February 16, 2018 •
News You Can Use Digest – February 16, 2018
Sinclair Broadcast Group Solicits Its News Directors for Its Political Fundraising Efforts
Chicago Tribune – Paul Fahri (Washington Post | Published: 2/12/2018
Sinclair Broadcast Group is asking its executives – including the news directors at its many television stations – to contribute to its PAC. Sinclair is the largest station owner in the country, with 173 outlets. Major TV news outlets such as ABC, CBS, and CNN say they prohibit their journalists from contributing to political parties, candidates, or causes, and do not ask them to chip in to the company’s PAC. By contributing money to Sinclair’s lobbying efforts, news directors would be tacitly supporting the company’s agenda, potentially raising doubts about their stations’ impartiality and independence when reporting on controversial issues, said Lewis Friedland, a journalism professor at the University of Wisconsin.
VA Chief Shulkin, Staff Misled Ethics Officials about European Trip, Report Finds
Tampa Bay Times – Lisa Rein (Washington Post) | Published: 2/14/2018
Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, traveling on what he said was an “essential” trip to London and Copenhagen, improperly accepted tickets to the Wimbledon tennis tournament and brought his wife at taxpayer expense, according to an inspector general’s report. The scathing report says Shulkin and several top staff members made false and misleading statements both to justify the $122,334 trip and to defend it afterward. His chief of staff, Vivieca Wright Simpson, doctored an email to convince an agency ethics lawyer to approve a $4,300 flight for Shulkin’s wife, the report found.
From the States and Municipalities:
Alaska – Group Picks Alaska to Challenge Unlimited Campaign Donations
Bristol Herald-Courier – Becky Bohrer (Associated Press) | Published: 2/7/2018
A national group is focusing on Alaska in a bid to get the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit its Citizen United ruling. The decision paved the way for corporations and unions to make unlimited independent expenditures, and in Alaska, was viewed by state officials as likely rendering several provisions of state law prohibiting or limiting certain contributions unconstitutional. Equal Citizens wants to put that interpretation to the test but it could face an uphill battle. Lawrence Lessig, founder of Equal Citizens, said his group believes the Alaska Public Offices Commission sided with “what is a kind of conventional view among lawyers” that his group believes is incorrect. “What we’re trying to seek is clarification that the limits can be enforced,” Lessig said.
Arkansas – Former Arkansas Legislator Eddie Cooper Pleads Guilty to Embezzlement
KUAR – Wesley Brown | Published: 2/13/2018
Former Arkansas Rep. Eddie Wayne Cooper pleaded guilty to conspiring to embezzle more than $4 million from a nonprofit. Cooper pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to embezzle from Preferred Family Healthcare. Nonprofits that receive federal funds, such as Medicaid, are barred from direct lobbying efforts. From 2011 to 2017, Cooper received at least $387,501 from an Arkansas lobbying firm that received $3 million from Preferred Family. The nonprofit’s financial records show its payments were for “consulting services” when the real purpose of the payments was for lobbying and political campaign contributions, plea documents say. Cooper also received at least $63,000 in kickbacks in the conspiracy, according to his plea.
California – #MeToo Movement Lawmaker Investigated for Sexual Misconduct Allegations
Politico – Carla Marinucci | Published: 2/8/2018
A day after sexual harassment accusations against her became public, Assemblyperson Cristina Garcia said she is taking a voluntary, unpaid leave of absence while the allegations are investigated. But Garcia denied trying to grope a legislative aide and a lobbyist. Garcia is an outspoken leader of the #MeToo movement in California. She has called for male lawmakers accused of sexual harassment, assault, and misconduct to step down over the last several months and refused to work with them. She was one of 147 women who signed a letter drawing attention to problems at the Capitol in October.
Colorado – If You Can Pay $250, Colorado Lawmakers May Let You Skip Security at State Capitol
Denver Post – John Frank | Published: 2/8/2018
Legislation in Colorado would allow anyone to pay a $250 fee and submit fingerprints for a background check to obtain an identification card that allows entry to the Capitol and legislative buildings without going through a security screening. Senate President Kevin Grantham supports the measure, but it is expected to face opposition in the Democratic-led House, where leaders point to the Colorado State Patrol’s problems with the bill. A similar measure that applied only to lobbyists failed in 2010 after it became known as the “Lexus lane for lobbyists” bill. But the sponsors of the new bill dismiss questions about special access because any member of the public could apply for the card.
Maryland – Wife of 80-Year-Old State Senator Accompanies Him to Work Each Day. Some Say She Assists Him with Duties.
Washington Post – Ovetta Wiggins | Published: 2/11/2018
Since the January 10 start of Maryland’s legislative session, state Sen. Ulysses Currie’s wife has sat an arm’s length away from him in a reserved seat, Senate floor credentials dangling from a lanyard around her neck. Shirley Gravely-Currie’s presence has drawn attention not only to her husband’s diminishing health but also to the graying of the state Legislature and the delicate question of how long is too long to serve. As Americans live and work longer, it has become more common to see aging lawmakers on Capitol Hill or in statehouses across the country.
