News You Can Use Digest - February 20, 2015 - State and Federal Communications

February 20, 2015  •  

News You Can Use Digest – February 20, 2015



States Consider Requiring Shareholder Approval for Political Gifts
Center for Public Integrity – Liz Essley White | Published: 2/17/2015

State legislators in Maine, Maryland, New York, and New Jersey have introduced bills that demand a majority of shareholders approve corporate donations to political committees or candidates. The sponsor of the Maryland bill said he has heard from about a dozen lawmakers from different states who are interested in the idea. Supporters see the legislation as a way to limit the influence of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision, which ruled corporations had a right to spend unlimited amounts of money calling for the election or defeat of candidates. The ruling affected laws in about half the states. Companies with deep pockets are now seen as major players in elections at all levels.

This Political Scientist Estimated Politicians’ Beliefs via 100 Million Campaign Donations
Vox – Andrew Prokop | Published: 2/17/2015

Adam Bonica, the Stanford University political scientist and co-founder of the website Crowdpac, argues fundraising data allows for a better quantitative comparison among presidential candidates than past votes or positions do. That is because there are over 100 million records of political donations over several decades, contributions from people who, presumably, have their own views on issues and give mostly to candidates who share those beliefs.


Clinton Foundation’s Global Network Overlaps with Family’s Political Base
Washington Post – Rosalind Helderman, Tom Hamburger, and Steven Rich | Published: 2/18/2015

The Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation has raised close to $2 billion since its inception in 2001. The total includes $262 million that was raised in 2013, the year Hillary Clinton stepped down as secretary of state and began to devote her energies to the foundation and to a likely second run for president. The financial success of the foundation, which funds charitable work around the world, underscores the highly unusual nature of another Clinton candidacy. The organization has given donors entree, outside the traditional political arena, to a possible president. Foreign donors and countries that are likely to have interests before a potential Clinton administration, and yet are ineligible to give to U.S. political campaigns, have affirmed their support for the family’s work through the charitable giving.

Va. Political Operative Pleads Guilty to Coordinating Campaign Contributions
Washington Post – Matt Zapotosky and Matea Gold | Published: 2/15/2015

Tyler Harber, the former campaign manager for congressional candidate Chris Perkins, pleaded guilty to illegally coordinating spending between the campaign and a super PAC, in a case that officials described as the first-ever such federal prosecution. Super PACs can take donations of unlimited size, but they are not allowed to coordinate with the campaigns of federal candidates. Harber persuaded a donor who had given the legal maximum $2,500 contribution to Perkins’ official account to give $300,000 to the National Republican Victory Fund, a super PAC Harber helped run. Harber then got the super PAC to spend $325,000 on advertising against Perkins’ opponent. That amounted to illegal coordination, according to the plea agreement. Some of the money also found its way back to Harber.

From the States and Municipalities:

Georgia – With Growing National Support for His Cause, Atlanta’s Former Fire Chief Sues the City over His Dismissal
Washington Post – Abby Ohlheiser | Published: 2/18/2015

The former Atlanta fire chief who was fired after self-publishing a book that described homosexuality as a perversion has sued the city and Mayor Kasim Reed. Kelvin Cochran has said he was fired because he expressed his religious beliefs in the book, which he said he did not write in his capacity as fire chief. The mayor has said he fired Cochran because he lacked judgment and management skills. Reed has also contended the former chief violated the city’s code of conduct because he published the book without permission and distributed the literature to city employees who did not want to read it. Cochran said he was given permission to publish the book by Nina Hickson, Atlanta’s ethics officer.

Maine – Free Meals, Rooms for Maine Lawmakers Not Always Disclosed under Ethics Laws
The Forecaster – Naomi Schalit (Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting) | Published: 2/18/2015

On January 22 and 23, Time Warner, the leading cable television provider in the state, invited a select group of Maine House and Senate members to a “Winter Policy Conference” at the Inn by the Sea in Cape Elizabeth. The conference included meals and rooms. A major topic was the growing movement by communities to build high-speed broadband networks themselves, bypassing the service offered by companies like Time Warner. As of February 17, neither Time Warner nor legislative officials would release more than a handful of the names of those who were at the event, and there are few, if any, legal disclosure requirements to do so.

Michigan – Which Lawmakers Got the Most Free Lunch? Michigan Lobbying Topped $37M in 2014 – Jonathan Oosting | Published: 2/18/2015

A new report says lobbyists spent a near record total of about $37 million in 2014 trying to influence legislation in Michigan. That is just short of the record spending reported for 2012. Rich Robinson, who heads the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, said the state’s lax disclosure laws do not shed much light on the nature of efforts to lobby lawmakers. Michigan lags behind other states when it comes to lobbying disclosure, according to Robinson, who said the federal government might provide a better model. Lobbyists who meet with U.S. House members are expected to list the issues or bills they discussed, for instance.

