January 29, 2016 •
News You Can Use Digest – January 29, 2016
Report Links Violence, Tyranny and Corruption
USA Today – Oren Dorell | Published: 1/26/2016
Transparency International published its annual survey measuring how much corruption is perceived to exist in the public sector. The 2015 results are in many ways predictable. Denmark came out on top for the second year running, and the other Nordic countries also did well. Somalia and North Korea were tied for last place, and war-torn states, such as Afghanistan and Sudan fared dismally. The best performing countries share a wide array of characteristics. They are open, liberal democracies with a free press. They embrace the notion of transparency, have independent judiciaries, and all support long-held assumptions about increased accountability leading to lower levels of corruption.
Trade Groups to Top Corporations: Resist political disclosure
Center for Public Integrity – Dave Levinthal | Published: 1/27/2016
The leaders of three of the nation’s leading trade associations sent a letter to their members urging them to resist demands to disclose more details about their political spending. The leaders reserved particular criticism for the Center for Political Accountability and the Zicklin Center for Business Ethics, which published an index ranking large companies on their political disclosure practices and policies. Such politically active nonprofit groups sometimes directly advocate for and against political candidates and may spend into the millions of dollars to do so.
Wounded Warrior Project Spends Lavishly on Itself, Insiders Say
New York Times – Dave Philipps | Published: 1/27/2016
The Wounded Warriors Project, the country’s largest and fastest-growing veterans charity, offers programs to help veterans readjust to society, attend school, find work, and participate in athletics. But in its swift rise, it has also embraced aggressive styles of fundraising, marketing, and personnel management that have many current and former employees questioning whether it has drifted from its mission. It has spent millions of dollars a year on travel, dinners, hotels, and conferences that often seemed more lavish than appropriate, more than four dozen current and former employees said in interviews. The organization has also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years on public relations and lobbying campaigns to deflect criticism of its spending and to fight legislative efforts to restrict how much nonprofits spend on overhead.
Companies Worry Trump-Led Convention Could Hurt Brands
Politico – Anna Palmer | Published: 1/28/2016
Companies are starting to question whether associating with a Donald Trump-led Republican National Convention in Cleveland this summer could hurt their reputations. Company representatives and association heads have already begun meeting with their consultants about whether they should rethink their convention plans if Trump wins the GOP nomination. Several Republican lobbyists and consultants said there is concern that associating with Trump, given some of his inflammatory comments about women and minorities, could turn off customers and damage corporate brands.
Court Rejects Push for Stricter Disclosure on Super PAC Ads
Politico – Josh Gerstein | Published: 1/21/2016
A federal appeals court dealt a setback to campaign finance reform advocates in a ruling about who pays for political ads. The ruling upheld an FEC regulation that narrows disclosure requirements for corporations and labor groups paying for ads that run close to Election Day. The regulation says groups running the ads only have to reveal donors who contribute for the express purpose of paying for the ads. That means donors who choose not to say how they want their money used can remain anonymous. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed a lower court decision that threw out the regulation last year. Judge Janice Rogers Brown said just because one of the purposes of campaign reform laws was broader disclosure “doesn’t mean that anything less than maximal disclosure is subversive,” the judge said.
Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders Battle for Party’s Future
New York Times – Patrick Healy | Published: 1/24/2016
The race between Hillary Clinton and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders for the Democratic presidential nomination has intensified into a battle over their vastly different visions for the party. Sanders, a New Deal-style liberal, argues that only muscular government action – Wall Street regulations, public works jobs, Medicare for all – will topple America’s “rigged” economy. Clinton, a mainstream Democrat, has started contrasting herself with Sanders by championing a “sensible, achievable agenda” and promising to build on President Obama’s legacy in health care, the economy, and national security. Many Democrats are torn about whether Sanders’ liberalism, or Clinton’s pragmatism, will be enough to win a general election.
From the States and Municipalities:
Colorado – Critics: Colorado ‘outsourced’ campaign finance enforcement
ABC News – Dan Elliot (Associated Press) | Published: 1/26/2016
Colorado’s system of enforcing campaign finance rules is under fire from all sides. In many states, a campaign practices panel decides whether to prosecute spending violations. But Colorado’s constitution requires every complaint to be referred to an administrative law judge who can convene a trial-like process. Some critics say it allows anybody with a grudge to drag someone else into a costly legal battle. Others say the state is neglecting its duty to enforce the laws and instead leaving it up to members of the public. A lawsuit was filed in federal court challenging the system as unconstitutional. The lawsuit says the system suppresses free speech by discouraging people from speaking out.
Florida – Ethics Commission Opines on Romance
Tallahassee Democrat – Jeff Burlew | Published: 1/22/2016
Leon County School Board member Alva Striplin asked the Florida Commission on Ethics for an advisory opinion involving her relationship with George Smith, whose firm, Bryant Miller Olive, has provided bond counsel to the district for many years. Specifically, Striplin asked whether she would run afoul of the gift law if she and Smith traveled together and split expenses or exchanged Christmas and birthday gifts. Florida’s gift law bars public officials from soliciting any gift from a vendor or lobbyist doing business with the official’s agency. Commission staff said Striplin may not solicit any gift from Smith or his firm and cannot accept any gift from him or his firm over $100. The couple can, however, equally split the cost of travel, meals, lodging, or entertainment. Commissioners voted unanimously to affirm the staff opinion.
