News You Can Use Digest - February 5, 2016 - State and Federal Communications

February 5, 2016  •  

News You Can Use Digest – February 5, 2016



How Bob McDonnell’s Case Might Help Others Accused of Public Corruption
Washington Post – Matt Zapotosky | Published: 1/29/2016

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell was rightly convicted of corruption for his efforts on behalf of a businessperson who bestowed money and gifts on the governor and his family. Experts said if the court overturns the conviction, it could narrow what is considered criminal public corruption and halt investigations of politicians across the country. The McDonnell case strikes at the core issue of when, and to what extent, money should be allowed to influence politics. The justices are essentially being asked to clarify the line between a public official legally performing a routine courtesy for a benefactor, and a politician corruptly using government power in exchange for a bribe.

State Integrity Investigation Spurs Proposals for Reform
Center for Public Integrity – Nicholas Kusnetz | Published: 1/29/2016

Many states are proposing ethics reform this year, in part because of the State Integrity Investigation, an evaluation of state government accountability and transparency, published by the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity. The best score, a grade of “C,” went to Alaska, while 11 states received failing grades. The project found that in most states, ethics and open records laws are riddled with loopholes while the government agencies meant to enforce them are often toothless and underfunded. Many states that earned poor grades could see improvement if the new proposals are enacted.

Will Online Polls Revolutionize Elections?
Governing – Louis Jacobson | Published: 2/1/2016

Most public-opinion surveys are conducted by phone, with pollsters calling a large enough sample of the population to ensure a statistically valid survey. To do this, pollsters have had to expand their reach to cellphone users, which adds to the already considerable operational costs of survey work. Pollsters have also had to grapple with the reality that many Americans no longer want to pick up calls from an unfamiliar phone number, much less spend 20 minutes sharing their personal opinions with a stranger (or a computer) on the other end of the line. Because of these trends, some polling has moved online. Still, this shift brings with it a series of other challenges, notably the fact that a fraction of Americans remain offline. That is where The American Panel Survey comes in.


Kool & the Gang Won’t Celebrate Republican National Convention
Center for Public Integrity – Carrie Levine | Published: 1/28/2016

Regardless of which presidential candidates win their parties’ nominations, partisan operatives view national conventions as prime networking opportunities. Corporate-and-lobbyist-sponsored events that happen alongside the conventions are classic venues for politicians and influencers to connect. Congress passed reform legislation that in part attempted to curb the convention-related mingling between lawmakers and the corporations and lobbyists that advocate before them. Still, there are loopholes that have allowed the parties to continue. Because of them, convention attendees, especially members of Congress, continue to have their pick of functions tailored to comply with the law.

Lobbying’s Top 50: Boeing, Amazon on the rise
The Hill – Megan Wilson | Published: 2/3/2016

An elite group of 50 companies and trade associations spent a combined $714 million to lobby Washington in 2015. The total represents a quarter of all the money spent on federal advocacy, and it includes some of the biggest names in corporate America, including Boeing, Exxon Mobil, and Blue Cross Blue Shield. The total does not purely encompass lobbying. Several groups, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Realtors, notably, included campaign and political spending in their totals. Still, a look at the top 50 provides a snapshot of where lobbying dollars went in 2015, with many corporate interests significantly boosting their spending in response to legislative and regulatory battles.

N.R.A. Victories in Congress Grow with Chief Lobbyist’s Role
New York Times – Eric Lichtblau | Published: 1/28/2016

Chris Cox, the National Rifle Association’s chief lobbyist, has emerged as the group’s point man in pushing to defeat new gun control laws, expand existing gun rights measures, and gain even more lobbying clout for an organization he calls “the greatest political force in America.” He has also been instrumental in working on one of the association’s biggest political priorities this year: defeating Hillary Clinton in her bid for the White House. Cox leads the NRA’s PAC, which took in $31.3 million in the last three years to dole out on gun rights candidates and causes, and he is the ultimate arbiter of the coveted “grades” the group gives political candidates, which can make or break a campaign.

From the States and Municipalities:

California – San Jose Mayor Cancels Calls with His ‘Kitchen Cabinet’
San Jose Mercury News – Ramona Girwagis | Published: 2/3/2016

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo will no longer hold weekend calls with his “kitchen cabinet” after the hidden Saturday conversations with advisers and lobbyists were reported in the media. While it is not unusual for mayors to chat with a cabinet of close advisers, Liccardo’s group drew some criticism for being mostly white, male, and business-oriented and including two registered lobbyists who have lucrative projects before the city council.

Iowa – Cruz Edges Trump in Iowa Caucuses; Rubio Finishes Strong Third
Washington Post – Philip Rucker and Jenna Johnson | Published: 2/1/2016

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, powered by a surge of support from evangelical Christians, dealt a humbling loss to Donald Trump in the Iowa caucuses, throwing into question the depth of support for Trump’s unconventional candidacy.  In the first contest of what so far has been more a populist revolt against the political order than a traditional Republican primary, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio finished a strong third, bolstering his case to consolidate the support of Republicans uneasy about the two top finishers.

