July 11, 2014 •
News You Can Use Digest – July 11, 2014
USA Today – Elaine Povich (Pew Center on the States) | Published: 7/10/2014
The 2011 ban on earmarks – the inclusion of money for specific local projects in broader bills – has prompted a shift away from states paying Washington, D.C.-based lobbyists to advocate for them. Now, more state lawmakers and other officials are combining forces to advocate for themselves. K Street lobbyists were specialists in getting earmarks because of their personal connections to federal lawmakers. The state coalitions are making broader arguments for funds that benefit more than one individual project.
Washington Post – Carol Leonnig and Manuel Roig-Franzia | Published: 7/7/2014
With a public corruption investigation hanging over him, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez suggested Cuban spies had planted the seeds of that inquiry as a way to discredit him and mute his strident opposition to the government in Havana. His comments followed media stories that said a 2013 CIA report had cited credible evidence linking Cuban agents to a campaign to smear Menendez. The FBI is investigating whether Menendez received free airplane rides and other perks from a wealthy donor and repaid him with political favors. Even if Menendez’s Cuba theory is correct, it is unlikely to derail the probe.
From the States and Municipalities:
San Jose Mercury News – Jessica Califati | Published: 7/5/2014
Since voting to suspend Leland Yee and two other state senators indicted in recent months, California lawmakers have held a “day of reflection” and considered more than a dozen new pieces of ethics reform legislation. But while support for bills requiring more disclosure of gifts and contributions remains strong, interest in tougher proposals that would restrict politicians’ fundraising and access to free trips has waned significantly in the last few months. “You can’t be against an ethics bill the day after the scandal, but it’s no longer the day after the scandal,” said Jessica Levinson, a professor who specializes in campaign finance law.
Miami Herald – Jay Weaver | Published: 7/7/2014
Michael Pizzi, the suspended mayor of Miami Lakes, is facing a trial in federal court on corruption charges. He is charged with conspiracy and extortion offenses for allegedly accepting $6,750 in mostly cash bribes during an FBI sting operation. Pizzi, a Brooklyn native, sees himself as the character Carmine Polito in the Oscar-nominated movie American Hustle – an over-the-top tale of the FBI’s undercover takedown of a fictional blue-collar New Jersey mayor who lived for his constituents.
Miami Herald – Jay Weaver | Published: 7/10/2014
A judge sentenced a failed South Florida congressional candidate to seven months in prison for campaign finance violations in a case linked to former U.S. Rep. David Rivera. Justin Sternad pleaded guilty last year to campaign finance violations, including accepting illegal contributions and filing false reports. The case involves allegations that Rivera, a Republican, secretly financed Sternad’s campaign to weaken Democratic rival Joe Garcia. Rivera has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, although close Rivera associate Ana Alliegro is also charged in the case. Rivera is again running for the House seat against Garcia after losing to him in 2012.
Hawaii News Now – Rick Daysog | Published: 7/9/2014
The Hawaii Ethics Commission is winding down its year-old investigation targeting number of employees at the University of Hawaii (UH) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) for receiving thousands of dollars in free golf outings provided by government contractors. Recent filings with the commission by DOT and UH employees indicates just how widespread the practice is. “For a lot of these firms, it’s simply the cost of doing business and this has got to stop because it makes people trust their government less,” said UH political science professor Colin Moore.
USA Today – Jennifer Jacobs (Des Moines Register) | Published: 7/6/2014
Americans for Prosperity, the conservative political advocacy organization backed by Charles and David Koch, is building an operation in Iowa –– the site of the first presidential primary – that is intended to sway voting in the state for years to come. Using methodical canvassing, Americans for Prosperity-Iowa seeks to identify voters who are sympathetic to its message. Its database is to include an individual’s political orientation, likelihood to vote, and serve as a roster of probable swing voters.
Los Angeles Times – David Zucchino | Published: 7/9/2014
Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison for his participation in a $500,000 bribery scheme that operated during most of his time in office. Many of the kickbacks took place after Hurricane Katrina, when contractors crowded into the city for rebuilding work. The sentence was less than the recommended 15 years, but U.S. District Court Judge Ginger Berrigan said the evidence failed to show Nagin had organized or had been a leader of a conspiracy. Prosecutors objected to the sentence, a move that could set up an appeal.
