News You Can Use Digest - February 13, 2015 - State and Federal Communications

February 13, 2015  •  

News You Can Use Digest – February 13, 2015



Big Business Crushed Ballot Measures in 2014
Center for Public Integrity – Liz Essley Whyte | Published: 2/5/2015

Business interests poured money into ballot question fights last year, largely to protect their own revenue, with overwhelmingly positive results. More than three-quarters of the $272 million given by the top 50 donors to ballot measure groups nationwide came from corporations or business trade organizations. They contributed most of their money to defeat proposals and were almost always successful, winning 96 percent of the time.

Helena-Based Campaign Finance-Tracking Group Gets Prestigious $1M Grant
The Missoulian; Staff    | Published: 2/5/2015

When advocates, lawyers, journalists, or others want to investigate the influence of campaign finance on public policy, they often turn to a nonprofit with a massive database: ­the National Institute on Money in State Politics. The institute’s website,, offers the public access to an archive covering contributions to candidates in every state over several decades. The institute now has $1-million more to further its work, one of nine nonprofits that were honored with a MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.


Forum Becomes Campaign Cash Free-for-All
Center for Public Integrity – Dave Levinthal | Published: 2/11/2015

With the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent McCutcheon decision as the starting point, attendees at an FEC hearing laid out a wide range of ideas for improving disclosure and preventing political corruption. Equally split between Democrats and Republicans and lacking decisive direction from Congress, the commissioners are not likely to take any sweeping action in the wake of the hearing. That did not discourage an outpouring of interest from reform groups and free speech organizations, well beyond the scope of developing rules to implement last year’s decision by the high court.

The Secret World of a Well-Paid ‘Donor Adviser’ in Politics
New York Times – Nicholas Confessore | Published: 2/5/2015

Over the past several years, many nonprofits and super PACs have paid Mary Pat Bonner’s consulting firm in excess of $6 million to help them cultivate wealthy donors and raise money. Bonner’s contracts give her firm a commission on any money she brings in from her network of rich Democrats and liberals. Her tenacity and ties to wealthy givers have made Bonner among the most successful practitioners of a trade that is virtually invisible to voters but has taken on power and influence in the post-Citizens United world. But the growing influence of paid fundraisers and the terms of their compensation have also drawn the ire of donors in both parties, who have grown increasingly skeptical of Washington’s consultant class and the secret, often lucrative deals they reach with campaigns.

From the States and Municipalities:

California – A Legal Use of Power: Parties funnel millions to California candidates
Sacramento Bee – Jim Miller | Published: 2/7/2015

Fourteen years after California voters approved a measure that imposed candidate contribution limits for the first time, the pipeline of money between donors, political party committees, and far-flung candidates in competitive races continues to grow. Political parties’ role as money middlemen effectively skirts the limits while making it difficult for voters to figure out which special interests support a candidate. The transactions are complex, sometimes involving multiple committees, yet entirely legal if there is no coordination between donors, committees, and candidates. Such cases are difficult to prove and only a relative handful of politicians, consultants, or political committees have gotten in trouble for money laundering.

Florida – Mayor’s Ball Draws Influential Donors
South Florida Sun Sentinel – Andy Reid | Published: 2/9/2015

Builders, lobbyists, and others who have business before local government are among the top sponsors of the Palm Beach County Mayor’s Ball fundraiser for the homeless. The February 28 event offers the chance for those paying $250 per ticket to socialize with elected leaders as a way to raise money to fight homelessness. While event backers say it is a way for local leaders to raise money for a good cause, critics warn that fundraisers like this can create the perception of buying influence with elected officials.

Hawaii – Hawaii Lobbyists Fined for Failing to Register with State Ethics Commission
Greenfield Daily Reporter; Associated Press –   | Published: 2/5/2015

David Arakawa, executive director of the Land Use Research Foundation, lobbied on the foundation’s behalf between 2008 and 2014 without registering himself or the organization with the Hawaii Ethics Commission as required by state law. The commission also said neither Arakawa nor the foundation filed lobbying expenditure and contribution reports during that period. As a result, Arakawa and the foundation will each pay $2,000 in fines.

Illinois – Illinois Governor Acts to Curb Power of Public Sector Unions
New York Times – Monica Davey and Mitch Smith | Published: 2/9/2015

In a move that surprised lawmakers and infuriated public-sector union officials, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner signed an executive order absolving members of the state workforce under his control from having to contribute so-called fair share dues. Rauner said a review found current law unconstitutional because it requires nonunion workers to pay union dues that may help fund political campaigns they do not agree with. Under state law, employees can decline to join a union but are still on the hook for fair share fees related to collective bargaining and contract negotiations. The statute prohibits those fees from being used to support political activities, but Rauner contended it is nearly impossible to draw a distinction because public sector unions directly negotiate with the government.

