News You Can Use Digest - January 30, 2015 - State and Federal Communications

January 30, 2015  •  

News You Can Use Digest – January 30, 2015



5 Reasons State House Speakers May Be Prone to Corruption
Governing – Alan Greenblatt | Published: 1/26/2015

New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who is accused of accepting bribes in the form of legal fees, is the fourth speaker of a state House to enter into legal peril over the past 10 months. Last year, Bobby Harrell of South Carolina resigned following his indictment, while Gordon Fox of Rhode Island did the same after a federal raid of his house and his legislative office. Mike Hubbard was re-elected as speaker of the Alabama House, despite being indicted on nearly two-dozen felony corruption charges. Hubbard faces a possible trial this spring. This cluster of indictments opens up the question of whether there is something in the nature of the job of speaker that makes corruption more likely to occur.


Koch Brothers’ Budget of $889 Million for 2016 Is on Par With Both Parties’ Spending
New York Times – Nicholas Confessore | Published: 1/26/2015

A network of conservative advocacy groups backed by Charles and David Koch aims to spend $889 million in advance of the next presidential election, part of an expansive strategy to build on its 2014 victories. The figure comes close to the $1 billion that each of the two major parties’ presidential nominees are expected to spend in 2016, and it cements the network’s standing as one of the country’s most potent political forces. With its resources and capabilities, including a national field operation and cutting-edge technology, it is challenging the primacy of the official parties.

The Rise of ‘Scam PACs’
Politico – Kenneth Vogel | Published: 1/26/2015

Since the tea party came to prominence in 2009, the conservative movement has been plagued by an explosion of PACs that critics say exist mostly to pad the pockets of the consultants who run them. Combining sophisticated targeting techniques with fundraising appeals that resonate among grassroots activists, they collect large piles of small checks that, taken together, add up to enough money to potentially sway a U.S. Senate race. But the PACs plow most of their cash back into payments to consulting firms for additional fundraising efforts.

From the States and Municipalities:

California – Lobbying Lawmakers with a Personal Touch
Sacramento Bee – Laurel Rosenhall | Published: 1/26/2015

A handful of Sacramento lobbyists use their powers of persuasion to advance personal causes. Many of them make their living advocating for the corporations, unions, and Indian tribes that are huge political donors and pour millions of dollars each year into lobbying California lawmakers. But when a piece of legislation hits a chord, concerning a medical condition, for example, or a childhood trauma, these lobbyists use their connections and savoir faire to shape public policy with a personal touch. Some of them deploy their services for free, while others are hired to advocate on a personal cause.

Kansas – Kansas Ethics Official Supports Change to State Lobbying Laws
Wichita Eagle – Bryan Lowry | Published: 1/26/2015

House Bill 2082 would allow individuals to spend up to $1,000 to sway Kansas lawmakers without registering as a lobbyist. The state has had a $100 threshold since 1975. After 40 years of inflation, the threshold should be increased to ensure private residents do not inadvertently break the laws, said Carol Williams, executive director of the Kansas Government Ethics Commission.

Kentucky – Record $18M Spent Lobbying Legislature
Louisville Courier-Journal – Tom Loftus | Published: 1/23/2015

Interest groups spent a record-breaking $18.4 million to lobby the Kentucky General Assembly in 2014. That was about three percent more than the 2012 lobbying total of $17.8 million, the previous spending record. Although the Legislature meets annually, its 60-day sessions in even-numbered years are longer and costlier than its 30-day sessions in odd-numbered years. The spending includes what more than 600 groups and businesses paid to retain lobbyists at the Capitol or host receptions for lawmakers. Starting this year, they also will be required to report what they spend on advertising during the session to influence legislation.

Massachusetts – No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
CommonWealth Magazine – Jack Sullivan | Published: 1/22/2015

Nicole Bollerman, a third-grade teacher at UP Academy Dorchester, has received praise from around the country since she won a $150,000 prize in an essay contest and then donated the money to her school, which educates some of the city’s poorest students. Then she appeared on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” where the host presented Bollerman with a $25,000 check and gave out $500 gift cards for every teacher at her school and backpacks filled with school supplies for every student. But nearly all of the cash gifts, except the students’ backpacks, potentially violate Massachusetts ethics laws, possibly even the $150,000 award that Bollerman gave to the school.

Missouri – Committee OKs Ethics Bill to Close ‘Revolving Door’ of Legislators Becoming Lobbyists
Columbia Daily Tribune – Rudi Keller | Published: 1/27/2015

The Senate Rules, Joint Rules, Resolutions, and Ethics Committee approved legislation that would require Missouri lawmakers to wait two years after leaving office before they can work as lobbyists. The bill also would bar out-of-state travel paid by lobbyists and limit when a lobbyist can report spending on a group of legislators instead of individual members. “There is enough nonsense in this building going on, not necessarily with meals and everything else, I am going to try to clear this up before somebody gets indicted,” said Senate Majority Leader Ron Richard, the bill’s sponsor.

