiming his first victory of the 2016 campaign and leaving the rest of the GOP field as murky as ever. Trump, whose blunt language and outsider image have electrified many Republicans, benefited from an unusually large field of candidates that split the vote among traditional politicians like Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who finished second, and Jeb Bush. Trump also galvanized voters with a visceral fixation on immigration and economic populism, affirming that even after the setback in the Iowa caucuses, his candidacy has genuine appeal with the GOP base as well as with the independent voters who were part of his winning coalition.

New York – Ethics Watchdog Clarifies Expanded Lobbying Definition
Albany Business Review – Marie French | Published: 2/5/2016

The New York Joint Commission on Public Ethics released answers to a list of frequently asked questions concerning a recent advisory opinion requiring the disclosure of more activities by political consultants that could be considered lobbying. Public relations firms are concerned about wording that could pull in activity ranging from talking with editorial boards to training sessions on how to advocate. Some have publicly declared they will not comply and questioned the rules’ clarity.

Ohio – Cleveland Council Approves Higher Caps on Campaign Donations
Cleveland Plain Dealer – Leila Atassi | Published: 2/8/2016

The Cleveland City Council voted to raise campaign contribution limits in mayoral races to $5,000 from an individual and $7,500 from PACs. Donations to council candidates will be capped at $1,500, with PACs donating up to $3,000. Council President Kevin Kelley, who sponsored the ordinance, has argued that increasing the limits could help newcomers run more robust campaigns against incumbents. But several council members said the legislation does nothing but widen the gap between incumbents and new candidates, setting up well-entrenched politicians to collect almost ten times more from their wealthiest donors.

Texas – FBI Arrests Nearly All The Top Officials of Crystal City, Tex.
Washington Post – Sarah Kaplan | Published: 2/8/2016

Federal agents arrested five current and former Crystal City officials – the mayor, city manager, mayor pro tempore, one of three current council members and a former councilperson – on bribery and kickback charges after a long-running public corruption probe in the low-income South Texas city. Long-suffering residents last year tried to recall three of those charged. How the city will function with only one city council member, Joel Barajas, not under federal indictment remains to be seen. The fifth council member, Marco Rodriguez, was charged recently with human smuggling in an unrelated case.

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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