February 26, 2016 •
News You Can Use Digest – February 26, 2016
Political Polarization? It’s Not Just in Washington
Boston Globe – Jill Ramos | Published: 2/19/2016
Political scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have measured for the first time the relative liberalism or conservatism of all 50 states by examining a host of policies from the past eight decades. The study shows state policies across the country became more liberal between the 1930s and 1970s, and then stopped. In more recent years, overall economic policies have been constant, but social policies have become more liberal. The findings also confirmed what might have been suspected for some time: that over the past 20 years, states have become more politically polarized, not just in voting for president or members of Congress but also in state-level policies.
Univision Aims to Make Hispanic Voting Bloc Even More Formidable
New York Times – Nick Corasaniti | Published: 2/22/2016
Univision, including its top-rated Spanish-language network and many subsidiaries, is making an ambitious nationwide effort aimed at registering about three million new Latino voters this year, roughly the same number who have come of voting age since 2012. The initiative will entail an aggressive schedule of advertisements on all of Univision’s video and digital platforms. Station managers will exhort their audiences in old-fashioned editorials, a comprehensive online voter guide will be updated throughout the election season, and the media company will use the kinds of grassroots organizing events usually staged by candidates to try to turn its viewers into even more of a powerhouse voting bloc than it already is.
Bernie Sanders, as Secular Jew, Leaves Religion in Background
New York Times – Joseph Berger | Published: 2/24/2016
The secular image that Bernie Sanders casts is complicating the way American Jews regard the historic nature of his candidacy. When Joseph Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew who spurned campaigning on the Sabbath, was Al Gore’s vice-presidential running mate in 2000, many Jewish voters saw it as a breakthrough. While Sanders’ surprising run for even higher office is eliciting many strong emotions, religious pride is usually not the main one.
Democratic Party Fundraising Effort Helps Clinton Find New Donors, Too
Washington Post – Matea Gold and Tom Hamburger | Published: 2/20/2016
Campaign officials for Hillary Clinton last summer urged state officials to sign on to an ambitious fundraising endeavor that would allow Clinton’s presidential bid, the Democratic National Committee, and the state parties to collect and share contributions from wealthy donors. A record 32 state parties signed on to the fund, allowing the committee to solicit donations 130 times greater than what a supporter can give to Clinton’s campaign for the primary. But the states have yet to see a financial windfall. Meanwhile, Clinton’s campaign has been a major beneficiary, getting an infusion of low-dollar contributions through the committee. The early, expansive use of a jumbo-size joint fundraising committee shows how the Clinton campaign has worked to maximize donations from wealthy supporters, seizing on rules loosened by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Fall of the House of Bush: How last name and Donald Trump doomed Jeb
Washington Post – Ed O’Keefe, Dan Balz, and Matea Gold | Published: 2/21/2016
Jeb Bush dropped out of the presidential race, ending a quest for the White House that started with a war chest of $100 million, a famous name, and a promise of political civility but concluded with a humbling recognition: in 2016, none of it mattered. No single candidacy this year fell so short of its original expectations. It began with an aura of inevitability that masked deep problems. The campaign had rested on a set of assumptions that, one by one, turned out to be incorrect: that the Republican primaries would turn on a record of accomplishment in government; Bush’s cerebral and reserved style would be an asset; and a country wary of dynasties would evaluate this member of the Bush family on his own merits.
Shuster Lounges Poolside with Airline Lobbyists as He Pursues FAA Bill
Politico – Anna Palmer, Jake Sherman, and John Bresnahan | Published: 2/23/2016
Nick Calio, head of the nation’s top airline trade group, Airlines for America, testified before U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster’s House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee recently. The topic was a top priority for both men: a bill to overhaul the Federal Aviation Administration, most controversially by putting air traffic control in the hands of an entity favorable to the airlines. Two days later, Shuster’s committee approved the measure. The week after that, he and Calio traveled to Miami Beach with Shelley Rubino, an Airlines for America vice president who is Shuster’s girlfriend. The three lounged by the pool and dined together during festivities tied to U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart’s annual weekend fundraising trip. It is the most recent example of Shuster’s cozy relationship with the powerful airline association. His panel has jurisdiction over the $160 billion U.S. airline industry.
From the States and Municipalities:
California – Former State Sen. Leland Yee Sentenced to Prison
San Jose Mercury News – Howard Mintz | Published: 2/24/2016
Former California Sen. Leland Yee was sentenced to five years in prison after admitting he accepted bribes from undercover agents posing as campaign donors. He pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to engage in racketeering, which was filed as part of an organized crime investigation in San Francisco’s Chinatown that led to charges against more than two dozen people. Yee acknowledged accepting $11,000 in exchange for setting up a meeting with another state senator and $10,000 for recommending someone for a grant. He also discussed helping an undercover FBI agent buy automatic weapons from the Philippines that were intended to be brought to the U.S. for distribution.
Kansas – Want to Vote in This State? You Have to Have a Passport or Dig Up a Birth Certificate.
Washington Post – Sari Horwitz | Published: 2/19/2016
National attention on voting rights has mostly focused on whether new voter-identification laws in states such as North Carolina and Texas will disenfranchise minority voters. But there is a battle unfolding in Kansas over who can register to vote in the first place. Election-law experts say what happens here could have ramifications for voting throughout the country during a pivotal presidential election year. The American Civil Liberties Union sued Kansas, saying thousands of state residents are “trapped in limbo” because of the requirement that Kansans who register to vote have to show documents, such as a birth certificate or a passport, proving they are citizens.
