January 22, 2016 •
News You Can Use Digest – January 22, 2016
Case Could Widen Free-Speech Gap between Unions and Corporations
New York Times – Adam Liptak | Published: 1/18/2016
Oral arguments in a major challenge to public unions illuminated a gap in the U.S. Supreme Court’s treatment of capital and labor. The court has long allowed workers to refuse to finance unions’ political activities, but shareholders have no comparable right to refuse to pay for corporate political speech. At the arguments in the case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, the justices seemed poised to widen that gap by allowing government workers to refuse to support unions’ collective bargaining activities, as well. The case should prompt a new look at whether the differing treatment of unions and corporations is justified, said Benjamin Sachs, a law professor at Harvard.
High Court Rejects Challenge over Contractor Contributions
Philadelphia Inquirer; Associated Press – | Published: 1/19/2016
The U.S. Supreme Court will not hear a challenge to a law that bans government contractors from donating money to federal candidates or political parties. The justices let stand a lower court ruling that said the ban is a reasonable way of addressing the government’s interest in preventing political corruption.
President Obama May Require Federal Contractors to List Campaign Gifts
New York Times – Julie Hirschfeld Davis | Published: 1/19/2016
President Obama is weighing whether to invoke his executive authority to force federal contractors to disclose political contributions they make to independent groups. The proposed executive order would require corporations that currently have federal contracts to disclose what they spend on political efforts, including money forwarded through trade associations. Obama has been considering the action for more than a year, but discussions have intensified in recent weeks as he moves to deliver on unfulfilled promises in his final year in office. Business groups that have opposed campaign finance restrictions argue the executive order would encroach on free speech rights.
From the States and Municipalities:
California – FPPC Cracks Down on Reporting for California Lobbyists
Sacramento Bee – Taryn Luna | Published: 1/21/2016
The California Fair Political Practices Commission voted to require interest groups and lobbyists to break out and itemize expenses in the “other payments to influence category” in quarterly filings to the state. The current rules allow groups to report the category, which includes payments as routine as money for office supplies to more influential spending on advertising campaigns, as a lump sum. “Lobbying is largely a self-regulated industry and in order to make sure people are playing by the rules, we need this type of information that shines a light on what’s going on,” said commission Chairperson Jodi Remke.
Florida – Hillsborough Commissioners OK Measure to Require Lobbyists’ Fees
Tampa Tribune – Mike Salinero | Published: 1/21/2016
Hillsborough County commissioners passed an ordinance that requires lobbyists to register and pay a $50 yearly fee. Under the new law, everyone who comes to meet with commissioners must fill out a form saying who they represent, what they want to discuss, and which commissioners they are visiting. The commission also increased penalties for non-compliance that were in a draft ordinance. For a first violation, the lobbyist is given a warning, followed by a $250 fine for a second violation.
Florida – Special Interests Flood Florida Legislative Campaigns with $28 Million in 6 Months
Miami Herald – Mary Ellen Klas | Published: 1/17/2016
At least $28.5 million has been funneled into legislative political committees in Florida during the past six months. The influx of cash is the result of a shift in state campaign finance laws that allowed for unfettered donations to such committees in the wake of the Citizens United ruling. Stronger disclosure laws opened the door to more frequent reporting, but there is no requirement for donors to disclose what issues or bills they are attempting to impact. Many of the wealthy special interests are getting preferential treatment as their priority bills have been moving early in the session. Many ideas that are opposed by influential special interests are getting blocked. Industry fights are emerging over medical marijuana, gambling, solar power, hospital regulation, and dental care, among others.
Michigan – As Water Problems Grew, Officials Belittled Complaints from Flint
New York Times – Julie Bosman, Monica Davey, and Mitch Smith | Published: 1/20/2016
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder released more than 270 pages of emails surrounding the toxic water crisis in Flint. One email reveals Snyder’s chief of staff believed Flint’s poisoned water was not the state’s responsibility. That aide also mentioned state health officials who worried the issue could turn into a “political football.” It was not until late in 2015 – after months of complaints – that state officials finally conceded what critics had been contending: Flint was in the midst of a major public health emergency as tap water pouring into families’ homes contained enough lead to show up in the blood of dozens of people in the city. Even small amounts of lead could cause lasting health and developmental problems in children.
Nebraska – Ernie Chambers Resolution Takes Aim at Free Meals Provided by Lobbyists
Omaha World-Herald – Joe Duggan | Published: 1/19/2016
State law caps the gifts that senators or their immediate family members may accept from lobbyists at $50 per month. But the law places no limits on free meals or beverages, said Frank Daley, executive director of the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission. Many lobbyists, groups, and associations host breakfasts, lunches, and dinners throughout the session. Defenders say the meals are convenient, sociable ways for lawmakers to get to know the issues and each other. But a resolution drafted by Sen. Ernie Chambers would seek to end lobbyist-provided meals inside the Capitol while the Legislature is in session.