Missouri – Missouri House Speaker Defends Country Club Committee Hearings – Eli Yokley | Published: 1/26/2015

Two Missouri House committee hearings are scheduled to take place at the Jefferson City Country Club and that is drawing criticism. The first hearing is that of the Committee on Utility Infrastructure, chaired by Rep. Lyndall Fraker. He said the Missouri Energy Development Association made the arrangements for his committee to meet at the club, will pay for the meal, and will offer an informational presentation. Pamela Merritt, a spokesperson for Progress Missouri, described the meetings as “sham hearings, away from the Capitol for the sole purpose of consuming free food and drink from lobbyists.” The group is also concerned the hearings might be in violation of the open-meetings law.

Nebraska – Questions Arise after Gov. Ricketts Uses His Own Money to Add Adviser to His Office
Omaha World-Herald – Paul Hammel | Published: 1/27/2015

Jessica Moenning, a longtime political operative of Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, is joining the administration as a privately paid senior adviser. The arrangement has prompted questions about a private employee, paid out of the governor’s own pocket, being involved in public policies and using, at least for a time, publicly funded office space at the Capitol. Jack Gould of Common Cause Nebraska said a privately paid employee most likely would be accountable to the person who paid them, not to the public, and would most likely not be covered by laws governing ethics involving state officials.

New York – Sheldon Silver to Be Replaced as Speaker of New York State Assembly
New York Times – Jesse McKinley, Thomas Kaplan, and Susanne Craig | Published: 1/27/2015

New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver agreed to give up the leadership position he has held for 21 years in the wake of federal corruption charges. The decision came after Democratic lawmakers met behind closed doors for two days to discuss their response to the turmoil that appears likely to end one of the longest active tenures in state politics, and paved the way for them to choose a new leader in an election to be held February 10. Assemblyperson Joseph Morelle, who is the majority leader and a top contender to succeed Silver, will become interim speaker.

Oregon – Cylvia Hayes Discloses another $118,000 for Consulting Fees
Portland Oregonian – Laura Gunderson | Published: 1/28/2015

More of the consulting work done by Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber’s fiancée is coming to light. Cylvia Hayes confirmed she was paid $118,000 over two years to work with the Clean Economy Development Center. At the time, Hayes was advising the governor on similar topics. Ethics experts said Hayes’ job raises questions, such as whether her compensation was reasonable given the amount of work she did and whether her employer sought to use the connection to influence state policy. The admitted payouts conflict with statements Kitzhaber has made regarding Hayes’ consulting work, how his office handled her contracts, and statements he has made in his annual ethics filings.

South Carolina – Lawmaker Asks Would-Be SC Judges about ‘Supreme Being,’ Gay Marriage, Equal Pay for Women
The State – Cassie Cope | Published: 1/27/2015

South Carolina Rep. Jonathon Hill sent out a 30-question survey asking, among other things, about the “personal relationship” would-be state judges have with the “Supreme Being,” whether they would perform a gay marriage, and how they would rule if a woman sued for equal pay. Candidates for judgeships are barred ethically from responding to some of the questions, said Greg Adams of the University of South Carolina law school. “Answering these questions amounts to a promise to decide future cases in accordance with this political pledge,” said Adams.

Texas – Abbott: State Agencies Must Make Contracting Changes
Texas Tribune – Edgar Walters | Published: 1/28/2015

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said the need for more oversight and transparency in state contracting is so great that it cannot wait for official action from lawmakers. In a letter to all state agency heads, Abbott ordered them to comply with the provisions of a new bill aimed at addressing problems highlighted by a no-bid contract scandal. The legislation, Senate Bill 353, would require the board chair or head of all agencies to sign all contracts worth more than a $1 million and publicly explain the reason for the lack of competition in any no-bid deal. It also would reiterate that state contract managers must disclose conflicts-of-interest and that officials cannot give a deal to a company in which they have a financial interest.

Utah – Lawmakers Use Swallow Scandal to Stall Campaign-Donation Caps
Salt Lake Tribune – Lee Davidson | Published: 1/27/2015

A House committee voted to hold a bill that would place caps on how much could be contributed to candidates. House Bill 60 would limit donations by individuals to $10,000 every two years for statewide races, and $5,000 in legislative races. It would limit contributions to parties, PACs, and labor unions to $40,000. Lawmakers worried that limits might hamper honest politicians in raising enough money to combat groups that sometimes funnel large amounts of untraceable “dark money” into an election.

Jim SedorState and Federal Communications produces a weekly summary of national news, offering more than 80 articles per week focused on ethics, lobbying, and campaign finance.

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