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

July 8, 2016  •  

News You Can Use Digest – July 8, 2016



Can Super PACs Be Put Back in the Box?
Washington Post – Matea Gold | Published: 7/6/2016

A powerhouse legal team representing a bipartisan group of members of Congress and candidates is unleashing a new effort to overturn the case that gave rise to super PACs, part of a new strategy to rein in the big money that has poured into campaigns since 2010. They are targeting a case decided by U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 2010: v. FEC. That decision permitted a conservative group to raise money beyond the contribution limits placed on traditional PACs because it planned to spend its funds independently of a candidate or party. In doing so, the appellate court paved the way for new political vehicles, later dubbed super PACs for their ability to accept unlimited amounts from individuals and corporations.

F.B.I. Director James Comey Recommends No Charges for Hillary Clinton on Email
New York Times – Mark Landler and Eric Lichtblau | Published: 7/5/2016

FBI Director James Comey said his agency is recommending that no charges be brought against Hillary Clinton in connection with her email use while secretary of State. “No reasonable prosecutor” would bring such a case, Comey said. But although the FBI is not recommending charges, Comey did strongly criticize Clinton’s handling of classified information in her email, calling is “extremely careless.” The announcement comes three days after FBI agents and Justice Department officials interviewed Clinton. The FBI has been seeking to determine whether Clinton or any of her aides had mishandled classified information in connection with her email. The inspector general of the intelligence agencies had said the emails contained information that was classified at the time they were sent but were not marked classified, and the information should never have been sent on an unclassified system.

Koch Brothers’ Plight Likened to That of Civil Rights Workers in the 1950s
Center for Public Integrity – John Dunbar | Published: 7/5/2016

Charles and David Koch and civil rights pioneers have faced threats and harassment from those who disagree with their views, and each is entitled to privacy when it comes to disclosing certain kinds of information to the government, a federal judge ruled. But the decision has been controversial; comparing the travails of billionaires to the violent threats endured by civil rights workers in the 1950s is more than a stretch, say some of those familiar with the case – it is offensive. The case represents just the latest front in an ongoing battle being waged by a range of mostly conservative groups attempting to keep donors to political nonprofits hidden from view. Many of the legal battles revolve around interpretation of a crucial civil rights case from 1958: NAACP v. Alabama.

Lockheed’s Top Government Affairs Official Not Registered as Lobbyist
Politico – Austin Wright and Jeremy Herb | Published: 7/3/2016

The top government affairs official at Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defense contractor, has not registered as a lobbyist. The company maintains that Robert Rangel, its senior vice president for government affairs since early last year, is not required to disclose his efforts to influence Congress and the executive branch. He does not meet all the legal requirements outlined in the law that governs lobbying disclosures, Lockheed says, including the percentage of his time he actually spends trying to influence government officials. His decision not to register, however, goes against both company precedent and the practices of other top defense firms.

Special Interests Look to Influence Political Conventions – Discreetly
Center for Public Integrity – