February 22, 2019 •
News You Can Use Digest – February 22, 2019
The Growing Need for Opposition Research – on Yourself – in Today’s Political World
Governing – Alan Greenblatt | Published: 2/15/2019
The series of recent scandals in Virginia was kicked off by the emergence of a 35-year-old yearbook page from Gov. Ralph Northam’s medical school days. In September, members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee grilled then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh about entries in his high school yearbook and the calendar he kept as a student. Now reporters all over the country are scouring old yearbooks, looking for more examples of racist or otherwise disturbing images or language from the past of politicians. All this suggests that opposition research – as well as self-research, which refers to candidates hiring investigators to look into their own closets – will be a growing field in the years ahead.
Elections Commission Chief Uses the ‘Nuclear Option’ to Rescue the Agency from Gridlock
Mother Jones – Nihal Krishan | Published: 2/20/2019
Ellen Weintraub, who has been on the FEC since 2002 and became chairperson in January, has become increasingly frustrated by the agency’s lack of enforcement, which has led to less disclosure, less transparency, and more “dark money” within the campaign finance system. Weintraub now says she will not allow FEC lawyers to defend the government when the commission has been sued for not enforcing the law. This drastic step, which one former FEC lawyer called the “nuclear option,” is effectively an effort to sabotage her own agency in order to enforce the law and create more campaign finance disclosure.
Intimidation, Pressure and Humiliation: Inside Trump’s two-year war on the investigations encircling him
MSN – Mark Mazzetti, Maggie Haberman, Nicholas Fandos, and Michael Schmidt (New York Times) | Published: 2/19/2019
President Trump’s public war on special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation has gone on long enough that it is no longer shocking. Trump rages almost daily to his 58 million Twitter followers that Muller is on a “witch hunt.” The president’s lawyer talks openly about a strategy to smear and discredit the special counsel investigation. Trump’s allies in Congress and the conservative media warn of an insidious plot inside the Justice Department and the FBI to subvert a democratically elected president. An examination by The New York Times reveals the extent of an even more sustained, more secretive assault by Trump on the machinery of federal law enforcement. Interviews with current and former government officials and others close to Trump, as well as a review of confidential White House documents, reveal numerous unreported episodes in a two-year drama.
From the States and Municipalities:
California: L.A. Ethics Commission Backs New Restrictions on Developer Donations
Los Angeles Times – Emily Alpert Reyes and David Zahniser | Published: 2/19/2019
Faced with complaints about a “pay-to-play” culture at City Hall, the Los Angeles Ethics Commission backed new restrictions on political donations from real estate developers seeking city approval for their building plans. The proposed ban would cover a broad array of people “substantially involved” in a proposed development project, including real estate executives, architects, engineers, and others. Such donors would also be barred from fundraising or gathering political donations for city officials. The commission also backed new restrictions on “behested payments” – donations solicited by politicians for charitable or governmental causes.
California: Nation’s First All-LGBTQ City Council Tests Modern Meaning of Diversity
San Francisco Chronicle – Scott Wilson (Washington Post) | Published: 2/18/2019
Palm Springs achieved a measure of fame a little more than a year ago when voters elected the nation’s first city council consisting entirely of members of the LGBTQ community. The gay and lesbian community, a majority of the electorate in this city of 45,000 people, cheered the milestone as an affirmation of the community’s model tolerance. The happy moment did not last long. The council elected in November 2017 also happened to be all white. What was viewed by many as a broad step toward greater diversity instead turned Palm Springs into a forum for a debate about what diversity means – and who, exactly, is best suited to represent whom in a state shaped for decades by identity politics.
California: Why Cities, Counties May Turn to the State Political Watchdog to Enforce Local Campaign Finance Issues
San Bernardino Sun – Joe Nelson and Sandra Emerson | Published: 2/20/2019
A law that took effect on January 1 in California essentially allows local agencies to draw on the state’s experience and expertise in dealing with campaign finance and ethics laws – for a price. Under its contract with the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), San Bernardino County pays the agency a flat fee of $55,000 annually and is billed at hourly rates for any work exceeding the flat amount. In return, the FPPC audits the campaign accounts of all county elected officials each election cycle, investigates complaints, provides written and verbal guidance to elected officials and their donors regarding the county’s campaign finance and ethics ordinance.
Florida: ‘Who Gave It, Who Got It?’ How Political Influence in Miami Is Bought – and Concealed
Miami Herald – Joey Flechas and Sandra Emerson | Published: 2/21/2019
Whether it is candidates or ballot measures, moneyed interests use political groups that can receive and spend unlimited, untraceable “dark money” to influence elections in Miami and pay for attack ads. Florida’s lax campaign finance laws allow donors to seed thousands of dollars into committees that can give to one or more other committees. The money that pays for the ads can be difficult to trace back to the original donor. Because state authorities do not aggressively police campaign finance reports, political committees can easily get away with concealing their donors while flouting election laws. But political groups do not necessarily need to break campaign laws to hide the sources of their money. It is allowed to be moved through a byzantine web of political committees that mask its origins.
Montana: US Supreme Court Won’t Take Challenge to Montana Campaign Finance Law
Montana Public Radio – Corin Cates-Carney | Published: 2/19/2018
The U.S. Supreme Court, without comment, declined to take up a case challenging Montana’s campaign finance disclosure law. The justices left in place a lower court’s ruling that the state’s so-called Disclose Act is constitutional. The law requires groups that engage in last-minute advertising in elections to make public how they spend money to influence the state’s elections.
New Jersey: This N.J. Mayor Is Getting Paid to Fight Legal Weed. Here’s Why That’s Causing Trouble.
Bergen Record – Payton Guion (NJ Advance Media) | Published: 2/15/2019
The mayor of the first town in New Jersey to ban legal marijuana sales has also spent most of the past year on the payroll as a lobbyist for a prominent anti-marijuana group in the state. But Point Pleasant Beach Mayor Stephen Reid has not always been upfront about that connection, raising questions about ethics and conflicts-of-interest. More than 60 towns in New Jersey have taken some step to prohibit marijuana businesses from their borders. Reid has traveled around the state, offering his hand to other towns considering a ban as the mayor of a town that’ has already done it. Since May 2018, Reid has been a paid lobbyist for New Jersey Responsible Approaches to Marijuana, and his potential conflict is the subject of lawsuit against the town.
Oregon: ‘Give Me the Money, and I’ll Give It to Her.’ Former Oregon Lawmaker Describes Participating in Dubious Campaign Practice
Portland Oregonian – Rob Davis | Published: 2/17/2019
On paper, two contributions to candidates last year came from former Oregon Rep. Deborah Boone. She wrote the checks and her name is listed as the donor. In reality, Boone said, the money came from donors who asked her to pass it on under her name, creating a set of transactions and reports that may have violated state law. Boone described the practice as commonplace among legislators. State records show millions of dollars have moved between Oregon politicians in the past decade in what look like straightforward gestures of support. Lawmakers also routinely give money to committees run by legislative leaders, who then redistribute it to candidates in tough races. According to Boone, the transactions are not always what they seem.
Rhode Island: Political Donations by Strip-club Industry Made in Lobbying Firm’s Name
Providence Journal – Brian Amaral | Published: 2/15/2019
Mysterious errors in campaign finance records concealed the source of thousands of dollars in donations from the Providence strip-club industry to Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo and House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello. Instead of listing their actual employers, the series of contributions listed a lobbying firm, the Goldberg Law Offices. A lobbyist at that firm, Robert Goldberg, also worked on behalf of the strip-club industry. Goldberg said he did not know why donations from people involved in the strip-club industry – and not, in fact, employed by his firm – listed his firm as their employer. The errors raise questions about the working relationship between a high-powered lobbyist and an industry he represented and illuminate the many connections between the strip-club industry and the halls of power in the state.
Texas: Sen. Angela Paxton Files Bill That Would Allow Her Husband, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, to Issue Exemptions from Securities Regulations
Texas Tribune – Emma Platoff | Published: 2/16/2019
In what state Sen. Angela Paxton describes as an effort to safely expand Texas’ burgeoning financial tech industry, she filed a bill that would empower the office of her husband, state Attorney General Ken Paxton to exempt entrepreneurs from certain state regulations so they can market “innovative financial products or services.” One of those exemptions would be working as an “investment advisor” without registering. Currently, doing so is a felony in Texas, one for which Ken Paxton was issued a civil penalty in 2014 and criminally charged in 2015.
Virginia: Richmond’s Donor Class and the VMI Brotherhood Stand Behind Embattled Virginia Governor
Washington Post – Gregory Schneider | Published: 2/16/2019
Gil Minor, a local corporate titan and major donor to both political parties, and Tom Slater, a prominent lawyer, met with Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam soon after the shocking news broke that a racist photograph had been unearthed from Northam’s medical school yearbook page. Minor and Slater are part of a political donor class in Richmond that has rallied behind the embattled governor. Perhaps more significant, they are part of a Virginia Military Institute (VMI) brotherhood, an elite alumni corps that includes several of the state’s power brokers. They did not want Northam, the first VMI graduate to become governor, to go down in disgrace. That support is a major reason Northam has clung to office when most of the political world has called for his resignation, leaving the state locked in a limbo of dysfunction that shows no sign of changing soon.
Washington: SEIU State Council to Pay $128,000 in Civil Fines Over Campaign-Finance Lawsuit
Seattle Times – Joseph O’Sullivan | Published: 2/19/2019
The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Washington State Council 14 has agreed to pay a six-figure settlement over a campaign finance lawsuit. The settlement requires SEIU to pay $128,262.75 in civil fines, as well as $18,300.85 in costs and fees. Another $104,942.25 in civil fines is suspended, provided the organization has no violations over the next four years. The Freedom Foundation alleged the SEIU state council had been operating as a political committee without filing as such with the Washington Public Disclosure Commission. The state attorney general’s office determined that SEIU had made significant campaign contributions but failed to register and report as a political committee in for at least the years 2014 and 2016.
Wyoming: Legislature Reforms Campaign Finance
Staff – Sundance Times | Published: 2/20/2019
Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon signed Senate Bill 18 into law. It is intended to enhance transparency by requiring that candidates report their expenditures and contributions simultaneously and up to two weeks before the election. It also raises the threshold for reporting from $25 to $100 to account for inflation. The law also clarifies campaign advertising provisions to now include online advertising and defines “electioneering communications,” while requiring that campaign activity be subject to the disclosure of donors and expenditures whether or not that activity was done in coordination with a candidate. A disclosure must now explicitly state, “Paid for by ….”
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