News You Can Use Digest – January 6, 2017 - State and Federal Communications

January 6, 2017  •  

News You Can Use Digest – January 6, 2017



One Person, One Algorithm, One Vote: Campaigns are doing more with data, for better or worse
Capital Times – Katelyn Farrell | Published: 1/3/2017

After an election where political campaigns were blamed or credited for relying on voter data to an unprecedented degree, Young Mie Kim, a professor and researcher at the University of Wisconsin’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, is studying how campaigns used that data across the country. Much like how businesses market products, political campaigns are increasingly focusing on sophisticated data-driven calculations, used to persuade voters and get them to the polls. Those predictions inform campaign strategy and often dictate how a candidate interacts with the electorate.


House Republicans, Under Fire, Back Down on Gutting Ethics Office
New York Times – Eric Lipton and Matt Flegenheimer | Published: 1/3/2017

House Republicans abruptly withdrew a proposal to weaken an ethics watchdog in a rocky start to the new Congress. The 115th session had not even formally gaveled in before House leaders held an emergency meeting to discuss blowback against the GOP’s vote to eviscerate the independent the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE). The reversal came hours after President-elect Donald Trump issued a series of tweets questioning the timing of the changes, which would put the OCE under oversight of the House Committee on Ethics. Even before Trump weighed in, a barrage of negative headlines and public outcry made it difficult for Republicans to stand by the measure.

House Votes to Require Disclosure of Presidential Library Donations
The Hill – Megan Wilson and Cristina Marcos | Published: 1/4/2017

The U.S. House passed a bill that would give the public a better view of donations going to presidential libraries. It is the fourth time since 2002 that the House has approved the bipartisan legislation, known as the Presidential Library Donation Reform Act. The bill has died in the Senate each time it has been introduced. The bill would require quarterly disclosure of donations to presidential libraries totaling $200 or more. While lobbyists and organizations that hire them must file semi-annual reports listing all political donations, which include any financial or in-kind gifts to presidential library nonprofits, those foundations are not required to disclose their donors. Lawmakers of both parties said letting the public know who is donating to outgoing presidents’ libraries would shine light on potential “pay-to-play” attempts.

Rep. Duncan Hunter’s Team Responds to Uproar Over Rabbit Expenses
Yahoo News – Michael Walsh | Published: 1/4/2017

U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter spent $600 of his campaign funds in “cabin rabbit transport fees.” The pet travel was part of $62,000 in personal or not properly documented campaign expenses that Hunter has reimbursed his campaign for. The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) conducted a review of Hunter’s campaign spending last year. According to Hunter spokesperson Joe Kasper, there was “no intent” by Hunter to misuse campaign funds on personal matters. Hunter’s team intentionally floated the rabbit story to demonstrate how, from its perspective, the OCE has misconstrued simple mistakes as unethical conduct.

Trump and Julian Assange, an Unlikely Pair, Unite to Sow Hacking Doubts
New York Times – Scott Shane | Published: 1/4/2017

President-elect Donald Trump recently tweeted praise for a man most Republicans wanted nothing to do with – Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks. It was not the first time Trump had praised WikiLeaks. During his campaign for president, he highlighted emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Since then, Trump has continued praising the radical transparency group, harshly criticized by President Obama and other officials for what they describe as damaging national security leaks. And Trump has been in sync with conservative media, once critical of WikiLeaks, which increasingly embraces Assange as a hero.

Trump to Face Sworn Deposition in Coming Days
Politico – Josh Gerstein | Published: 1/5/2017

With President-elect Donald Trump’s swearing-in fast approaching, many of the high-profile lawsuits that entangled him during the campaign are all but certain to carry on through his inauguration and into his tenure at the White House, and he will even inherit some new ones. Trump and his companies face scores of pending lawsuits, including cases claiming skimming of tips at his New York SoHo hotel, seeking refunds of millions of dollars in membership fees charged by his country club in Jupiter, Florida, and alleging his security personnel assaulted protesters outside Trump Tower. And in a bizarre twist, Trump’s Justice Department will find itself defending against a slew of lawsuits relating to Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.

From the States and Municipalities:

Alabama – Governor Bentley Has Former Rep. Terry Spicer Removed from State Job
Dothan Eagle; Staff –   | Published: 1/4/2017

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley says a former state representative, who pleaded guilty to bribing a lobbyist, will no longer work at a state liquor store. Bentley said he told his chief of staff to advise the Alcohol Beverage Control Board that former Rep. Terry Spicer will not be employed. Spicer pleaded guilty in 2011 to taking cash and a ski vacation from a lobbyist. Spicer, a former school superintendent and community college employee, needs more time in state employment to draw his pension.

