January 23, 2015 •
News You Can Use Digest – January 23, 2015
‘Competitive Disadvantage’?: Pay-to-pay rules and the 2016 stakes
NBC News – Carrie Dunn | Published: 1/15/2015
Governors may face a unique challenge when it comes to raising the big money it takes to be president from some of the most generous donors out there: denizens of Wall Street. That is because of federal “pay-to-play” rules put into place by the Securities and Exchange Commission that effectively bar many state officials from receiving substantial political contributions from financial advisers interested in the often-lucrative business of state contracts, particularly the management of huge state pension funds. The rules can be fuzzy and even experts say it is not always entirely clear which donations trigger a violation. It all means that big-dollar Wall Street donors are playing it safe.
The Wealthiest Are Getting Wealthier, and Lobbying Has a Lot to Do with It
PBS – Simone Pathe | Published: 1/19/2015
Oxfam predicts a widening wealth gap and points a finger at lobbying for much the of wealth accumulation at the top. The world’s richest one percent is likely to control over 50 percent of global wealth by next year, according to a report from Oxfam. The report zeroes in on the political influence affordable to the wealthy: lobbying, specifically in the financial and pharmaceutical and health care industries.
How Citizens United Has Changed Politics in 5 Years
U.S. News & World Report – Gabrielle Levy | Published: 1/21/2015
In its Citizens United decision, the U.S. Supreme Court said political spending is protected under the First Amendment, meaning corporations and unions could spend unlimited amounts of money on political activities, as long as it was done independently of a party or candidate. The legal protections for corporations mean much of this spending, known as “dark money,” never has to be publicly disclosed. Most observers say the justices made a good-faith effort to promote transparency and prevent coordination in the ruling. But the contradiction between the court’s stated desire for transparency and its definition of corporations as people protected by the First Amendment created a loophole that campaigns and PACs can use to their advantage.
IRS Rarely Audits Nonprofits for Politicking
Center for Public Integrity – Julie Patel | Published: 1/22/2015
More than 100 nonprofit groups have directly involved themselves in elections during recent years, some spending tens of millions of dollars. The rest, largely charities that are generally prohibited from campaigning for politicians, are seldom monitored by the IRS to ensure they follow federal law. The situation leaves the groups largely free to operate like political committees without fear of reprisal. The IRS told the Center for Public Integrity that it has only begun auditing 26 organizations specifically for political activity since 2010. That represents a tiny fraction of the more than 1 million nonprofits regulated by the agency.
Supreme Court Considers Whether Judges Can Directly Ask for Campaign Donations
Washington Post – Robert Barnes | Published: 1/20/2015
The U.S. Supreme Court appeared divided as it weighed a free speech challenge to a Florida law that bars candidates running for elected judge positions from soliciting campaign contributions. Lanell Williams-Yulee, who ran for county court judge in Tampa, objected when Florida’s Supreme Court publicly reprimanded her for violating a rule preventing candidates from seeking donations. She argued the rule violated her free speech rights. Conservatives on the Supreme Court appeared to favor her free speech argument. The court’s liberals voiced support for the state’s right to ensure the judiciary’s impartiality.
From the States and Municipalities:
Arizona – Phoenix Stalls on Overhaul of Ethics Rules
Arizona Republic – Dennis Gardiner | Published: 1/20/2015
Phoenix City Council members have spent months debating a list of ethics reforms recommended by a task force. The council initially warmed to major changes, but several members reversed course on a proposal to create a commission to enforce any new rules and voted it down. Although the subcommittee scuttled plans for an ethics commission, they have advanced new gift-reporting requirements for elected officials and board members. By requiring leaders to report gifts exceeding $50, supporters say, the new rules promote transparency. But council members added a few exemptions to the requirement, including a provision that would allow elected officials not to report gifts they receive related to travel for city business.
California – Billboard Firm to Put Up Signs Backing Six L.A. Council Candidates
Los Angeles Times – David Zahniser | Published: 1/20/2015
A billboard company challenging Los Angeles’ restrictions on digital signs will donate tens of thousands of dollars in advertising to help city Councilperson Jose Huizar, who heads the committee drafting new sign regulations, and five other candidates in the March 3 election. City law bars campaign contributors from giving council candidates more than $700 during an election cycle. But there are no limits on expenditures such as those being made by Lamar Advertising, as long as they are made independently from a candidate’s campaign.
Connecticut – Can Connecticut’s Campaign Finance Reforms Be Saved?
