July 31, 2015 •
News You Can Use Digest – July 31, 2015
A Dream Undone
New York Times – Jim Rutenberg | Published: 7/29/2015
August 6 is the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act. It eliminated literacy tests and other Jim Crow tactics, and in a key provision called Section 5 required seven states with histories of black disenfranchisement to submit any future change in statewide voting law for approval by federal authorities. In 2008, for the first time, black turnout was nearly equal to white turnout, and Barack Obama was elected the nation’s first black president. Since then, however, the legal trend has abruptly reversed. The rollback of the law was the result of a little-known part of the civil rights story. It involves a largely Republican countermovement of ideologues and partisan operatives who methodically set out to undercut or dismantle its most important requirements.
Facebook Expands in Politics, and Campaigns Find Much to Like
New York Times – Ashley Parker | Published: 7/29/2015
While it is no surprise that campaigns are devoting a greater share of their budget and energy on digital initiatives, Facebook, already a major player in past cycles, has been working to expand its digital dominance in the political realm. Facebook, which has 189 million monthly users in the U.S., has pitched its tools and services to every presidential campaign in the 2016 race, not to mention down-ballot races, to showcase new features as candidates seek to reach and recruit new supporters and potential donors. Some estimate that 2016 will usher in roughly $1 billion in online political advertising, and Facebook says it is on track to increase its revenue from previous cycles.
Billionaire Donors Bypass K Street
Roll Call – Kate Ackley | Published: 7/29/2015
The most politically generous billionaires invest almost unlimited personal resources in supporting federal candidates and super PACs. But the hedge funds and other companies that fuel their bank accounts put up a relatively small amount of cash toward disclosed federal lobbying, according to a Roll Call survey of the top 25 donors. Some of the firms founded or owned by the biggest donors leave no paper trail revealing any history of lobbying work. But even when they do not list a roster of pricey hired help from K Street, these top donors and their companies still exert influence.
D.N.C. Lifts Ban on Convention Fundraising
New York Times – Maggie Haberman | Published: 7/23/2015
The Democratic National Committee (DNC) lifted its ban on contributions from PACs and lobbyists for its convention fundraising and for the accounts it shares with presidential campaigns. Both limitations were put in place by Barack Obama, who was seeking to change the influence of money in Washington. The DNC will continue its policy of not accepting donations from PACs and lobbyists for its general fundraising operations. Allowing such contributions to the joint fundraising committee was something that Hillary Clinton’s campaign encouraged, and Congress last year eliminated public funding for the national conventions.
From the States and Municipalities:
Arkansas – Ethics Panel Reaffirms Past Ruling on Ticket Sales to Legislators
Arkansas News – John Lyon (Arkansas News Bureau) | Published: 7/24/2015
Regardless of whether the preferential treatment comes from the University of Arkansas itself or from the Razorback Foundation, lawmakers cannot get access to Razorback tickets unless they pay the same fees as everyone else, the state Ethics Commission ruled. University officials had argued the school and its athletic booster club are separate entities and restrictions on gifts from lobbyists do not apply to the foundation. The commission disagreed.
Missouri – McCaskill Calls for Advocacy Group to Give Missouri Capital Interns ‘Someone to Talk to’
KCUR – Jo Mannies | Published: 7/29/2015
State Sen. Paul LeVota resigned recently after being accused of sexually harassing an intern, but U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill contends the real issue is that little has changed. She was an intern at the Missouri Capitol 41 years ago. “I am bitterly disappointed that the climate has not changed significantly since 1974,” McCaskill said, recalling her own experiences with off-color jokes and unsolicited sexual comments. And she remembers the self-doubt of what she should do. That is why McCaskill is suggesting that a special advocacy organization be set up to simply give interns a non-threatening source to talk to, where they could get constructive information about how to file a formal complaint and even hire a lawyer.
Missouri – Missouri’s ‘Wild West’ Campaign-Finance Rules Are Making Candidates Look Terrible
National Journal – Karyn Bruggeman | Published: 7/23/2015
A handful of states have no limits on who can donate to candidates or how much, but Missouri is the only one with the combination of no limits on campaign donations or lobbyist gifts, and no laws on the books to prevent elected officials from immediately becoming lobbyists after leaving office. For candidates looking to raise money, the laissez-faire approach is a boon. But when it comes time to explain to voters where that cash came from and what it was for, candidates are often left without good answers. That has been particularly true of the start of the state’s 2016 governor’s race.
Nebraska – Number of Groups Hiring Nebraska Lobbyists Reaches New High
Seattle Post-Intelligencer – Grant Schulte (Associated Press) | Published: 7/28/2015
Common Cause Nebraska said the number of groups hiring lobbyists rose to a record 527 this year, from 506 in 2014. The groups spent nearly $14.1 million last year to influence lawmakers, most of which went to lobbyists. The report calls for more specific disclosure requirements, including a breakdown of lobbyist expenses per elected official and creating a separate reporting category for food and beverages. Nebraska should prohibit lobbyists from bundling campaign contributions and ban all in-session fundraisers.