Mississippi – Alday Says He’s Not Racist; GOP Leaders Decry Statements
Jackson Clarion-Ledger – Emily Le Coz | Published: 2/15/2015

Mississippi Rep. Gene Alday told The Jackson Clarion-Ledger he was against increased funding for education, in particular funding to improve literacy. During his explanation, Alday said he comes “from a town where all the blacks are getting food stamps and what I call ‘welfare crazy checks.’ They don’t work.” He also told the newspaper about a time he visited an emergency room. “I liked to died. I laid in there for hours because they (black people) were in there being treated for gunshots,” Alday was quoted as saying. He did not deny the comments attributed to him. However, Alday said he was not a racist.

Nevada – Citing Error, High Court Reverses Campaign Finance Ruling
Reno Gazette-Journal – Riley Snider and Michelle Rindels (Associated Press) | Published: 2/16/2015

The Nevada Supreme Court reversed itself and ruled in favor of conservative activist group Citizen Outreach, which was accused of violating campaign finance law by publishing flyers attacking former Assemblyperson John Oceguera without disclosing donors or expenses. The majority opinion found state law requiring campaign disclosures only applies to communications containing so-called magic words or key political terms like “vote for” or “elect.” The court had issued a ruling with the opposite conclusion. Court officials blamed that on a clerical error and rescinded it.

North Carolina – Charlotte Is Largest City with No Lobbying Disclosure
Charlotte Observer – Steve Harrison | Published: 2/10/2015

Charlotte is the nation’s largest city with no registration requirement for lobbyists. In the wake of the scandal that sent former Mayor Patrick Cannon to prison on corruption charges, a city council committee has approved changes that would tighten its ethics policy. But council members focused on defining what gifts are appropriate for them to accept. They also proposed adding more requirements on financial disclosure forms. There was little talk about adding any transparency requirements for lobbyists.

North Carolina – NC Ethics Commission Says Sex between Lobbyists, Officials Isn’t Reportable
Raleigh News & Observer – Craig Jarvis | Published: 2/13/2015

Sex between lobbyists and state officials covered by North Carolina’s ethics law do not constitute a “reportable expenditure” or “things of value,” according to a ruling the State Ethics Commission published just before Valentine’s Day. The advisory opinion, issued at the request of the secretary of state’s Lobbying Compliance Division, added that such relationships would be unlikely to trigger the state’s “goodwill lobbying” registration requirements. In 2012, the commission investigated two lobbyists who had intimate relationships with top aides to then-House Speaker Thom Tillis. His chief of staff resigned and his policy adviser was asked to resign. A key focus of that investigation, which did not result in any public penalties, was whether the lobbyists provided things of value to the public officials.

Oregon – Gov. John Kitzhaber of Oregon and His Fiancée Walked Tangled Path to Exit
New York Times – Kirk Johnson and Michael Paulson | Published: 2/15/2015

Gov. John Kitzhaber resigned from office, completing the sudden unraveling of his political career. Just one month after becoming the first Oregon governor to start a fourth term, Kitzhaber became the first to resign because of alleged misconduct, as he and his fiancée, Cylvia Hayes, continue to be investigated for misusing their influence for personal gain. Kitzhaber is facing inquiries into whether Hayes benefited financially from her personal relationship with him, and whether she properly disclosed all the consulting fees she had been paid. Federal prosecutors have begun a sweeping investigation, subpoenaing six years of records related to contracts awarded to Hayes or her company. The state attorney general has also started a criminal probe.

Texas – Watson Wants More Disclosure of Wining and Dining
Texas Tribune – Jay Root | Published: 2/16/2015

State Sen. Kirk Watson introduced three bills that would shine more light on lawmakers being entertained by lobbyists. Senate Bill 585 would lower the reporting threshold for lobbyist expenditures to $50. Senate Bill 586 would guarantee disclosure even if multiple lobbyists banded together to get around the new $50 limit. If more than $50 is spent on a state official, all the lobbyists who paid for it would have to provide detailed reporting as if they each had spent the higher amount. Senate Bill 587 would ensure the reports are made available on the Internet.

Utah – Free Lunches for Lawmakers Dwindling at Utah Legislature
Salt Lake Tribune – Lee Davidson | Published: 2/17/2015

In 2013, special interests sponsored 32 lunches for Utah lawmakers during the session’s 33 working days. This year, the number scheduled has dropped to 14. The difference can be attributed to the Legislature changing its pay structure to eliminate what had been a financial incentive to accept free meals. But while free lunches are waning, receptions are on the upswing. They are cheaper for sponsors than full-blown meals and also take less time for lawmakers, who can stop by for a few minutes instead of investing an hour or more to sit, eat, and listen. The events annually rekindle a debate about whether they give wealthy interests better access to lawmakers, and perhaps more influence.

Virginia – In Post-McDonnell Scandal Va., Pols Take another Stab at Ethics Reform
Washington Post – Jenna Portnoy | Published: 2/17/2015

Ethics reforms approved by Virginia lawmakers have fewer teeth than what some, including Gov. Terry McAuliffe, had pressed for after his predecessor’s conviction on public corruption charges. Both the House and Senate agreed with McAuliffe and imposed a $100 annual cap on gifts, with notable exceptions. Only McAuliffe wants to create an ethics council with subpoena and audit powers. The Senate would authorize random inspections of financial disclosures, but the House called for neither idea. Both chambers will consider the other’s bill in the next two weeks.

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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