February 6, 2015 •
News You Can Use Digest – February 6, 2015
National Donors Pick Winners in State Elections
Center for Public Integrity – Ben Weider | Published: 1/28/2015
National political organizations, such as the Republican Governors Association, gave significantly more money than political parties, unions, corporations, or wealthy individuals to influence state-level campaigns. The contributions went beyond races for governor. The funds made their way into lower-ballot contests such as attorney general, Supreme Court justice, and state legislator. The national groups also cropped up on the lists of the biggest donors in most states, outgiving homegrown political players in a sign that all politics may now be national. They also were more successful in backing winners than most donors, becoming the de facto kingmakers of state politics.
Measles Prove Delicate Issue to GOP Field
New York Times – Jeremy Peters and Richard Pérez-Peña | Published: 2/2/2015
As the latest measles outbreak raises alarm, and parents who have decided not to vaccinate their children face growing pressure to do so, the national debate is forcing the Republican Party’s 2016 presidential hopefuls to confront questions about whether it is in the public’s interest to allow parents to decide for themselves. The controversy is a twist on an old problem for the GOP: how to approach matters that have largely been settled among scientists but are not widely accepted by conservatives. It is a dance Republican candidates often do when they hedge their answers about whether evolution should be taught in schools, for example.
The Surprising Power of Blue-State Republicans
New York Times – Nate Cohn | Published: 1/30/2015
How does the Republican Party, seemingly dominated by the South, energized by the tea party, and elected by conservative voters also consistently support relatively moderate presidential nominees such as John McCain and Mitt Romney? The answer is the blue-state Republicans. They make it far harder for a very conservative candidate to win the GOP nomination than the party’s reputation suggests. They also give a candidate who might seem somewhat out of touch with today’s Republican Party, like Jeb Bush, a larger base of potential support than is commonly thought.
From the States and Municipalities:
California – Oil Industry Doubled Spending on Lobbying in California Last Year
Sacramento Bee – Laurel Rosenhall | Published: 2/4/2015
The oil industry nearly doubled its spending on lobbying in California last year as the January 1, 2015, date approached for gasoline to be included in the state’s cap-and-trade program. That increase in expenditures was part of a larger trend in 2014 that saw interest groups spend more on lobbying in California than ever before. Overall, spending on lobbying was up four percent, with interest groups pouring a combined $293.7 million into lobbying state government.
Massachusetts – State Senator’s Lavish Gift Raises Concerns on Ethics
Boston Globe – Andrea Estes | Published: 1/30/2015
Massachusetts Sen. Brian Joyce is under scrutiny for the expensive sunglasses he gave out as gifts to his colleagues during the holidays. Joyce gave everyone in the 40-member state Senate gold-plated designer sunglasses, customized with each senator’s name engraved on the side. But the glasses that retail for more than $200 may violate state ethics rules for the cut-rate price Joyce paid for them. He originally negotiated a price of just $50 per pair from the manufacturer. Politicians, according to state ethics rules, are not supposed to receive discounts not available to others.
Missouri – Ethics Amendment Sponsor Sees Little Chance for Effective Action by Lawmakers
Columbia Daily Tribune – Rudi Keller | Published: 2/3/2015
Debates over lobbying and campaign finance rules have a much higher profile this year in Missouri. Leaders in both chambers have said the issue is a top priority, but they differ on how far lawmakers must go. Some members want to ban lobbyist gifts, some want limits, and others want faster, more precise reporting. Sen. Rob Schaaf said a proposed constitutional amendment to ban lobbyist gifts and impose limits on political contributions will serve as the template for an initiative petition drive if lawmakers do not put it on the ballot themselves.
Missouri – Missouri Lawmakers’ Steady Shift to Lobbying Raises Concerns with Critics
Kansas City Star – Jason Hancock | Published: 2/1/2015
Registered lobbyists outnumber lawmakers in Jefferson City by almost five-to-one. Over the last decade, as voter-imposed term limits began driving elected officials out of office, lobbyists’ ranks have swelled with former legislators and staff cashing in on their expertise and connections. To critics, that erodes public trust and runs the risk of corrupting policy. It fuels a perception that lawmakers are casting votes to curry favor with potential future employers. Congress and at least 32 states have laws in place limiting when legislators can return to lobby their former colleagues; Missouri is not among them.
Nevada – When Do Lawmakers’ Day Jobs Become Conflicts of Interest?
Las Vegas Sun – Kyle Roerink | Published: 2/3/2015
Nevada’s citizen Legislature will inherently pose potential conflicts in a state where just a few industries – gaming, mining, insurance, and construction – have hefty influence. Nevada is one of 16 part-time Legislatures that offer low pay and small staffs, forcing most lawmakers to have full-time employment. Those day jobs, for many elected to office, are in fields overlapping with politics. State law requires lawmakers to recuse themselves from participating in debates if they have significant financial interests or received substantial gifts that could be perceived as swaying their judgment. Nevada’s ethics commission does not have jurisdiction in such matters. Only lawmakers can choose to address those issues within the Legislature’s ethics committees.