Arkansas – Arkansas State Legislator Neal Pleads Guilty in Kickbacks Scheme
Arkansas Online – Doug Thompson | Published: 1/5/2017

Arkansas Rep. Micah Neal pleaded guilty to directing state funds to two nonprofit organizations in exchange for kickbacks. As part of his plea, Neal admitted that between January 2013 and January 2015, while serving in the House, he conspired with a state senator to use their official positions to appropriate budget surplus funds, known as General Improvement Fund money, to two nonprofit organizations in exchange for bribes. The unnamed state senator involved is described in court documents as serving “in the Arkansas Senate from 2013 to the present. Prior to his service in the Arkansas Senate, Senator ‘A’ serves as a representative in the Arkansas House of Representative from 2007 to 2012.” Four members of the state Senate have political careers that fit that description.

California – Political Donations Flow as Rick Caruso Seeks Approval for a 20-Story Tower Near the Beverly Center
Los Angeles Times – David Zahniser | Published: 12/28/2016

Real estate developer Rick Caruso has been a reliable benefactor at Los Angeles City Hall, giving big donations to the city’s politicians and their pet causes. Now, Caruso wants the mayor and city council to approve a 20-story residential tower on a site where new buildings are currently limited to a height of 45 feet. Opponents of the project view Caruso’s political contributions with alarm, saying the steady stream of money has undermined their confidence in the city’s planning process.

Florida – Ron Book Is Big Winner in Local Government Lobbying Contracts
Miami Herald – Steve Bousquet | Published: 1/3/2017

The Florida House is now posting copies of contracts between lobbyists and local governments online and nearly half of the first set of contracts posted are with Ron Book, who has been a fixture in the halls of the Capitol for four decades and has built local government lobbying work into a cottage industry in the state. Lobbyists hired to represent local governments often get unparalleled access to the powerful because they make campaign contributions, which cities and counties cannot do.

Indiana – State Senator Introduces Ethics Bill to Ban All Gifts from Lobbyists
WTHR – Bob Segall | Published: 1/3/2017

Indiana Sen. Mike introduced a bill that would make it illegal for lawmakers to accept a gift from a lobbyist. Gifts prohibited by the proposed legislation would include anything that has value, such as tickets to athletic events, and anything that may be classified as entertainment. The bill would also require lobbyists to keep a public log of all communication with lawmakers, and lobbyists would have to update those logs frequently. Texts and emails between lobbyists and state lawmakers would for the first time become public records.

Missouri – Missouri Campaign Contribution Limits Remain in Place After Latest Hearing
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Kurt Erickson | Published: 12/29/2016

In a federal court hearing, opponents of a new Missouri law limiting campaign contributions withdrew a request to block the caps. U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Perry said she wants to first hear arguments about the merits and pitfalls of the new limits before deciding whether to place a temporary hold on the caps while the lawsuit moves through the legal system. Under the change to the state constitution, Missouri voters capped donations to individual candidates at $2,600 per election. Maximum contributions to a political party would be set at $25,000.

Montana – Montana Fails to Retain Decades of Emails Despite Open Government Law
The Missoulian – Jayme Fraser | Published: 1/2/2017

The state archives are supposed to be the final destination for the most important records about Montana government and how leaders made their decisions. Experts say the fact that no emails are saved there is a sign something is wrong. They describe a two-pronged problem: agencies are deleting emails too soon and the archives do not have the storage or equipment to accept them. As a result, Montanans have lost decades of public information. Retention decisions are made by individual state agencies, and few of them have preserved emails consistently, if at all.

New York – Why Developers of Manhattan Luxury Towers Give Millions to Upstate Candidates – Cezary Podkul and Derek Kravitz (ProPublica), and Will Parker (The Real Deal) | Published: 12/30/2016

ProPublica and The Real Deal mapped contributions from limited liability companies and individuals tied to the 60 biggest developers of New York City rental properties receiving a lucrative state subsidy. While it has long been known that developers donate a lot of money to state elections, the analysis shows for the first time just how tactical the industry is about bankrolling candidates across the state that are friendly to its cause. The state oversees New York City’s system of capping rent increases, known as rent stabilization. By influencing state elections, developers have undermined rent stabilization and preserved a key tax break that saves them far more money than they spend on political campaigns.

South Carolina – South Carolina’s Pending Ethics Commission Isn’t All That Independent, Experts Say
Charleston Post and Courier – Maya Prabhu | Published: 1/3/2017

South Carolina lawmakers voted last year to create an eight-member Ethics Commission that will be appointed by April 1. While outside groups applauded the move in the wake of scandals in the state, others cautioned there is still room for politics to creep in. Many give South Carolina credit for taking a step, however small, toward having its suspect lawmakers investigated by a separate entity when accused of wrongdoing.

Tennessee – Attorney General Says Political Fundraisers at TN Governor’s Mansion, State Property Legal
Chattanooga Times Free Press – Andy Sher | Published: 1/5/2017

Holding campaign fundraisers at the governor’s mansion and other state property is legal, said an opinion issued by Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery. In an unrelated opinion, Slatery said social media accounts that are created and maintained by a municipality can be a matter of public record.


Jim SedorState and Federal Communications produces a weekly summary of national news, offering more than 60 articles per week focused on ethics, lobbying, and campaign finance.

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