North Dakota – Amid Backlash, Gov. Burgum Reimburses Xcel Energy $37,000 for Super Bowl Tickets
Grand Forks Herald – John Hageman | Published: 2/7/2018
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum said he reimbursed Xcel Energy $37,000 for Super Bowl tickets in an effort to “eliminate even the perception of any conflict.” Xcel said the governor met with Chief Executive Officer Ben Fowke and Chris Clark, president of Xcel Energy-Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota, along with other company leaders in a suite at US Bank Stadium. Meanwhile, Burgum’s legal counsel is crafting an ethics policy covering North Dakota’s chief executive and his staff.
Oklahoma – New Lobbying Rule Gets Mixed Review from Lawmakers and Those Who Try to Influence Them
Tulsa World – Barbara Hoberock | Published: 2/11/2018
A proposed rule that would require elected officials in Oklahoma to wait two years before working as lobbyists is getting mixed reviews. The Oklahoma Ethics Commission approved the rule. It will take effect if the Legislature does not take any action by the end of the session. The proposal comes as more lawmakers are lobbying their former colleagues as a way to make a living after their terms have ended. Ethics Commission Executive Director Ashley Kemp said the rule would prohibit policymakers from using their positions to benefit themselves.
Oregon – Oregon Ethics Watchdog Says John Kitzhaber Misused His Office for Personal Gain
Portland Oregonian – Hillary Borrud | Published: 2/14/2018
Former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber allegedly violated state ethics laws 11 times during his third and fourth terms, with the violations potentially carrying fines up to $55,000. An investigative report by the Oregon Government Ethics Commission staff outlines a suite of alleged violations. The commission is poised to vote on whether it agrees with its staff’s findings. According to the report, Kitzhaber used his office for financial gain, or to avoid financial problems, for former First Lady Cylvia Hayes and her consulting firm, 3EStrategies. Kitzhaber failed to follow laws to handle “potential conflicts-of-interest” when he took actions that may have impacted the consulting firm’s interests, ethics officials said.
Pennsylvania – Lobbyists Trying to Influence PA. State Government Will Have to Pay More If They Break the Rules
PennLive.com – Jan Murphy | Published: 2/14/2018
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed House Bill 1175, which requires lobbying disclosure reports to be filed electronically with the Pennsylvania Department of State. The new law also increases the daily maximum penalty for not filing reports by the quarterly deadline; doubles the maximum fine for not filing by the deadline; and requires the department to post all lobbying disclosure reports online within seven days of receiving the filing. The new penalties take effect immediately and the electronic filing requirement takes effect in 60 days.
South Carolina – Former S.C. House Majority Leader Rick Quinn Gets Probation in Misconduct Case
Charleston Post and Courier – Andrew Knapp and Glenn Smith | Published: 2/12/2018
Former South Carolina Rep. Rick Quinn will serve two years on probation instead of prison time after he pleaded guilty to misconduct in office. Circuit Court Judge Carmen Mullen also ordered Quinn to pay a $1,000 fine and perform 500 hours of community service. He is the third Republican lawmaker convicted in a statehouse corruption investigation. Mullen handed down the penalty over the objections of special prosecutor David Pascoe, who had questioned the validity of Quinn’s guilty plea while pushing for the former House majority leader to serve a year behind bars. Prosecutors accused Quinn of taking $4 million in unreported money from lobbyists. Quinn insisted his only crime was failing to report a lobbyist’s payments to his father’s political consulting firm.
Texas – Anti-Abortion Group Deletes State Senator’s Video After Questions of Legality Raised
Texas Tribune – Patrick Svitek and Jay Root | Published: 2/7/2018
An influential anti-abortion group abruptly deleted a Twitter video ad featuring Texas Sen. Bob Hall’s voice after reporters began asking if its paid messages adhered to laws restricting the use of corporate “dark money.” Texas Right to Life Committee also filed last-minute corrections to its December campaign finance reports indicating it had “inadvertently” attributed about $38,000 in radio ads to its corporate entity instead of its PAC. Texas Right to Life Committee is a politically active non-profit corporation that does not have to disclose its donors.
Utah – Taxpayers Reimbursed Former Lawmaker for Rooms Linked to Prostitution Allegations
St. George Daily Spectrum – David DeMille | Published: 2/12/2018
Taxpayer funds were used to pay for at least two hotel rooms that a former state lawmaker is alleged to have used to meet a prostitute last year, according to records found by a Utah House official. Rep. Jon Stanard resigned two days before British tabloid The Daily Mail published an article accusing him of meeting with the prostitute, and included screen shots of what appear to be text exchanges between the two setting up appointments and naming a price. Receipts from expense reports show Stanard was reimbursed about $225 for hotel room stays in Salt Lake City at two separate hotels in June and August of last year while he was attending legislative meetings, at locations and on dates that correspond with the text messages included in the article.
West Virginia – Democratic Candidate Turns House of Delegates Eviction Into $45k Fundraising Haul
Charleston Gazette-Mail – Jake Zuckerman | Published: 2/13/2018
A candidate for the West Virginia House of Delegates was cut off and removed from a hearing on oil and gas drilling on private land. Lissa Lucas spoke about her opposition to the bill, and listed donations that state lawmakers have received from oil and gas companies. She was told during her testimony that she should not be making “personal comments” regarding members of the House Judiciary Committee. “I have to keep this short because the public only gets a minute and 45 seconds while lobbyists can throw a gala at the Marriott with whiskey and wine and talk for hours to the delegates,” Lucas added. In a twist of fate, rallying against corporate money in politics might have made Lucas the most effective fundraiser in the House this election cycle.
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