January 26, 2018 •
News You Can Use Digest – January 26, 2018
Inside Facebook’s Year of Reckoning
Washington Post – Elizabeth Dwoskin | Published: 1/22/2018
Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook would step back from its role in choosing the news that 2 billion users see on its site every month. The move was one result of an 18-month struggle by Facebook to come to grips with its dark side. As outsiders criticized the social network’s harmful side effects, such as the spread of disinformation and violent imagery, internal debates played out over how forthcoming to be about Russian meddling on its platform during the 2016 election and how to fight the perception that Facebook is politically biased. Right now, the company is not confident it can prevent the problems that roiled Facebook during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Big Pharma Greets Hundreds of Ex-Federal Workers at the ‘Revolving Door’
CaliforniaHealthline.org – Sydney Lupkin (Kaiser Health News) | Published: 1/25/2018
A Kaiser Health News analysis shows hundreds of people have moved through the “revolving door” that connects the drug industry to Capitol Hill and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Nearly 340 former congressional staffers now work for pharmaceutical companies or their lobbying firms. The analysis also showed more than a dozen former drug industry employees now have jobs on Capitol Hill, often on committees that handle health care policy. In many cases, former congressional staffers who now work for drug companies return to the Hill to lobby former co-workers or employees. It raises concerns that pharmaceutical companies could wield undue influence over drug-related legislation or government policy.
FBI Investigating Whether Russian Money Went to NRA to Help Trump
McClatchy DC – Peter Stone and Greg Gordon | Published: 1/18/2018
The FBI is investigating Russian banker Alexander Torshin for allegedly funneling money to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign through contributions made to the National Rifle Association (NRA). As special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe continues, investigators are now looking into Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank who is known for his close relationships with both Vladimir Putin and the NRA, two sources familiar with the inquiry said. It is illegal to use foreign money to influence federal elections.
Fewer Than 16,000 Donors Accounted for Half the Federal Campaign Contributions in 2016
Washington Post – Michelle Ye Hee Lee | Published: 1/19/2018
More than 3.2 million Americans contributed to federal candidates in the 2016 elections, but fewer than 16,000 of them provided half the donations, a sign of the increasing concentration of donor activity in the U.S., according to a new report. The Bipartisan Policy Center’s analysis mapped the growing influence of wealthy political contributors and independent political groups in the seven years since federal court decisions unleashed a new era of big-money spending. Super PACs spent $1.1 billion in the 2016 elections, nearly 17 times more than such independent political committees put into federal races in 2010, the first year they came into existence, the report found.
The Mueller Effect: FARA filings soar in shadow of Manafort, Flynn probes
NBC News – Julia Ainsley, Andrew Lehren, and Anna Schecter | Published: 1/18/2018
Hundreds of new and supplemental Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) filings by U.S. lobbyists and public relations firms since Special Counsel Robert Mueller charged two of President Trump’s aides with failing to disclose their lobbying work on behalf of foreign countries. The flood of new filings provides a window into the opaque industry of foreign lobbying in Washington, D.C. The uptick, legal experts say, comes from a new awareness that a failure to disclose overseas political work could lead to federal charges.
From the States and Municipalities:
California – San Francisco Ousts a Mayor in a Clash of Tech, Politics and Race
New York Times – Thomas Fuller and Conor Dougherty | Published: 1/24/2018
The appointment of venture capitalist Mark Farrell as San Francisco’s interim mayor, and the ouster of London Breed from that position, in some ways exemplified a larger battle for the soul of the city. In seven years, the median price of a home has nearly doubled to $1.3 million – a transformation, driven by the riches of the technology industry, that continues to push out longtime residents, many of them nonwhites. Amid the debate over the tech industry’s influence, there was the powerful imagery of a black woman being thrown out of office, albeit an interim one, in a city that has a long history of discrimination against blacks.
Colorado – Puffy Jackets and Poinsettias: Gifts to Denver council members from DIA and other city offices draw ethics scrutiny
Denver Post – Jon Murray | Published: 1/22/2018
A recent advisory opinion by the Denver Board of Ethics argued the prohibition on elected officials accepting or soliciting most items worth more than $25 – from givers with a city interest – could apply to gifts from city offices the same way it does to those from outside contractors. The opinion has drawn formal pushback from the city attorney’s office and has sparked debate among council members, who may have the last word by passing an explicit exclusion for city-provided gifts to the ethics code.