Nevada – Nevada Lobbyists Spend Record Amount on Legislators
Las Vegas Review-Journal – Sandra Chereb | Published: 7/24/2015
Lobbyists in Nevada spent $153,079 to entertain and influence state lawmakers during this year’s legislative session. The record amount is up nearly 26 percent over the $121,594 reported by lobbyists two years ago. Lobbyists are required to report how much they spend on gifts, group events, and entertainment provided to lawmakers for each month of the session. The entertainment category includes cost of meals and beverages when a lobbyist picks up the tab. The cost of group events – receptions, luncheons, dinners, or other events where every legislator is invited – totaled $149,777. Individual entertainment expenses were $2,176.
Ohio – City Council Officials Got Box Seats at Ohio State Game
Columbus Dispatch – Lucas Sullivan | Published: 7/26/2015
Days after John Raphael abstained from voting on a food-and-beverage contract for the Greater Columbus Convention Center because of a conflict-of-interest, he escorted four Columbus City Council members to the Big Ten Conference Championship football game. Raphael said he removed himself from the convention authority’s food-vendor selection process because he represented Centerplate, the company that was then bidding for and now holds the contract, as a statewide lobbyist. Raphael and his relationships with elected officials have come under scrutiny after he was implicated in the bribery scheme involving Redflex, the company that had the contract for red-light cameras in Columbus.
Oregon – Ethics Reforms after Kitzhaber: Going slow means getting it right, Oregon lawmakers argue
Portland Oregonian – Denis Theriault | Published: 7/29/2015
The day before Gov. John Kitzhaber quit amid influence-peddling allegations, Republicans in the Oregon Legislature seized on the scandal to introduce sweeping ethics reforms. They wanted to set strict rules for the governor’s partner, allow lawmakers to impeach statewide officials, and increase access to public records, among other changes. But when lawmakers adjourned in July, none of those ideas had advanced. Only three milder bills drafted by Gov. Kate Brown became law. Some Republicans say Democratic leaders played politics to keep the state’s minority party from scoring points. But other officials, including Brown, say they are intentionally taking it slow, especially in the absence of criminal charges spelling out whether Kitzhaber and former first lady Cylvia Hayes broke any laws.
Pennsylvania – Pa. Congressman Fattah Indicted on Corruption Charges from 2007 Mayor’s Race
Washington Post – Paul Kane and Mike DeBonis | Published: 7/29/2015
U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah and four associates were indicted on racketeering conspiracy charges, accused of misusing hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer, charity, and campaign funds. Fattah is accused of misusing money from his unsuccessful 2007 bid for mayor of Philadelphia. Prosecutors allege Fattah used federal grants and donations to his educational foundation to pay back part of a campaign supporter’s $1 million loan and helped arrange a $15 million federal grant for a nonexistent nonprofit in lieu of a $130,000 payment to a political consultant after his failed mayoral run.
Texas – Appeals Court Rejects One Count in Perry Indictment
Texas Tribune – Patrick Svitek | Published: 7/24/2015
A state appeals court dropped one of the two felony charges that former Texas Gov. Rick Perry is facing. He was indicted last summer on criminal charges of abuse of power and coercion of a public servant. The case surrounds an episode during which Perry was accused of trying to use his powers as governor to make an elected official step down after being charged with drunken driving. The court dismissed the coercion of a public servant charge against Perry on the grounds that it violates his right to free speech under the First Amendment. He still faces the abuse of official capacity charge, which carries a prison sentence of five to 99 years.
Virginia – Clinton Donors Also Pumped Millions into McAuliffe’s Coffers
Washington Post – Laura Vozzella | Published: 7/29/2015
More than 175 contributors to the Clinton Foundation and to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign have dug deep into their wallets for Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, often giving prolifically despite little or no connection to the state. Of the $60 million that McAuliffe has raised for his two gubernatorial bids, inauguration, PAC, and the Virginia Democratic Party, nearly $18 million has come from contributors to the Clinton Foundation or to Hillary Clinton’s current campaign. The substantial overlap highlights how intimately McAuliffe’s political universe is intertwined with that of Bill and Hillary Clinton, for whom McAuliffe has been a fundraiser and close friend.
Wisconsin – Emails Show Contact between GAB Head and IRS Mostly Personal in Nature
Wisconsin Radio Network – Andrew Beckett | Published: 7/27/2015
An opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal raised the possibility of a coordinated effort by Wisconsin Government Accountability Board Director Kevin Kennedy and former IRS Director of Exempt Organizations Lois Lerner to target conservative political groups for investigation. Wisconsin officials have now released 138 pages of emails between Kennedy and Lerner. Most of the messages discuss dinner and travel plans, or updates about family. A handful of include IRS policy updates or repost articles about campaign finance debates. Lerner also included Kennedy on several lengthy email forwards featuring humorous photo collections about friendship and other jokes.
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