News You Can Use Digest - January 8, 2016 - State and Federal Communications

January 8, 2016  •  

News You Can Use Digest – January 8, 2016



National Liberal Groups to Push ‘Record’ Number of 2016 Ballot Measures
Center for Public Integrity – Liz Essley Whyte | Published: 1/6/2016

Liberal groups working at the national level are using state ballot initiatives as their weapon of choice in 2016, but given the costs, they are carefully planning exactly where to push these measures. That top-down approach seems ironic. The initiative process was put in place at the beginning of the 20th century as a way for local citizens to band together to pass laws. And voters may not be aware that national groups are helping fuel the ballot fights in their backyards. Still, national liberal leaders see state ballot measures as their best option for winning on some issues. National conservative groups, meanwhile, seem poised to play defense, setting up a battle of outsiders on state playing fields.


For Hillary Clinton, Old News or New Troubles?
Washington Post – Karen Tumulty and Frances Stead Sellers | Published: 1/6/2016

Donald Trump’s focus on the scandal that almost derailed Bill Clinton’s presidency is something Hillary Clinton’s campaign long expected. What remains to be seen is whether a reminder of allegations of sexual impropriety against President Clinton, which were deemed to have varying levels of credibility when they were first aired, can gain new traction in a different context. The fresher case being made is that Hillary Clinton has been, at a minimum, hypocritical about her husband’s treatment of women, and possibly even complicit in discrediting his accusers. And it is being pressed at a time when there is a new sensitivity toward victims of unwanted sexual contact.

How Obama Failed to Shut Washington’s Revolving Door
Politico – Josh Gerstein | Published: 12/31/2015

Barack Obama’s vow to end the “revolving door” in Washington was central to the narrative animating his 2008 campaign: a promise of wholesale change to business as usual. But seven years into Obama’s presidency, the “revolving door” shuttling officials out of his administration is spinning at a rapid clip, and he has seen his campaign promise founder against the deeply ingrained culture of selling government expertise in the nation’s capital. “They were overpromising on something they could never deliver – it’s worse than doing nothing,” said Melanie Sloan, former executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Marco Rubio’s Shiny Boots Stir Up the Presidential Race
New York Times – Vanessa Friedman | Published: 1/7/2016

Are they a surprisingly fashionable choice of footwear (One Direction’s Harry Styles is said to have a similar pair) or a less generously termed set of “men’s high-heeled booties?” The political and fashion world have been set atwitter since New York Times reporter Michael Barbaro spotted U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio “rocking some seriously fashionable black boots” in New Hampshire. The fashion choice had become a target of ribbing from his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination. “We’ve seen Rubio has those cute new boots and I don’t want to be outdone,” U.S. Sen. Rand Paul said, while surrounded by shelves of shoes in Whoopi Goldberg’s dressing room before an appearance on “The View.”

From the States and Municipalities:

Colorado – Colorado Ethics Commission Has No Investigators, Little Authority
Denver Post – Joey Bunch | Published: 1/4/2016

The Colorado Independent Ethics Commission is struggling to do its work for lack of authority, resources, and money, say critics who include former administrators. The commission has declined to hear about 87 percent of the complaints it has received since it was created in 2006. Unless a public official or government employee received a gift worth more than $53 or seeks a job as a lobbyist, there is little else the commission concerns itself with. Nonetheless, there is a proposed ballot question for next year to extend the commission’s narrow authority over public employees to the judicial system.

Florida – Painful Lessons for a Troubled Florida Legislature
Tampa Bay Times – Steve Bousquet | Published: 1/5/2016

In a year that was defined by dysfunction at the Florida Capitol, the House violated the state constitution by shutting its doors prematurely. Senators later admitted they defied the will of the people by drawing districts to save their own careers at the expense of fair districts that the constitution demands. Sharply divided over whether to expand health care, lawmakers nearly failed to execute their one prescribed duty, passing a budget. Three special sessions later, as unresolved legal skirmishes over redistricting still reverberated in the courts, lawmakers were vilified as arrogant and out of touch, and some said they deserved it. Lawmakers, lobbyists, and observers see systemic problems that are bad for democracy.

Kentucky – Prosecutor Urges Vigilance against Legislative Corruption
Fresno Bee – Bruce Schreiner (Associated Press) | Published: 1/6/2016

Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan who recently secured the convictions of two top New York lawmakers, said the blame for corruption lies not only with bad actors but also with the “good people” who do not try to stop it. Bharara’s speech at the Kentucky General Assembly’s annual ethics training was his first before a full state Legislature. It came at the request of Kentucky officials. During an address that lasted about 45 minutes, Bharara drew occasional laughter, nodding approval, and gasps of disbelief, particularly when he quoted wiretapped phone conversations and other evidence from recent public corruption trials.

Maine – Clinton Donors Use Maine Democrats to Skirt Campaign Cash Limits
Ellsworth American – Naomi Schalit (Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting) | Published: 1/7/2016

Fourteen out-of-state donors gave $93,552 to the Maine Democratic Party since mid-September 2015. But all the contributions have not stayed in Maine, or any of the other state Democratic parties to which Hillary Victory Fund donations have been funneled. FEC reports show two transfers totaling $39,000 from the Hillary Victory Fund to the Maine Democratic Party each sat for less than 48 hours with the party before the exact same amounts were transferred to the Democratic National Committee (DNC). While individual contributions to the state and national parties are capped, transfers between state and national committees are unlimited. That means that, effectively, donors can skirt contribution limits to the DNC or state parties by giving through joint fundraising committees like the Hillary Victory Fund.

