News You Can Use Digest - January 4, 2019 - State and Federal Communications

January 4, 2019  •  

News You Can Use Digest – January 4, 2019





Mueller Fuels Foreign Lobbying Crackdown
The Hill – Morgan Chalfont and Alex Gangitano | Published: 12/31/2018

The Federal Agents Registration Act dates to 1938, when it was passed to ensure transparency of foreign influence in the American political process as a result of fears over Nazi and communist propaganda. It has been amended twice since then but is essentially the same law. It requires that “agents of foreign principals,” typically lobbyists or consultants who work for foreign governments or political parties, register and file regular reports with the Justice Department on their activities. They also must file copies of materials they distribute for any foreign entities and keep a record of their activities. Criminal prosecutions under the law have been few and far between, but special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation has changed that, at least for the time being.

Sexism Claims from Bernie Sanders’s 2016 Run: Paid less, treated worse
MSN – Sydney Ember and Katie Benner (New York Times) | Published: 1/2/2019

Accounts of sexual harassment and demeaning treatment, as well as pay disparity, in U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign have circulated in recently in emails, online comments, and private discussions among former supporters. As Sanders tries to build support for a second run at the White House, his perceived failure to address this issue has damaged his progressive bona fides, nearly a dozen former state and national staff members said. It also has raised questions among them about whether the senator can adequately fight for the interests of women, who have increasingly defined the Democratic Party, if he runs again for the presidential nomination. The former staff members said complaints about mistreatment and pay disparity during and just after the campaign reached some senior leaders of the operation.

Trump Effect: How out-of-state money fueled Democratic House wins in 2018
USA Today – Maureen Groppe and Christopher Schnaars | Published: 12/29/2018

The Democrats who captured the U.S. House by flipping 43 districts from red to blue in the November election received on average more than half of their large-dollar campaign funds from outside their states. By contrast, defeated Republicans in those districts collected only about one-third of their itemized funds from outside their states. The money that poured into House races from out-of-state donors was another example of the nationalization of the 2018 midterm elections that were partly a referendum on President Trump’s first two years in office. Analysts said the data reinforced other signs that opposition to Trump helped to motivate Democratic donors.

From the States and Municipalities:

Alabama: Ethics Revision Commission Could Give Legislators Multiple Choices
Montgomery Advertiser – Brian Lyman | Published: 12/27/2018

A commission working on proposed changes to the state’s ethics law might deliver multiple options to legislators next year. Tom Albritton, executive director of the Alabama Ethics Commission, said the final proposals will likely include a range of options on different issues for lawmakers to take up, should they decide to revise ethics laws in the legislative session that begins next March. The Code of Ethics Clarification and Reform Commission has taken up a number of issues, though it has spent a great deal of time on the definition of “principal,” or a person or entity who hires a lobbyist.

Delaware: Former Delaware Lawmaker Melanie George Smith’s New Career Draws Complaints of Self-Dealing
Wilmington News Journal – Scott Goss | Published: 1/2/2019

Former Rep. Melanie George Smith has launched a consulting firm that critics say is benefiting from a Delaware “sustainability” industry that she helped create during her final months in office. Her business, Sustainable World Strategies, is prompting questions about the rules that are supposed to stop state lawmakers from crafting legislation that benefits them personally. Smith rejects the notion that her business has anything to do with the legislation she sponsored. “They are completely separate,” she said. “And when you introduce legislation in Dover that is broadly beneficial to everybody, there is no conflict whatsoever.”

Florida: Lauren Book Proposes ‘Swearing In’ Legislative Speakers
Florida Politics – Jim Rosica | Published: 1/2/2019

Florida Sen. Lauren Book filed the Truth in Government Act for the 2019 legislative session that would require people appearing at legislative committees to be sworn in before speaking. Those making a “false statement that he or she does not believe to be true, … in regard to any material matter, commits a felony of the third degree,” Senate Bill 58 says. But the legislation exempts lawmakers themselves, staff members, and children. The majority of speakers before legislative panels are paid lobbyists. “I don’t think it’s necessary because it confuses 1st Amendment-right advocacy with investigatory or legal proceedings that require testimony under oath,” one lobbyist said.

Idaho: Why Does This Charity Golf Event Hosted by Idaho’s Governor Cost More Than It Gives Out?
Idaho Statesman – Audrey Dutton | Published: 1/3/2019

The annual Governor’s Cup tournament is a multiday golf and sporting affair that raises money for college and trade-school scholarships in Idaho. The event is hosted by the governor and first lady and is attended by the state’s political and business movers and shakers. Almost every year of the past decade, the nonprofit that runs the tournament has spent at least twice as much money on throwing the annual event than it has awarded in financial aid. Marcus Owens, a former director of the IRS’s division for tax-exempt organizations, said the event’s cost calls into question its primary purpose. “It sure sounds like this is an opportunity for lobbyists to do what lobbyists do outside the eyes of reporters or the general public,” said Owens.