Iowa – Iowa Count: Clinton nudges past Sanders in photo-finish race
Washington Post – Anne Gearan and John Wagner | Published: 2/2/2016

Hillary Clinton eked out a win over U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Iowa caucuses, but the razor-thin margin suggested the Democratic contest is headed toward a protracted wrestling match between its progressive and pragmatic wings. The virtual tie between the two candidates instantly raised the stakes for their next face-off, in the New Hampshire primary. Sanders holds a solid lead in polls there and has the advantage of being from Vermont; candidates from neighboring states have won the state’s primary in recent decades. Nevada holds its Democratic caucuses on February 20 and the South Carolina Democratic primary is a week later and Clinton could fare better in those more diverse electorates.

Michigan – Amid the Flint Water Crisis, Journalists Are Calling for Changes to Michigan’s FOIA Law – Annie Byrnes | Published: 2/2/2016

Under fire for his administration’s role in Flint’s lead-tainted water emergency, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder released his government emails related to the crisis. But Snyder withheld the emails of everyone else in the 70-person executive office along with his own emails from his first three years in office. Also left out were an unknown number of messages the public sent to the governor’s office about Flint through the state website and his staff’s responses. Michigan is one of only two states that exclude the governor’s office from public records searches. In the absence of those emails, it is still unclear when and to what extent the Snyder administration was involved in and aware of the decision to switch water sources and the resulting public health emergency.

New Mexico – Report: Perceptions of cronyism hurt state’s bottom line – Bruce Krasnow (Santa Fe New Mexico) | Published: 1/28/2016

A new report says the perception in New Mexico that moneyed interests gain more advantage through lobbying and tax subsidies is a subtle but negative factor as businesses decide where to expand or relocate. “No question that education and infrastructure and things like broadband matter, but corruption and cronyism matter as well,” said Michael Rocca, a political scientist at the University of New Mexico. To curb cronyism in the state, the report suggests three changes that are already under consideration: a statewide ethics commission, greater transparency in campaign financing and lobbying, and a more detailed review of tax breaks given to businesses.

New York – Does Lobbying Involve Social Media Activity? New York Regulators Are Looking Into It
PRWeek – Dipka Bhambhani | Published: 2/4/2016

The New York Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) posted a solicitation for comments from the public on the extent to which social media activity could be considered lobbying. JCOPE is planning to accept feedback until February 19 when it will draft a proposal that could establish guidelines on the issue. Among the questions, JCOPE asked if communications must be made directly to a public official, such as via his or her social media pages, to be considered lobbying. JCOPE is also considering whether posts or tweets with hyperlinks to lobbying websites are reportable activity, and whether social media expenditures can be considered expenses under the lobbying law.

Tennessee – Tennessean Investigation Finds Inappropriate Text Messages
The Tennessean – Dave Boucher and Jill Cowan | Published: 1/24/2016

The Tennessean has been investigating inappropriate text messages from Tennessee House Majority Whip Jeremy Durham to three women who worked at the statehouse. Republican leaders were told of a potential sexual harassment complaint about Durham’s behavior about a week before an unprecedented GOP caucus meeting to decide the fate of his leadership role, but the specific concerns were never disclosed to his fellow legislators. The incidents point to a legislative sexual harassment policy experts have said is mired in secrecy and contributes to an environment where sexual harassment by the state’s elected leaders can go essentially unchecked.

Texas – As Ethics Panel Bars Guns in Meetings, Others Not So Lucky
Houston Chronicle – Lauren McGaughy | Published: 2/1/2016

The Texas Ethics Commission will ban guns from their meetings. State law allows those with a license to carry holstered handguns into the Capitol in Austin. The guns can be carried openly or concealed. But another state law allows governmental entities that hold certain public meetings to ban guns from their gatherings by posting signs to that effect. Texas Secretary of the Senate Patsy Spaw said the state House and Senate are also subject to these same open meetings laws, and therefore have the power to ban open and concealed carry in the gallery that overlooks the chambers and at legislative hearings. Before the open carry law went into effect on January 1, the Senate allowed concealed carry in its gallery and hearings.

Utah – Registered Lobbyists Outnumber Utah Lawmakers by More than 4 to 1
Salt Lake Tribune – Mariah Noble | Published: 2/1/2016

There are 441 lobbyist registered in Utah, more than four for every one of the 104 state legislators. While a number of the registered lobbyists never make an appearance on Capitol Hill, some represent as many as 50 client organizations. “We’re an integral part of democracy,” said lobbyist Frank Pignanelli. “Elections are obviously the first and foremost key element, but for individuals and companies and organizations to have their interests represented in the law and policy-making process is absolutely imperative.”

Jim SedorState and Federal Communications produces a weekly summary of national news, offering more than 60 articles per week focused on ethics, lobbying, and campaign finance.

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