New Mexico – New Mexico Lobbyists Spend on Lawmakers but Disclosure Lacks
Las Cruces Sun-News – Sandra Fish (New Mexico In Depth) | Published: 2/7/2015

Individual lobbyists spent more than $1.6 million on gifts, meals, and entertainment for New Mexico’s elected officials and staff in the four years from 2011 through 2014. Over the same period, businesses and organizations spent more than $379,000 directly to fete elected officials with parties, golf passes, and more. But the lack of required disclosure creates haziness when tracking how the money flows to state lawmakers and other public officials. Filings for 69 percent of the total spending in the last four years, more than $1.1 million, do not list specifics on who was being entertained. That is because New Mexico does not require lobbyists to disclose specifics about who they entertained if the expense is less than $75.

New York – Political Corruption in Albany a Very Old Story
Albany Times Union – Paul Grondahl | Published: 2/10/2015

Since 2000, 28 state legislators in New York have left office due to criminal or ethical issues, and four more have been indicted. Political corruption in Albany is an old game. When Teddy Roosevelt was a freshman legislator in 1882, he kept a diary and once wrote that Assemblyperson John Raines had “the same idea of public life and civil service that a vulture has of dead sheep.” Roosevelt witnessed several colleagues accepting bags of cash from Tammany Hall operatives to defeat bills that would adversely affect their business partners.

Oregon – Love and Politics Collide as Scandals Plague Oregon’s Fourth-Term Governor
New York Times – Kirk Johnson | Published: 2/11/2015

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber is confronting a barrage of criticism, calls for his resignation, and a potential recall petition. After simmering for months, influence-peddling allegations boiled over on Kitzhaber, when an editorial by The Portland Oregonian calling for his resignation shined a national spotlight on the controversy. A series of reports have revealed Kitzhaber’s fiancée, Cylvia Hayes, did paid consulting work for organizations with an interest in public policy in the state. During the same period, she worked as an unpaid adviser in the governor’s office on some of the same issues. Kitzhaber has said he and Hayes took care to avoid conflicts.

Pennsylvania – A Section of City Code Has Money from Law Firms, Corporations Drying Up in Philly Politics
Philadelphia Inquirer – Chris Hepp | Published: 2/8/2015

A densely written passage in the city code has arguably has done as much to alter how political campaigns in Philadelphia are conducted as any recent attempt at campaign finance reform. Designed to attack the city’s “pay-to-play” culture, Section 17-1405 has all but eliminated large law firms and corporations, and thousands of partners and directors at those entities, as major financial contributors to campaigns. In the process, it has drained a vast pool of ready campaign money once available to candidates and is one reason, some believe, that mayoral candidates are struggling to raise money. As a consequence, critics of the law say, candidates will be ever more dependent on the efforts of third-party campaign committees that have no limits when it comes to money raised and few requirements when it comes to transparency.

Texas – State Law Allows for Lobbying Deep in the Shadows of Texas
Dallas Morning News – James Drew | Published: 2/7/2015

Critics say Texas’ lobbying law has significant loopholes and weaknesses that make it difficult for the public to track the alliance between lobbyists and lawmakers. They contend the rules are so complex that even lobbyists can get confused, there is a lack of transparency about the legislation that lobbyists are trying to influence, and the Texas Ethics Commission routinely does not aggressively pursue alleged violators. Lobbyist Don McFarlin said he has no problem if the Legislature were to require more public disclosure. “If you look at other states, they have some pretty stringent ethics laws; Texas is pretty lax,” said McFarlin.

Virginia – Va. House and Senate Unhappily Pass Ethics Bills; Governor Awaits Deal
Washington Post – Jenna Portnoy and Rachel Weiner | Published: 2/10/2015

The Virginia House and Senate both approved their latest versions of ethics reform. Now the focus will turn to hammering out the differences between the two bills. Both chambers included a general $100 gift cap, whether those gifts be tangible items, meals, or trips. That is down from the $250 cap the General Assembly adopted last year, when the cap did not apply to meals, trips, or event tickets. The rules would apply not just to legislators, but to the all state and local government elected officials and employees. The proposals do not tighten campaign finance rules, but focus instead on the gifts lawmakers receive and how they should be reported. Both bills include a new ethics council. Its duties vary between the bills, but its general role would be to give advice and grant waivers.

Washington – State Ethics Board Says Lawmakers May Accept Free U.S. Open Tickets
Seattle Times – Rachel La Corte (Associated Press) | Published: 2/10/2015

The Legislative Ethics Board said some Washington lawmakers can receive free tickets to the U.S. Open golf tournament without violating rules limiting gifts to legislators. It agreed the $110 tickets are acceptable exemptions to state rules that cap gifts at $50. The board said the advisory request from Pierce County made it clear that lawmakers would not be at the event primarily as spectators. Instead, they will learn about developments to the site of the tournament. Lawmakers will be able to choose one of two three-hour tours the county is organizing during the June tournament at Chambers Bay Golf Course near Tacoma.

Jim SedorState and Federal Communications produces a weekly summary of national news, offering more than 80 articles per week focused on ethics, lobbying, and campaign finance.

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