Illinois: Feds Charge Powerful Ald. Edward Burke with Corruption
Chicago Tribune – Jason Meisner | Published: 1/3/2019

Chicago Ald. Edward Burke was charged with attempted extortion in a federal criminal complaint. It alleges Burke tried to extort a company that owns fast-food restaurants in the Chicago area and needed help with permits for a remodeling job. The complaint also alleged Burke illegally solicited a campaign donation from an executive with the restaurant company for another politician, who is not named in the charges. The criminal charge was stunning even for a city with a long history of public corruption. While dozens of his city council colleagues have been convicted and sent to prison over the decades, Burke was largely seen as too clever or sophisticated to be caught. He had faced federal scrutiny several times before but always escaped charges.

Missouri: No More Free Lunch for Missouri Lawmakers. Literally.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Kurt Erickson | Published: 1/3/2019

Although it could face a test in court, a possible repeal by frustrated lawmakers, and varied legal opinions from ethics regulators, the so-called Clean Missouri ballot measure approved by voters in November places a five-dollar cap on gifts lawmakers can receive from lobbyists. That means fewer lobbying groups offering free food to lawmakers and legislative staffers during the busy crush of the legislative session that begins January 9 and runs through May 17. It means no more dinners being purchased by lobbyists for lawmakers at local restaurants, nor free tickets to baseball games, concerts, or golf tournaments. For lobbyists, lawmakers, and restaurateurs in Jefferson City, the changes are significant.

Missouri: State Seeks Dismissal of Lobbyist Gift Ban Lawsuit
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Kurt Erickson | Published: 12/26/2018

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley is asking a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit that sought to overturn a ban on workers in the governor’s office receiving gifts from lobbyists. Gov. Mike Parson in November rewrote an order issued by his predecessor, Eric Greitens, that had prohibited all gifts from lobbyists. The change was aimed at allowing groups to distribute informational booklets to employees of the state’s chief executive. In October, the Institute for Justice said the ban on gift-giving violated the organization’s First Amendment rights to free speech because it prohibits them from giving workers in Parson’s office two books. Hawley’s office said the change makes the lawsuit unnecessary.

New Jersey: New Jersey Is the Latest Battleground in National Redistricting Fight
Politico – Matt Freidman | Published: 12/28/2018

Democrats who control the New Jersey Legislature attempted to fast track a constitutional amendment to change the way the state draws its legislative districts. The plan would have inserted a formula into the state constitution almost certainly cementing Democratic majorities for decades to come. But to a new wave of liberal activists, it reeked of an attempted power grab. Their party’s redistricting amendment gave them a new target and joined by good government groups and Republican state lawmakers who stood to see their already diminished clout reduced further, they held rallies in front of the Statehouse to oppose it.  Redistricting is drawing more and more mainstream attention, with New Jersey the latest state to battle over the drawing of district lines in the run-up to 2020.

New York: N.Y.’s New Attorney General Is Targeting Trump. Will Judges See a ‘Political Vendetta?’
MSN – Jeffery Mays (New York Times) | Published: 12/31/2018

Letitia James, the incoming New York attorney general, has suggested that President Trump could be charged with obstruction of justice, and implied that foreign governments channeled money to his family’s real estate holdings, which she characterized as a “pattern and practice of money laundering.” Democratic attorneys general across the country have used their offices to confront Trump. But since her election, James has opened herself up to criticism that she has gone too far in allowing politics to shape her agenda. Her strident attacks on the president could potentially threaten the legal standing of cases that her office brings against Trump, his family members or their business interests, legal experts said.

North Carolina: NC Lawmakers Override Veto of Bill That Makes Allegations of Campaign Finance Violations Secret
Raleigh News and Observer – Craig Jarvis | Published: 12/27/2018

Republican lawmakers held off North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s attempt to muster enough Democrats to thwart an override of his veto of an elections law bill. A large majority of Democrats had voted to approve the bill, as it reflected changes in state election law that Cooper achieved in a lawsuit. But despite negotiations with legislative leaders over how to accomplish those changes, Cooper focused the argument on keeping accusations of campaign finance violations secret. Cooper opposed a provision in the bill that will require allegations of campaign finance wrongdoing to be probed by the State Ethics Commission and its findings to be referred to the State Board of Elections. The elections board could then refer the matter to local prosecutors to consider bringing criminal charges, all in confidence.

South Dakota: Undisclosed Donors Gave $95K in SD Governor Race
Rapid City Journal – Seth Tupper | Published: 12/30/2018

An out-of-state PAC that ran advertisements supporting Kristi Noem and opposing Billie Sutton in the race for South Dakota governor received $95,000 from undisclosed sources during the final week of the campaign. The money was raised by a corporation, apparently a 501(c)4 nonprofit, that does not disclose its donors. The corporation then gave the money to a super PAC, which appears to have spent most or all the money on independent expenditures in the race. The contributions from the corporation to the super PAC occurred late enough in the campaign that they did not show up on the super PAC’s campaign finance reports until a post-election report, which was filed on December 6.

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