The Sun Journal – Christopher Cousins (Bangor Daily News) | Published: 7/8/2014
Four supporters of independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler filed a lawsuit against Maine’s ethics commission for not being allowed to contribute as much to Cutler as they could to a party candidate. State law allows party candidates to accept $1,500 donations from individuals for both the June primary and the general election, even if those candidates do not face primary challengers. As an independent, Cutler can collect no more than $1,500 per donor. The lawsuit says that law should be struck down as unconstitutional.
Massachusetts – Robert DeLeo in Glare at Probation Hiring Trial
Boston Globe – Milton Valencia and Michael Levenson | Published: 7/10/2014
Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo strongly denied assertions by prosecutors at the federal trial of the state’s former probation department commissioner that DeLeo traded jobs for votes or deliberately spared the agency from budget cuts. Prosecutors said in a court filing that such an arrangement had existed between DeLeo and former probation commissioner John O’Brien, who is being tried along with two deputies for allegedly rigging the agency’s hiring process to favor applicants referred by powerful lawmakers, in exchange for favorable legislative action on the budget or other matters.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Kevin McDermott | Published: 7/6/2014
It is not unusual for former Missouri lawmakers to jump immediately into lobbying their former colleagues with no waiting period. What is unusual is for ex-legislators to keep their campaign funds open and use it in ways that appear to promote their lobbying activities, such as with former House Speaker Steve Tilley. A St. Louis Post-Dispatch review found no other current lawmaker-turned-lobbyist operating under circumstances like the ones surrounding Tilley. That makes some reformers wonder if he is setting a dangerous new precedent that others might follow.
Politico – Katie Glueck and Maggie Haberman | Published: 7/8/2014
In choosing Cleveland as the site of the 2016 Republican National Convention, party organizers opted for a Democratic enclave in the pivotal battleground state of Ohio over the wealthier and more conservative Dallas area. The announcement is a coup for Cleveland as it seeks to update its image from an economically struggling Rust Belt city to a thriving metropolis with a revitalized downtown. The decision to go with Ohio was anticipated by many Republican operatives and donors. “We’re going where the swing voters are,” said GOP strategist Mike Murphy.
Pennsylvania – Interest Groups’ Lobbying Tally Tops $500M in Pennsylvania
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review – Melissa Daniels | Published: 7/4/2014
In 2013, lobbyists spent $518 million on costs related to influencing Pennsylvania lawmakers. It is the first time the spending exceeded the $500 million mark. Gabrielle Sedor, president of the Pennsylvania Association for Government Relations, said the increase in spending is likely is because of rising costs overall, such as salaries and travel costs. She said lobbyists try to provide expertise and research about industry trends, and to keep tabs on statehouse activity. “To be a lobbyist and have a good relationship, you have to be honest and ethical and be a source of information, a reliable resource above anything else,” said Sedor.
Providence Journal – Katherine Gregg | Published: 7/8/2014
A lobbyist who failed to disclose he loaned money to former Rhode Island House Speaker Gordon Fox has now said the loan was for $10,000. Ray Rickman and Fox had both neglected to report the loan from August 2009 in required filings. State Ethics Commission attorney Jason Gramitt said nothing in the law bans a lobbyist from giving a public official a loan, but the loan would create a ‘business relationship” which in all cases, except those involving legislators, would create a clear conflict-of-interest if that official took any action that financially benefited that business associate.
South Carolina – SC Supreme Court: Harrell probe can continue
The State – Jamie Self | Published: 7/9/2014
The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled the state’s top prosecutor has the authority to investigate House Speaker Bobby Harrell over allegations the lawmaker abused his power for personal benefit. The justices said Attorney General Alan Wilson is fully empowered to probe wrongdoing wherever it may occur, and his powers are not blunted because the investigation involves a lawmaker’s ethical conduct. The ruling overturned a lower court’s decision to halt Wilson’s investigation.
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