News You Can Use Digest – January 13, 2017 - State and Federal Communications

January 13, 2017  •  

News You Can Use Digest – January 13, 2017

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National:

Russian Hackers Find Ready Bullhorns in the Media
New York Times – Max Fisher | Published: 1/8/2017

Reporters have always relied on sources who provide critical information for self-interested reasons. The duty is to publicize information that serves the public interest without falling prey to the source’s agenda. But in 2016, the source was Russia’s military intelligence agency – operating through shadowy fronts who worked to mask that fact – and its agenda was to undermine the American presidential election. By releasing documents that would tarnish Hillary Clinton and other U.S. political figures, but whose news value compelled coverage, Moscow exploited the very openness that is the basis of a free press.

Federal:

DOJ Watchdog Opens Review of Comey’s Clinton Email Investigation
Politico – Josh Gerstein | Published: 1/12/2017

The Justice Department’s internal watchdog will investigate FBI Director James Comey’s decision to publicly release information about the bureau’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified material. The inquiry by the department’s inspector general will focus on whether “policies or procedures were not followed” when Comey held a July 5 news conference to discuss the case, and when he sent letters to Congress just before the election that disclosed his agents were reviewing newly discovered emails pertinent to the Clinton case. Some in Clinton’s campaign blamed Comey’s actions for halting her momentum shortly before the election and helping in Donald Trump’s presidential victory.

How a Sensational, Unverified Dossier Became a Crisis for Donald Trump
New York Times – Scott Shane, Nicholas Confessore, and Matthew Rosenberg | Published: 1/11/2017

As they prepared to brief President Obama and President-elect Donald Trump on Russian interference in the 2016 election, U.S. intelligence officials decided to mention the salacious allegations that Moscow had compromising information on the incoming president. That triggered coverage of allegations that news organizations had tried to run down for months but could find no basis for publishing until they were summarized and included alongside a classified report assembled by the nation’s intelligence services. Parts of the story remain out of reach – most critically the basic question of how much, if anything, in the dossier is true. But it is possible to piece together a rough narrative of what led to the current crisis, including lingering questions about the ties binding Trump and his team to Russia.

Trump Won’t Drop Business Ties
Politico – Josh Dawsey and Darren Samuelsohn | Published: 1/11/2017

Donald Trump, insisting he will not divest himself of his vast business empire as he prepares to assume the presidency, plans instead to turn over all of his business operations to a trust controlled by his two oldest sons and a longtime associate. He will donate to the U.S. government all profits from foreign government payments to his hotels. The Trump Organization will also refrain from entering into any new deals with foreign partners, backing off from an earlier claim by Trump that his company would have “no new deals” of any kind during his presidency. The business will have to clear any new transactions with an ethics adviser. The moves fell short of the recommendations of ethics experts who have said the only way for Trump to genuinely eliminate potential conflicts is to place all his real estate holdings and other ventures in a blind trust over which neither he nor his family has any control.

From the States and Municipalities:

California – How This Former Aspiring Screenwriter Became One of California’s Campaign Finance Experts After Losing His Day Job
Los Angeles Times – Christine Mai-Duc | Published: 1/9/2017

Three years ago, Rob Pyers was as far away from politics as one could imagine: a college dropout who had been laid off from his job, binge-watching Netflix to pass the time. Today, from his one-bedroom apartment in West Hollywood, Pyers anchors one of the most trusted compendiums on state politics and is becoming the ultimate insider in the often-opaque world of campaign finance. His passion for organizing massive amounts of data has transformed the California Target Book and made his Twitter feed a go-to resource for some of Sacramento’s top operatives.

California – L.A. Politicians Propose Banning Campaign Contributions from Developers
Los Angeles Times – David Zahniser and Emily Alpert Reyes | Published: 1/10/2017

A group of Los Angeles City Council members proposed banning contributions to council campaigns from developers with projects currently or recently before the city. The motion also would consider whether to expand the city’s definition of developer to include building contractors and subcontractors, and whether to increase the enforcement staff at the city Ethics Commission to ensure more frequent audits and inspections. With the council approval of the motion, it is now up to the ethics panel and other city staff to craft implementing ordinances to bring back to the council in coming months.

Colorado – Denver Council Approves Gift-Report Rules That Require More Frequency, Better Access
Denver Post – Jon Murray | Published: 1/9/2017

The Denver City Council voted in favor of requiring more frequent reporting, more detail, and easier-to-access records of the meals, tickets, and most other gifts they receive from donors with a city interest. The new rules replace a system of annual reporting in which those gifts and other financial disclosures were not viewable by the public until seven months after the end of the reporting period, and could be obtained only by visiting the clerk’s office and paying for copies. The ordinance was one of three ethics measures considered by the council in recent months. It approved another proposal that will make lobbyists’ registrations and bimonthly reports of spending on city lobbying activities available online.