Georgia – Former Atlanta City Official Gets 2 Years in Bribery Probe
Los Angeles Times – Kate Brumback (Associated Press) | Published: 1/18/2018
Atlanta’s former chief procurement officer was sentenced to serve more than two years in prison for accepting bribes in exchange for lucrative city contracts. U.S. District Court Judge Steve Jones also ordered Adam Smith to pay $44,000 restitution and a $25,000 fine. He was charged as part of an ongoing federal investigation into corruption at City Hall. Prosecutors have not publicly identified the vendor they say gave Smith envelopes of cash at meetings at restaurants every other week for nearly two years, a total of more than 40 payments.
Maine – A ‘Pro-White’ Town Manager Who Wants Races to Separate Refused to Quit. So Town Officials Fired Him.
Washington Post – Marwa Eltagouri and Kristine Phillips | Published: 1/24/2018
Tom Kawczynski put Jackman, Maine on the map when media outlets across the country began publishing stories about the town manager’s seemingly unequivocal views that Islam has no place in the Western world, and Americans would be better off if people of different races “voluntarily separate.” Officials in Jackman – a town of fewer than 1,000 people, where nearly all residents are white – remained mostly quiet about the incident until selectmen decided to fire Kawczynski. His termination could raise questions about whether towns and corporations can dismiss employees for offensive speech, which is protected by the Constitution.
New Jersey – Phil Murphy Executive Order Tightens Gift Rules for Governor
Bergen Record – Dustin Racioppi | Published: 1/18/2018
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order tightening rules on gift disclosures. The order requires the governor to disclose gifts from anyone he has met since January 16, 2015, three years before his inauguration. Anyone he met before then, Murphy said, would be considered a “pre-existing relationship.” Murphy’s predecessor, Chris Christie, came under criticism during his tenure for his use of an exemption that allowed him not to disclose gifts from people he claimed as friends.
New York – Vance Bans Donations from Lawyers with Pending Cases
New York Times – James McKinley Jr. | Published: 1/22/2018
Manhattan’s district attorney said he will no longer accept campaign contributions from lawyers with business before his office, including those representing people being investigated or prosecuted. The announcement by Cyrus Vance Jr. came after he faced heavy criticism for taking money from attorneys who represented movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and a lawyer who represented the Trump Organization in a fraud investigation. In response, Vance had asked the Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity at Columbia Law School to make recommendations for how to vet donors to eliminate potential bias.
North Carolina – Supreme Court Temporarily Blocks North Carolina Gerrymandering Ruling
New York Times – Adam Liptak and Alan Blinder | Published: 1/18/2018
The U.S. Supreme Court said North Carolina does not immediately have to redraw its congressional district maps, meaning the 2018 elections will likely be held in districts that a lower court found unconstitutional. The decision was not unexpected, because the Supreme Court generally is reluctant to require the drawing of new districts before it has had a chance to review a lower court’s ruling that such an action is warranted, especially in an election year.
Pennsylvania – Pa. Supreme Court Strikes Down Congressional Map as Unconstitutional, Orders Change Before May Primary
Philadelphia Inquirer – Jonathan Lai, Liz Navratil, and Angela Couloumbis | Published: 1/22/2018
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court threw out the state’s congressional map as unconstitutionally gerrymandered and gave lawmakers until February 9 to redraw the boundaries. Under a new map, Democrats, who hold only five of the state’s 18 congressional districts despite its status as a closely divided swing state, would likely have a much better opportunity to pick up several seats in their quest to retake control of the U.S. House. Experts have long held up Pennsylvania as one of the most extreme examples of partisan gerrymandering, in which district lines are precisely drawn to favor one political party over another.
Texas – Austin Lobbyists Agree to Disclose How Much They’re Paid
Austin American-Statesman – Elizabeth Findell | Published: 1/24/2018
Seventeen Austin lobbyist-lawyers who initially declined to cooperate with city rules requiring them to tell how much their clients pay them have changed their minds. A day before the Ethics Review Commission was set to hear ethics complaints, the city said all the lawyers had agreed to provide the information. Austin began requiring registered lobbyists last year to give a ballpark figure for what clients pay them to influence city officials, as they must disclose on the state and federal level. But at least 17 lobbyists who are also lawyers refused to do so, saying the disclosure would violate attorney-client privilege.
Wisconsin – Senate Votes to Force Out State Ethics and Elections Leaders
Wisconsin State Journal – Mark Sommerhauser | Published: 1/23/2018
The Wisconsin Senate refused to confirm the leaders of the state elections and ethics commissions, despite unanimous bipartisan support from the boards that hired them. The Senate voted against confirming elections Administrator Michael Haas and ethics Administrator Brian Bell. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald says he has lost confidence in both men’s ability to be nonpartisan. Both previously worked for the Government Accountability Board, which Republicans disbanded in 2015 after it investigated Gov. Scott Walker and other conservative groups. Watchdog groups have threatened to sue to keep Bell and Haas in their jobs.
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