Florida – Florida Legislators’ Visit to Alabama Casino Is Legal, but Perception Problem Persists
Florida Times Union – Tia Mitchell | Published: 1/23/2016
The Poarch Band of Creek Indians paid for a trip to the Wind Creek Casino & Hotel in Atmore, Alabama for five Florida lawmakers. They met with tribal leaders to discuss the tribe’s vision for a casino in rural North Florida. Beyond the debate over gambling, the trip to Alabama is an example of the legal but criticized practice of lawmakers classifying as campaign-related expenses things of value they receive from special-interest groups. They are prohibited by the state gift ban from accepting trips and gifts from lobbyists. The ability to classify trips and meals as in-kind campaign expenses is largely considered a work-around to the 2006 ethics law.
Illinois – Jury Convicts Ex-Chicago Official in Red-Light Camera Case
ABC News; Associated Press – | Published: 1/26/2016
John Bills, the former second-in-command at Chicago’s Department of Transportation, was convicted on 20 counts of corruption for taking up to $2 million in bribes to steer $100 million in red-light camera contracts to Redflex Traffic Systems. Prosecutors detailed cash, hotels stays, golf trips, an Arizona condominium, and a Mercedes given to Bills for his efforts. Mayor Rahm Emanuel canceled Redflex’s contract in 2013 following reports of the alleged bribery scheme. Bills retired from his job as the city’s managing deputy commissioner of transportation in 2011, and he was charged in 2014.
Kansas – Senate Chairman’s Rules Block Female Witnesses in Revealing Attire
Topeka Capital-Journal – Tim Carpenter | Published: 1/21/2016
Kansas Sen. Mitch Holmes imposed a dress code for those testifying before his committee that prohibits women from wearing certain clothing while establishing no wardrobe restrictions exclusively for men. A rule of Holmes’ 11-point code of conduct says “low-cut necklines and miniskirts” are inappropriate for women. Holmes said he offered detailed guidance to women because he had observed provocatively clad women at the Capitol. He says it is a distraction to the panel during testimony. Holmes is and chairperson of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee.
Maryland – In Md., Officials Are Notified When Someone Checks Their Financial Filings
Washington Post – Fenit Nirappil | Published: 1/23/2016
Public officials in Maryland must file reports spelling out their sources of income, property holdings, and business relationships. State law makes these reports available to the public as a safeguard against government officials abusing their power in an effort to enrich themselves. But unlike dozens of other states, Maryland agencies email officials every time a person looks at their disclosure forms. The notifications include the name and home address of the person conducting the search. Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings conceded that people may be nervous to look at ethics filings because their names will be reported to public officials. But he defended the system. “It’s a courtesy,” Jennings said. “Everyone wants to know every time someone is doing an investigation into them.”
New York – Albany Ethics Commission Adopts New Fund-Raising and Disclosure Rules
New York Times – Jesse McKinley | Published: 1/26/2016
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) approved an advisory opinion that expands the definition of lobbying to include public relations consultants. At issue is the rise in public relations campaigns, often called grassroots lobbying, which seek to influence policymaking. These activities are not regulated by traditional lobbying laws because they do not include the direct interaction of a lobbyist with a government official. A consultant setting up or attending a lobbying meeting with a public official, even if they do not directly lobby themselves, is lobbying under the opinion, for example. JCOPE also approved an opinion that says no statewide elected official, including the comptroller or the attorney general, would be allowed to accept or solicit campaign contributions from any person or group that is under investigation or embroiled in a legal battle with its offices.
North Carolina – Trial to Start in Lawsuit over North Carolina’s Voter-ID Law
Washington Post – Sari Horwitz | Published: 1/24/2016
North Carolina’s photo-ID rules, part of one of the strictest voting laws in the country, will go on trial in the first battle over the ballot this presidential year. The ID requirements, set to be used in the March presidential primary, were included in a bill passed by North Carolina’s Legislature that also reduced the number of days of early voting, prohibited people from registering and voting on the same day, stopped ballots cast in the wrong precinct from being counted, and ended the practice of preregistering teenagers before they turned 18. Republican lawmakers say they imposed the new restrictions to combat voter fraud and to preserve the integrity of the voting system. The Rev. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, which sued the state, called the law an “immoral and unconstitutional burden on voters.”
Virginia – Luxury Box Gifts Still Kosher for Virginia Public Officials
Connecticut Post – Alan Suderman (Associated Press) | Published: 1/21/2016
A top official of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s administration accepted an invitation from the Washington Redskins to watch a playoff game from one of the team’s luxury boxes, the kind of gift that lawmakers said should not be allowed under a new ethics law the General Assembly passed last year. Staff from a newly empowered ethics council gave approval for members of McAuliffe’s administration to accept an invitation from the team to watch the game. The team has been in active negotiations with state officials over possibly moving out of its current stadium in Maryland and building a new one in Virginia.
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