New Mexico – New Mexico Lobbyist Spending Tops $818,000 in 2015
New Mexico In Depth – Sandra Fish | Published: 1/18/2016
Lobbyists and their employers spent about $818,000 on meals, receptions, and gifts for New Mexico lawmakers and other officials in 2015. Individual lobbyists – 148 of them – spent more $474,000, while 23 businesses spent more than $344,000, reports show. While the secretary of state’s office recently issued guidelines suggesting lobbyists report their expenses in greater detail, not all lobbyists did. Some 19 lobbyists listed aggregate expenses of more than $1,000 after April 2015, failing to specify lawmakers they hosted or dates they spent the money.
New Mexico – Scandals Raise Profile of an Unpopular Idea among Lawmakers: An ethics commission
New Mexico In Depth – Marjorie Childress | Published: 1/18/2016
A proposal to create an independent ethics commission in New Mexico focused on the executive and legislative branches first gained prominence in 2006, almost a year after then-state Treasurer Robert Vigil resigned to avoid facing possible impeachment. A task force recommended its creation. Subsequent ethics committee legislation passed the House four times, but has withered in the state Senate. Several questions need to be resolved before an independent ethics commission gets traction at the Legislature, including the need for sufficient funding; the question of jurisdictional oversight; the makeup and size, along with who appoints the positions; and satisfactory due process provisions to guard against “politically motivated witch hunts,” said Sen. Peter Wirth.
New York – In Albany, Those Who Might Address Ethics Meet Rarely and Offer Less
New York Times – Vivian Yee | Published: 1/19/2016
Like other committees in the New York Legislature, the ethics panels have chairpersons and several members each. Unlike the others, they have not considered a single bill on the subject of ethics – or anything else – that anyone can remember. For reformers, the committees’ paralysis is yet another symptom of a willful ignorance that allows the Capitol to make much of minor improvements while circumventing real change. “It is a body bent on self-protection,” said Common Cause New York Executive Director Susan Lerner, referring to the Legislature.
Ohio – State Street Settles Pay-to-Play Charges for $12 Million
New York Times – Liz Moyer | Published: 1/14/2016
State Street Corp. agreed to pay $12 million to settle charges that a senior vice president and a company lobbyist offered an Ohio deputy treasurer payoffs in order to win contracts servicing state pension funds. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) found former State Street Vice President Vincent DeBaggis entered into an agreement with Amer Ahmad, then Ohio deputy treasurer, to make illegal cash payments and political contributions. In exchange, Ahmad helped the Boston-based bank obtain three lucrative contracts. Ahmad pleaded guilty before fleeing to Pakistan. He was eventually returned to the U.S. to serve a 15-year sentence. The SEC alleged Robert Crowe, a lawyer hired as a fundraiser and lobbyist by State Street, also took part in the kickback scheme.
South Carolina – Bill Would Require South Carolina Journalists to Register
Denver Post – Meg Kinnard (Associated Press) | Published: 1/19/2016
South Carolina Rep. Mike Pitts said it is time to register journalists in the state. His bill would create requirements for people wanting to work as a journalist for a media outlet, and also before that outlet could hire anyone for a reporting position. The secretary of state’s office would be tasked with keeping a “responsible journalism registry” and creating the criteria, with the help of a panel, on what qualifies a person as a journalist–similar to doctors and lawyers, Pitts said. He said the bill is not a reaction to any particular news story but was intended to stimulate discussion over how he sees gun issues being reported.
Virginia – Lawmakers Go on Fundraising Frenzy before Session
Deseret News – Alan Suderman (Associated Press) | Published: 1/19/2016
Like they do every year, Virginia legislators kept busy raising money from the businesses and trade associations that try to influence the laws they pass, donations that will not be made public until long after the 2016 session is over. State law forbids lawmakers from fundraising during the session, a restriction that leads to a flurry of receptions and fundraisers in the run up to it. This year there were nearly 50 fundraisers scheduled for the first two weeks in January, including 20 on the two days before the session started. Only large donations to certain campaign committees have to be reported shortly after they are given. Most campaign finance reports will not be due until this summer, meaning large sums of cash raised in the lead up to session will not be made public for months.
Washington – State Lawmaker in Olympia Asks Visiting Teens If They’re Virgins
Seattle Times – James O’Sullivan | Published: 1/18/2016
Washington Rep. Mary Dye startled a group of teen visitors by asking which ones were virgins and even suggesting one was not. The high school students had met with Dye to advocate for expanded insurance coverage for birth control as part of Planned Parenthood’s Teen Lobbying Day when she asked the intrusive question. “After she made the statement about virginity, all of my teens looked at me,” Rachel Todd, a Planned Parenthood worker accompanying the kids. “And I said, ‘You don’t have to answer that.'” Dye later said she was trying to talk about empowerment and good choices.
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