Maine – After Legislative Raids and Funding Delays, Maine’s Public Campaign-Finance Money Could Run Out
Portland Press Herald – Steve Mistler | Published: 2/23/2016
Maine’s public campaign finance system could run out of money as state lawmakers have repeatedly raided the fund for other purposes. Jonathan Wayne, the executive director of the state ethics commission, told the Legislature’s budget writing committee that lawmakers have withdrawn around $12 million from the clean elections fund since 2002. Wayne also said the Legislature had returned $5.6 million to the voter-approved program, but that was not enough to offset the decline in funds. Supporters of the program also blame Gov. Paul LePage for withholding $1 million that was supposed to go the fund. The additional funding was included in the 2015 referendum that boosted the annual allocation to the program.
Massachusetts – Walsh Files Municipal Lobbying Legislation
Boston Globe – Mark Arsenault | Published: 2/25/2016
Boston Mayor Martin Walsh filed a home rule petition that would force city lobbyists to register and publicly report their efforts to influence public policy. It requires approval by the city council and then the Massachusetts Legislature. The proposal is based on existing lobbying rules for state government, Walsh said. He wants to get it through the Legislature this session. If the plan wins approval, municipal lobbyists in Boston would be required to file reports twice a year declaring their campaign contributions, the names of their clients, the legislation or policy decisions they had tried to influence, and the political positions for which they advocated. Lobbyists would also be required to report the pay they received from each lobbying client, as well as the dates of “lobbying communications” with public officials.
Mississippi – Elected Officials Use Campaign Finds for Private Gain in Mississippi
The Sun-Herald – Geoff Pender, Mollie Bryant, and Katie Royals (Jackson Clarion-Ledger) | Published: 2/22/2016
For many Mississippi politicians, campaign funds have become personal expense accounts or a second income, potentially tax free. The spending is largely paid for by lobbyists and special interests doing business with state government. They otherwise would not be allowed to lavish cash, gifts, or a second income on politicians. Campaign funds are shielded from taxes, ethics, and other laws because they are ostensibly to be used only for campaigning and records of them are ostensibly open to the public. Most states and the federal government, in efforts to reduce the corrosive influence of money in politics, have stringent reporting requirements. Mississippi does not. Most states also have prohibitions against personal spending of campaign money. In Mississippi, the practice is common.
Missouri – Some Question the Limits to Legislating the Missouri Legislature
St. Louis Public Radio – Jason Rosenbaum | Published: 2/24/2016
The Missouri House this year embarked on an ethics overhaul buoyed by the resignations of Reps. John Diehl and Paul LeVota, who stepped down amid accusations of inappropriate behavior toward female interns. Once the session began, the House quickly passed bills that would curb lobbyist gifts and slow down the transition between legislating and lobbying. But some lawmakers have questions about whether these reform initiatives will change a Legislature whose reputation has increasingly declined. They point out the scandals in question involved male lawmakers sexually harassing female interns, conscious choices that do not have much to do directly with lobbyist gifts or influence.
New Hampshire – N.H. Campaign Finance Lapses Go Unnoticed
Concord Monitor – Allie Morris | Published: 2/20/2016
A bill in New Hampshire would bar lawmakers from accepting campaign donations from lobbyists and block legislators from becoming registered lobbyists immediately after leaving office. It is not yet clear what lawmakers will do with the bill. But before they seek to put more regulations in place, a recent report shows they could be better served focusing on enforcing the ones that already exist. The Center for Public Integrity found campaign finance violations in New Hampshire can go largely unnoticed. The center cited a 2013 report that showed the state attorney general’s office regularly reviewed complaints regarding election violations and voter fraud, but investigated just one complaint out of 40 that dealt with campaign finance.
New Jersey – Birdsall CEO Pleads Guilty in Huge N.J. Pay-to-Play Scheme
Newark Star Ledger – S.P. Sullivan (NJ Advance Media) | Published: 2/18/2016
The former chief executive of a politically connected engineering firm has admitted to his role in a $1 million scheme to get around New Jersey’s “pay-to-play” laws. Howard Birdsall pleaded guilty to corporate misconduct. He ran Birdsall Services Group before investigators found the company disguised illegal corporate political contributions as personal donations from employees. The firm would have been disqualified from public contracts if made contributions to campaigns and political organizations in its own name. The state will recommend that Birdsall be sentenced to four years in state prison. He must also pay nearly $50,000. That is the amount of political donations he made that were reimbursed by the firm.
Virginia – No Rules Means No Accountability for Virginia Campaign Funds
ABC News – Alan Suderman (Associated Press) | Published: 2/19/2016
Records show the businesses that lobby Virginia politicians are also subsidizing meals at fancy restaurants, stays in the finest hotels, and personal expenses like gas and cellphone bills through campaign donations. Compounding the issue is the fact that lawmakers seldom face serious challenges; only a handful of races were seriously contested in 2015, and not a single incumbent lost in the general election. That means politicians who run up huge fundraising accounts to scare off challengers do not have to spend the money on campaigning.
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