Michigan – Gov. Rick Snyder Signs Campaign Finance Bill Locals Say Amounts to a ‘Gag Order’ – Emily Lawler | Published: 1/6/2016

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed a bill that prohibits public money or resources from being used to disseminate information about local ballot measures through television and radio ads, mass mailings, or “robo-calls” in the 60 days before an election. Local officials said the law will keep voters in the dark about important issues because they no longer will receive unbiased educational materials in the two months prior to an election. Some Republicans who voted for the legislation said they did not realize its ramifications. Senate Bill 571 also bars companies from deducting union PAC contributions from employees’ paychecks while allowing deductions for corporate PACs, and requires political and independent committees to file annual reports, among other provisions.

Missouri – Bill Requires Reporting Sex between Lawmakers and Lobbyists on Ethics Forms
Columbia Tribune – Rudi Keller | Published: 1/6/2016

Lobbyists who have sex with a state lawmaker or their staff members would have to disclose it to the Missouri Ethics Commission under a new bill. House Bill 2059 defines sex between lobbyists and legislators as a gift. As such, sexual relations would have to be included on monthly lobbyist gift disclosure forms. The proposal excludes sex in marriage or a relationship that began before either party’s registration as a lobbyist, election to the Legislature, or employment on a legislative staff.

New Jersey – AG: Former Birdsall exec McFadden pleads guilty to misconduct
PolitickerNJ; Staff –   | Published: 1/6/2016

Scott McFadden, former chief administrative officer of Birdsall Services Group, pleaded guilty to corporate misconduct in the criminal “pay-to-play” case. Under terms of a plea bargain, the state will recommend a sentence of up to 364 days in jail. McFadden also will be required to forfeit $30,000 to the state. The amount represents political contributions he made on behalf of Birdsall that were later reimbursed to him by the firm. The company pleaded guilty in 2013 to money laundering and making false representations for government contracts and was fined $1 million. The company was essentially crippled when the state froze its assets in the wake of the indictment, forcing Birdsall to file for bankruptcy. The company and its executives were accused of masking corporate political contributions to campaigns and political organizations that otherwise would disqualify it from receiving public contracts.

New York – Albany’s Businessman-Legislators Scoff at a Call to Make Lawmaking Full-Time
New York Times – Vivian Yee | Published: 1/5/2016

The list of lawyers, insurers, and full-time politicians in the New York Legislature is long, and outside income, as the money earned from non-legislative work is known, is at the crux of the corruption scandal that toppled the former speaker of the Assembly in November. Reformers say to clean up Albany, outside income must be capped or done away with. Some have gone even further, suggesting the Legislature, a part-time institution that pays its members $79,500 a year, should become full time with a commensurate salary. But legislators see no conflict between their business activities and lawmaking, and their contempt for Albany makes a full-time Legislature seem nonsensical.

New York – Setting Precedent, Conflict of Interest Board Settle with Mark-Viverito
Capital New York – Gloria Pazmino | Published: 1/6/2016

New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will pay a $7,000 fine for breaking laws on taking gifts from lobbyists under a settlement with the Conflicts of Interest Board. Mark-Viverito admitted she ran afoul of the rules by taking free help from Scott Levenson and his consulting firm the Advance Group when she was running for speaker two years ago. Levenson, a registered lobbyist, and two staffers spent months working on Mark-Viverito’s bid for the top job, attending “kitchen cabinet” meetings to prepare her for debates with other speaker candidates and networking events. They also redesigned a flyer for a reception hosted in her honor and spent $1,796.44 to have 3,000 copies of it printed. Mark-Viverito was never billed for the work. Rules bar public officials from taking gifts worth more than $50 from people who do business with the city. And lobbyists are barred from giving any gifts to politicians.

Oregon – Uber Fined $2,000 for Violating Portland Lobbying Rules
Portland Oregonian – Brad Schmidt | Published: 1/5/2016

Portland City Auditor Mary Hull Caballero fined the Uber ride-hailing service $2,000 for violating lobbying regulations by not disclosing its ties to political consultant Mark Wiener. The city auditor’s office had sent warning letters to Mayor Charlie Hales and city Commissioner Steve Novick for meeting with Wiener and Uber officials without disclosing the contact, as required by the law. The meeting took place at Wiener’s home as the city council was considering whether to allow such companies to operate in Portland. Hull Caballero issued the maximum fine because she found Uber showed a pattern of noncompliance, noncooperation, and incomplete disclosures.

Pennsylvania – Pennsylvania Legislature Aims at Lobbying Overhaul; Reaction Mixed
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – Kate Giammarise and Chris Potter | Published: 1/4/2016

As proposed by five Senate Republicans in Pennsylvania, a “Lobbyist Reform Package” includes six measures, among them: stricter reporting of gifts to state officials, increasing fines on lobbyists who violate such requirements, and requiring state officials to disclose when a spouse or other family member is a lobbyist. Another proposal would prohibit lobbyists from being paid to work on political campaigns or having financial ties to a consultant who does. Even some lobbyists say an overhaul is needed. But several insiders say elements of the package appear to be targeted at one firm, Long Nyquist and Associates, and two of its clients: United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776, which represents state store workers, and the Pennsylvania State Education Association.

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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