February 28, 2014 •
News You Can Use Digest – February 28, 2014
Las Vegas Review-Journal – Hannah Dreier (Associated Press) | Published: 2/23/2014
As more cities and states embrace legalized gambling across the country, private companies are being hired to write regulations and vet casinos, even as the same firms work the other side of the fence, helping casinos enter new markets and sometimes lobbying for their interests. Letting consulting companies with deep ties to the gambling industry decide how casinos are run is a significant departure from how established gambling states, including Nevada and New Jersey, do things.
The Nation – Lee Fang | Published: 2/19/2014
January records show spending on federal lobbyists decreased for the third consecutive year, and the number of registered lobbyists dropped to the lowest level since 2002. Despite word if its demise, some experts believe lobbying is not becoming extinct; it is only going underground. The combination of a loophole-ridden law, meager enforcement efforts, and a sophisticated strategy permitting third parties to develop faux-grassroots campaigns, as well as White House executive orders that dissuaded lobbyists from registering, all combined to collapse the system designed to track federal lobbying.
From the States and Municipalities:
Fresno Bee – Laurel Rosenhall (Sacramento Bee) | Published: 2/21/2014
California Sen. Ron Calderon was charged with accepting $100,000 in bribes, lavish trips, and no-show jobs for his children in exchange for pushing legislation to benefit a hospital engaged in billing fraud and participating in a film industry tax scheme that actually was an FBI sting. Calderon’s brother, Tom, a former state lawmaker-turned-lobbyist, was charged with money-laundering for funneling bribes through a tax-exempt group he controlled.
Los Angeles Times – Patrick McGreevy and Paige St. John | Published: 2/20/2014
The California Fair Political Practices Commission signed off on a $133,500 fine for lobbyist Kevin Sloat, who made improper campaign contributions to elected officials. The attorney whose lawsuit triggered the investigation, criticized the commission for not addressing other allegations. The suit said Sloat and his firm arranged free golf games for lawmakers at a course run by a client, helped legislators get sports and concert tickets, and assisted one state Assembly member in buying art at a deep discount.
Connecticut – Federal Grand Jury Probes GOP Contracts
Connecticut Post – Ken Dixon and Neil Vigdor | Published: 2/21/2014
Lawmakers say they believe federal authorities are trying to determine whether any Connecticut House Republicans were pressured to use a particular company for their political campaign mailings. Federal subpoenas show the FBI wants to see contracts and correspondence between the House Republicans and two direct mail companies that have been used by the caucus members and the caucus’ PACs.
Georgia – Ethics: The ghost of Legislatures past
Georgia Public Broadcasting – Jeanne Bonner | Published: 2/20/2014
Georgia lawmakers attended a joint question and answer session to straighten out growing confusion about how to abide by the law that lobbyists’ spending on individual legislators to $75 per expenditure. Critics and supporters alike say it contains exceptions that may undermine the intent to rein in lobbyists’ power. The state ethics commission probably will not issue guidelines on complying with the law until this summer.
Honolulu Civil Beat – Nathan Eagle | Published: 2/25/2014
Hawaii lawmakers are advancing legislation this session that would require lobbyists to account for the money they are spending by breaking it into categories that show how much goes toward food, entertainment, gifts, loans, and other areas. A separate bill aims to make lobbying disclosure reports available in a timelier manner, particularly after a special legislative session.
Rochester Post-Bulletin – Heather Carlson | Published: 2/25/2014
During the last legislative sessionin Minnesota, a campaign finance bill was successfully amended to allow lawmakers and legislative employees to attend receptions thrown by lobbyists without having to pay for food and drinks. It does require that all 201 lawmakers be invited and given at least five days’ notice. Now, state Rep. Ryan Winkler has sponsored a bill to reinstate a ban on the practice.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Virginia Young | Published: 2/26/2014
Members of the Missouri House General Laws Committee agreed the state needs to update its ethics laws, but were divided on how to do it and how far an overhaul should go. The committee considered several proposals, including ones that would require limits on campaign contributions and lobbyist gifts.
Bergen Record – John Ensslin | Published: 2/20/2014
Bergen County freeholders approved a “pay-to-play” bill that will drastically lower the amount of money contractors can donate to county political parties. The freeholders passed a resolution that will lower the allowed contribution from no-bid county contractors from $5,200 to $2,000. The move represents a reversal of a 2013 measure that softened restrictions during a critical election year for both parties and led to criticism from watchdog groups.
Salem Statesman Journal – Hannah Hoffman | Published: 2/24/2014
Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown announced her department’s online systems – the Central Business Registry and ORESTAR, the state’s online campaign finance reporting system – are back up and running after being shut down for nearly three weeks following a security breach. Brown said a grace period has been established for political campaigns filing overdue reports, with fines for late transactions being waived.
Philadelphia Inquirer – Bob Warner | Published: 2/24/2014
A Philadelphia City Council committee gave initial approval to specific limits on the value of gifts that city workers can accept. The city’s five-decades-old gift law had never sets limits on the value of gifts that city workers, including elected officials, can receive. The ordinance would allow city employees to annually accept noncash gifts worth up to $99, even from people with official business before them.
Salt Lake Tribune – Lee Davidson | Published: 2/24/2014
Utah and Oregon are the only two states where lawmakers cannot abstain and are required to vote even if they have a major conflict-of-interest on a bill. Utah Rep. Jim Nielson has introduced legislation to allow lawmakers to abstain or vote “present.” But he does not expect it to go far. In part, that is because leaders see conflicts as natural in a citizen Legislature, and they worry that creating more pressure to declare them and skip votes could get out of hand. Ethics reformers say a better system is needed.
The Daily Progress – Marcus Schmidt (Richmond Times Dispatch) | Published: 2/26/2014
The Virginia House passed a Senate ethics reform package. Senate Bill 649, which is almost identical to a proposal a House committee hammered out over several weeks, puts a $250 cap on gifts from lobbyists and anyone with business before the state, and it creates an ethics advisory council that will oversee and update Virginia’s financial disclosure system. Del. C. Todd Gilbert said he expects both bills to be dealt with in conference committee before one broad proposal heads to Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
Washington – State Legislators’ Financial Disclosures Fall Short
Seattle Times – Jim Brunner | Published: 2/22/2014
Although Washington frequently gets high marks from national open-government groups, some experts say one area where the state is lagging is in the personal financial disclosure by public officials. There are other flaws in the state’s disclosure system that leave holes in the public’s understanding of the financial affairs of their elected officials. As a result, some lawmakers file erroneous or confusing reports that go uncorrected unless spotted by political opponents, journalists, or activists.
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