Connecticut – CT’s Largest Lobbying Firms Led by Women
HartfordBusiness.com – Patricia Daddona | Published: 1/9/2017

Paddi LeShane is an equal partner with Patrick Sullivan running Connecticut’s third largest lobbying firm – Sullivan & LeShane Inc. – with 47 registered clients. But she is not the only high-profile woman lobbyist running her own shop. In a profession long-dominated by men, women operate three of the five largest lobbying firms in Connecticut, based on number of registered clients, and their presence at the Capitol is growing. In fact, women lobbyists are far from an anomaly in the government relations field these days, industry experts say.

Kentucky – Report: Beshear officials shook down 16 workers
Louisville Courier-Journal – Tom Loftus | Published: 1/11/2017

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin’s investigation of former Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration has found state employees were solicited for campaign contributions both during and after working hours. The investigators interviewed 16 non-merit employees from six departments in the Beshear administration. Witnesses said “virtually all non-merit employees” in the executive branch were expected to make a financial contribution, according to the report. Kentucky law forbids specifically targeting state employees for campaign donations, unless the solicitation is part of a larger plan that includes non-state employees.

Maryland – Federal Bribery Charges Filed over Prince George’s County Liquor Licenses
Washington Post – Lynh Bui, Ann Marimow, and Arelis Hernandez | Published: 1/5/2017

Federal investigators disclosed that two Maryland lawmakers, one now out of office, are targets of a public corruption probe and expected to be charged in a bribery scheme that already has resulted in charges against two Prince George’s County liquor board officials and two business owners. The two lawmakers were unnamed in federal affidavits that outlined a bribery conspiracy in which officials were paid for favorable liquor license actions. Among those charged were David Dae Sok Son, the liquor agency’s administrator. Son solicited and facilitated bribes ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 from lobbyists and business owners, according to prosecutors. It is alleged that Son facilitated payments to an elected official for help moving a business to the county and grants the official controlled.

Massachusetts – City Hall Promised Lobbying Reform. Nothing Happened.
Boston Globe – Mark Arsenault and Andrew Ryan | Published: 1/9/2017

A year after Boston Mayor Martin Walsh promised that regulations governing municipal lobbyists would be a priority, no plan has been approved. Since February, the initiative has sat untouched in a city council committee without a hearing. Wash and council leaders may have said they supported new lobbying rules, but it appears none of them made an effective effort to follow through. That means corporations and interest groups continue to employ lobbyists to quietly influence city government with practically no public scrutiny.

Missouri – Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley Announces New Ethics Policy
Kansas City Star – Jason Hancock | Published: 1/10/2017

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley banned his employees from accepting gifts from lobbyists. Hawley also will not accept campaign contributions from anyone who has a pending bid or application for state contract on which the attorney general’s office has decision-making authority. The new ethics policy comes one day after Gov. Eric Greitens signed an executive order banning state workers in the executive branch from accepting lobbyist gifts. It is unclear whether Greitens’ order is actually enforceable.

New York – AG Will Hold Off on Enforcing Parts of Lobbying Disclosure Law
Albany Times Union – Chris Bragg | Published: 1/12/2017

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman will not enforce certain parts of a new state ethics law requiring charitable organizations that give money to lobbying campaigns to disclose more of their donors while a federal lawsuit moves through the courts. One provision that is affected would require 501(C)3 charities to report their sources of funding when the group makes an in kind contribution or donation in excess of $2,500 to a 501(c)(4). The other provision mandates 501(c)(4) groups that spend more than $10,000 a year on any public policy communications report the name and address of donors who give $1,000 or more.

Pennsylvania – Calls Turn Developers into Donors for Peduto
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – Rich Lord | Published: 1/8/2017

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto is making a bid for a second term, with no announced challenger. Like incumbents past, he has filled a campaign account in part by collecting from people who do business with the city. Pittsburgh’s top development official has asked developers to contribute to Peduto’s campaign, in a series of calls the administration contends were devoid of deal-making, but which others said are at odds with the spirit of reform the mayor once championed.

South Carolina – Merrill Indictment Casts Pall Over Opening of SC Legislature
The State – Avery Wilks | Published: 1/9/2017

As the South Carolina Legislature reconvenes, the top issues will include fixing the state’s roads and addressing an underfunded pension system. But a corruption investigation will cast a pall over the proceedings, raising a host of other issues. Two indictments during the past month mean the Republican-controlled Legislature will start its session without a pair of GOP legislators. Rep. Chris Corley was suspended after he was indicted on criminal domestic abuse charges. Rep. Jim Merrill was suspended after he was indicted on charges of using his public office to pocket at least $1.3 million from outside interest groups. Watchdogs say the behavior alleged in Merrill’s indictment is not all that unique at the statehouse and more indictments could be on the way.

 

Jim Sedor

State 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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