January 2, 2015 •
News You Can Use Digest – January 2, 2015
A Bipartisan Push to Limit Lobbyists’ Sway over Attorneys General
New York Times – Eric Lipton | Published: 12/26/2014
A series of articles in The New York Times examined how lawyers and lobbyists – from major corporations, energy companies, and even plaintiffs’ law firms – have increasingly tried to influence state attorneys general. These outside players have tried to shut down investigations, enlist the attorneys general as partners in litigation, or use their clout to try to block or strengthen regulations emerging from Washington, found the investigation. A debate has started among state attorneys general, even those who believe the problem is more about the perception of a possible conflict-of-interest, over steps that could be taken to insulate them from outside influence.
Cuomo and Christie, Defying Legislatures, Reject Bill to Overhaul Port Authority
New York Times – Jesse McKinley | Published: 12/27/2014
Governors Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo vetoed legislation passed unanimously in both of their state Legislatures that would change the management structure at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Instead, Christie and Cuomo said they accepted revisions recommended by a special panel to reorganize the agency. The veto came as prosecutors continue to investigate the politically motivated lane closings at the bridge last year, a scandal that marred Christie’s reputation. The bi-state agency has also faced ethical questions over its reputation for rewarding politically connected officials with patronage jobs and allies with lucrative contracts.
What We Learned about the American Voter in 2014
Politico – Jonathan Topaz | Published: 12/31/2014
The Republican landslide in the midterm elections has both parties poring over voting data, hoping to glean insights about the current state of the electorate before the 2016 election. But it might take until the next presidential cycle to answer the most pressing question of whether the GOP’s success in 2014 is the result of significant changes in how voters view the two parties, or the structural difference between the electorates in presidential and midterm years so great that Democrats still maintain a strong demographic advantage going into 2016.
Big Money Breaks Out
Politico – Kenneth Vogel | Published: 12/29/2014
Billionaires Michael Bloomberg, Sheldon Adelson, and David Koch were among the top 10 largest contributors to federal political campaigns in the 2014 midterm elections, according to Politico. The 100 biggest campaign donors gave $323 million in 2014, almost as much as the $356 million given by the estimated 4.75 million people who gave $200 or less. The trajectory is pointing to a heyday of mega-donors, asserted political consultant Mark McKinnon. “When 100 big donors give as much almost 5 million small donors, with whom do we expect candidates to spend their time, and whose interests do we think they will represent?” asked McKinnon.
Republicans Try to Fix Damage Scalise’s 2002 Speech Could Do in 2016
New York Times – Jonathan Martin and Jackie Calmes | Published: 12/30/2014
U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, the House majority whip, acknowledged he spoke to a white supremacy group in 2002, though he said he did not realize what kind of organization it was, is not affiliated with it, and does not agree with its beliefs. The group was the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, founded by David Duke, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. The controversy erupted as Republicans were making a renewed effort to reach out to black voters. It threatened to cloud their agenda after capturing control of the Senate and adding to their House majority in the midterm election.
From the States and Municipalities:
Arizona – Firing of VA Clinic Chief Upheld over Gifts, Not Wait Times
USA Today – John Wagner (Arizona Republic) | Published: 12/24/2014
An administrative judge upheld the dismissal of the director of the Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system in Phoenix for accepting more than $13,000 in airline tickets and other gifts from a consultant for the health care industry and for failing to disclose some of the gifts. The former director, Sharon Helman, had also been implicated in the falsification of the hospital’s waiting lists for care, a problem at Phoenix and other veterans’ hospitals that roiled the VA. But the administrative judge, Stephen Mish, concluded the department had not provided sufficient evidence to justify firing Helman for the manipulation of waiting lists, which concealed delays in providing care to veterans.
California – New FPPC Chair Takes Low-Profile Approach
Sacramento Bee – Laurel Rosenhall | Published: 12/24/2014
As Jodi Remke takes the mantle as chairperson of the California Fair Political Practices Commission, she said she is mainly focused on beating bureaucracy at the agency. Her predecessor, Ann Ravel, brought national attention to the sometimes-obscure commission that polices California’s lobbying and campaign finance laws. Remke said she wants to continue Ravel’s work going after serious violations of the state’s Political Reform Act. But she has her own vision for the position, too, one that involves increasing the FPPC’s use of technology and streamlining the requirements involved for officials to follow the law.
California – Politicians Use ‘Ghost’ Campaigns to Fight Specter of Lost Funds
San Francisco Chronicle – John Wildermuth | Published: 12/25/2014
California election law requires candidates to close their campaign accounts and disburse the money within two years after losing an election or being termed out of office, unless they are planning to run for another office. Plenty of out-of-work politicians want to hang on to their campaign cash for as long as they can, however, and the rule has forced some veteran officeholders into some unusual political contortions. At age 82, former state Sen. John Burton is head of the California Democratic Party, but he has opened a not-especially-active campaign for state superintendent of public instruction four years from now.