CT Mirror – Mark Pazniokas | Published: 1/19/2015
Prescriptions for fixing Connecticut’s system of publicly financing campaigns vary wildly. Its tight limits on contributions and spending turned porous in 2014, tarnishing what had been a shiny instrument of campaign finance reform. One basic challenge is how the Citizens’ Election Program can remain relevant in an era of unlimited independent expenditures. Another is how it can survive some of the changes made in 2013 in response to the fear of outside money.
Florida – Jeb Bush Kept Key Roles in Florida Firm amid Signs of Trouble
Washington Post – Tom Hamburger and Matea Gold | Published: 1/19/2015
One of the first business ventures that Jeb Bush got involved with after leaving the Florida governor’s mansion in 2007 was InnoVida, a company that ended up bankrupt, with two top executives in federal prison. Previously unreported court documents suggest Bush was more involved with the company than has been publicly known, and he deepened his role even as others grew concerned about its financial practices. Bush’s aides say he broke from the company and voluntarily repaid consulting fees as soon as questions arose. Nevertheless, Bush’s involvement with InnoVida provides insight into his approach as a businessperson and illustrates how his corporate ties could affect his presidential aspirations.
Missouri – At $37 Million and Counting, Mega-Donor Sinquefield Says He’s Not Going Anywhere
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Kevin McDermott and Virginia Young | Published: 1/18/2015
To hear U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill tell it, multimillionaire Rex Sinquefield pulls Missouri’s political strings like a high-priced puppet master. “He is, methodically, through a number of front groups, trying to buy government, buy judges, buy journalists … buy the Legislature,” warns McCaskill. It is a view widely echoed by fellow Democrats and even some Republicans. Since 2005, Sinquefield has donated more than $37 million to state-level candidates and causes. He is by far the most prolific political patron in the history of the state, and one of the biggest in the country.
New York – Sheldon Silver, New York Assembly Speaker, Is Accused of Taking Millions in Graft
New York Times – William Rashbaum, Thomas Kaplan, and Susanne Craig | Published: 1/22/2015
New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was arrested on public corruption charges, accused of using his position as one of the most powerful men in Albany to obtain millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks masked as legitimate income. He is charged with mail fraud, wire fraud, and extortion. The complaint maintains that for more than a decade, Silver devised a scheme “to induce real estate developers with business before the state” to use a real estate law firm controlled by a lawyer who had once worked as Silver’s counsel who orchestrated payments to the speaker for referrals to the firm.
Pennsylvania – Wolf Bans Gifts for Executive Branch First Day as PA Governor
Watchdog.org – Andrew Staub (PA Independent) | Published: 1/21/2015
On his first day in office, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed executive orders banning gifts for members of the executive branch and prohibiting no-bid contracts for private law firms. The ban makes exceptions for gifts from family and friends, bank loans, and free participation in gatherings in which officials are acting in their official duties and have been invited. There also are at least six proposals addressing gifts in the state House and Senate.
Texas – Prosecutor: Perry veto forced an end to several cases
Texas Tribune – Ross Ramsey and Reece Hamilton | Published: 1/17/2015
Texas Governor Rick Perry was indicted last summer for a veto threat of the Travis County public investigation unit’s funding. The vetoed funding killed an investigation into the state Department of Public Safety’s no-bid contracts. The Public Integrity Unit had been investigating the agency for awarding up to $20 million in no-bid contracts to a Virginia defense contractor for Perry’s expanding border security measures. Perry’s nixing of $7.5 million of the unit’s funding depleted its resources, reportedly shuttering the investigation.
Virginia – Judicial Appointment for Puckett’s Daughter Clears Va. Legislature
Washington Post – Laura Vozzella and Jenna Portnoy | Published: 1/20/2015
The Virginia Legislature voted to give Martha Puckett Ketron a juvenile court judgeship. In previous sessions, the Senate had always refused to appoint her to a full, six-year term while her father, Phillip Puckett, served in the chamber, citing an anti-nepotism policy. Phillip Puckett stepped down in June, in part, he said, to clear the way for her appointment. But the timing of his exit, which threw control of the evenly divided Senate to Republicans, infuriated fellow Democrats and triggered a six-month federal investigation that concluded without charges. Puckett also left as he was discussing a job for himself with the state tobacco commission. Democrats accused him of trading his Senate seat for jobs for himself and his daughter.
Washington – House Follows Senate, Bans Open Gun Display in Visitor Galleries
Seattle Post-Intelligencer – Joel Connelly | Published: 1/19/2015
The Washington Legislature adopted rules prohibiting display of weapons in the visitor galleries after an incident in which about 15 armed “open carry” advocates marched from a demonstration on the Capitol steps into the House gallery. Such arms-packing gun rights advocates in the future will be asked to leave or subject to arrest for criminal trespassing.
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