New Jersey – Christie’s Overseas Travel Funded by Firms That Do Business with N.J.
Bergen Record – Shawn Boburg and Hugh Morley | Published: 1/31/2015
Created at the behest of Gov. Chris Christie in 2010 to promote business and job growth in the state, Choose New Jersey funded Christie’s recent trip to England with backing from public utilities, labor unions, law firms, and contractors, some that have received multimillion-dollar contracts and tax breaks from the state. The donors also regularly send lobbyists to Trenton to advance their business interests in front of key lawmakers, including the governor. The arrangement is legal, but watchdog groups say it raises questions about whether Christie is benefiting politically from the largesse of firms that have a financial stake in decisions made at the Capitol.
New York – 6 Days That Felled Sheldon Silver, the Speaker Who Ruled Albany for Decades
New York Times – Jesse McKinley, Thomas Kaplan, Susanne Craig, and William Rashbaum | Published: 1/28/2015
The six-day, slow-motion toppling of New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver began with his arrest on January 22 and culminated when Democrats said Silver would be replaced for the betterment of a chamber repeatedly buffeted by prosecutions, convictions, and sexual harassment scandals. Interviews with more than a dozen legislators indicate it was a idealistic new wave of Assembly members who helped galvanize opposition to Silver, prodded a loyal old guard, and cleared the way for an election of a new speaker and, they hoped, a new start.
Oregon – Cylvia Hayes Scandal: Kitzhaber associates helped create jobs for her that had Oregon influence in mind
Portland Oregonian – Nick Budnick and Laura Gunderson | Published: 2/3/2015
Associates of Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber helped to create jobs for fiancée and first lady Cylvia Hayes, work that influenced state policy on energy. Hayes’ calendar shows she held the paid posts simultaneously as she served as an unpaid energy adviser inside Kitzhaber’s office. One of the jobs paid her $5,000 for five months after Kitzhaber started his third term. The second was a fellowship that paid $118,000 over two years. The Portland Oregonian reported both jobs involved foundations and organizations with direct interest in state policy making.
Pennsylvania – Former Pennsylvania Treasurer to Plead Guilty to Extortion in Deal with Federal Prosecutors
Greenfield Daily Reporter – Marc Levy (Associated Press) | Published: 2/2/2015
Former Pennsylvania Treasurer Rob McCord could face as many as 40 years in prison and be fined up to $500,000 if he follows through on a tentative plea agreement to resolve charges he tried to extort campaign contributions. McCord is accused of using threats to squeeze contributions from a law firm and a property management company to help finance his failed 2014 campaign for governor. McCord had been midway through his second term as treasurer when he resigned on January 30.
Virginia – Ethics Reforms Advance in Virginia Legislature
Washington Post – Rachel Weiner and Jenna Portnoy | Published: 2/5/2015
A Virginia House subcommittee and a state Senate committee advanced legislation aimed at strengthening the state’s ethics laws. The bills would reduce the current $250 cap on gifts to public officials to $100 and remove the distinction between tangible and intangible gifts such as travel, meals, and entertainment. But Republicans who control the General Assembly remain at odds with Gov. Terry McAuliffe over the best way for the state to monitor the rules on conflicts-of-interest.
Washington – Lawmakers Grouse about Free Meals Rule
Tacoma News Tribune – Jordan Schrader | Published: 1/29/2015
Washington lawmakers are complaining about a new limit of 12 free meals they are allowed to take from lobbyists, saying it does not just impugn their integrity, it is also confusing. “All of us have tried to navigate the maze of what is [considered] a meal,” Sen. Marko Liias said during hearings on the subject. Sen. Brian Hatfield’s bill would apply the limit only to meals worth more than $50. Many meals that are drawing questions would fall below that standard, which is already the threshold for what lawmakers are supposed to disclose on financial forms.
Wisconsin – Federal Judge’s Judgment Takes John Doe Probe off Life Support
WisconsinReporter.com – M.D. Kittle | Published: 2/1/2015
A federal judge ordered state election officials to post links to decisions striking down swaths of Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws on its website. A federal appeals court struck down state laws banning independent political spending by corporations to support or oppose candidates and capping corporations’ political donations. The court also struck down Government Accountability Board (GAB) rules that imposed reporting requirements for groups that make independent political expenditures. U.S. District Court Judge Charles Clevert issued a permanent injunction codifying the appellate ruling. The injunction orders the GAB to post links to the court decisions and keep them active for four years.
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