Georgia – University System of Georgia Spent More Than $48,000 on Perks for State Lawmakers
Columbus Republic; Associated Press – | Published: 12/28/2014
A state law passed in 2013 prohibits Georgia legislators from receiving gifts worth more than $75. But that law also excludes public employees from being considered lobbyists. University System of Georgia officials spent tens of thousands of dollars in 2014 on football tickets, meals, and events for state lawmakers. Some lawmakers say University System officials acting in a lobbying capacity should have to register as such and report their spending to the state.
Massachusetts – State Campaign Contributions Set to Double
Boston Globe – Joshua Miller | Published: 12/27/2014
Candidates for all municipal, county, and state elected offices in Massachusetts can now raise $1,000 per year from individuals, double the old limit of $500. The change, part of a multifaceted campaign finance package signed into law this summer, is certain to be a boon to campaign accounts. Beyond that, there is dispute about what the increase might mean. Some believe the increase will simply make campaigns more expensive. Others think it might allow politicians to raise the money they need in less time, and spend their newly free hours with regular voters, building support.
Missouri – With Lobbyists, Missouri Lawmakers Golf and Dine Far from Jefferson City
PoliticMo.com – Eli Yokely | Published: 12/30/2014
In Jefferson City, where the statehouse is governed by no limits on personal gifts and campaign contributions to lawmakers from lobbyists, it is common practice for legislators to get their meals, lodging, and drinks paid for by lobbyists, according to records maintained by the Missouri Ethics Commission. But on a recent trip to Las Vegas trip attended by three lobbyists and eight lawmakers, the only thing that was reported to the commission was an $8.50 expense from Noranda Aluminum executive Charles Skoda to Rep. Don Gosen. Though no exchange of gifts was reported, the episode reveals the close ties lobbyists form with state lawmakers and the extent to which they can legally go to push their agenda.
New York – U.S. Said to Investigate Sheldon Silver, New York Assembly Speaker, Over Payments
New York Times – William Rashbaum, Thomas, Kaplan, and Susanne Craig | Published: 12/29/2014
Federal authorities are investigating the sources of income of New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. The probe stems from an inquiry U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara began in April after Gov. Andrew Cuomo disbanded a panel examining corruption in the state Legislature. Among the areas the panel looked into was lawmakers’ sources of income, which must be disclosed. In addition to his $121,000 salary from the state, Silver has for years listed income from acting as “of counsel” to Weitz & Luxenberg, though he has declined to say what he does for the law firm. In 2013, Silver said he made from $650,000 to $750,000 from outside work including, though not limited to, Weitz & Luxenberg.
North Carolina – Opinion Says Lawmakers Can Raise Money for Political Nonprofits
WRAL – Mark Binker | Published: 12/29/2014
The Legislative Ethics Committee issued an opinion saying North Carolina lawmakers are allowed to raise money for political nonprofits that collect cash to lobby or elect members to the General Assembly. Raising money for political nonprofits is frequently easier than gathering cash into campaign accounts because the same fundraising limits do not apply and nonprofits are often not required to disclose the names of donors. Nonprofits also can raise money from interested groups when an important legislative decision is approaching, rather than having to wait like lawmakers until after the session ends.
Oklahoma – Ethics Agency Fails To Collect Most Fees
KGOU – M. Scott Carter (Oklahoma Watch) | Published: 12/29/2014
As of early 2014, candidates, their campaigns, and other organizations owed the Oklahoma Ethics Commission more than $200,000 in unpaid fees for late or no filing of statements of income and spending. The commission’s executive director said many fees probably will never be collected because of a lack of resources. The agency decided to stop assessing late fees this year partly because it needed to establish new rules for imposing fees. Dozens of political groups and campaigns in the 2014 election failed to meet deadlines for filing their statements.
Washington – PDC Finding It Hard to Get Money to Make Upgrades to Its Campaign-Finance Web Site
Tacoma News Tribune – Brad Shannon (The Olympian) | Published: 12/26/2014
The budget for the Public Disclosure Commission is cut by two percent in Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposed spending plan for 2015-17, including elimination of three employees that would leave staffing at fewer than 17 full-time equivalent positions. The agency had suggested the staffing cuts, including elimination of a vacant in-house legal counsel position. But it also wanted to invest potentially $200,000 into upgrades making it easier for candidates and lobbyists to file reports and for the public to find and understand them.
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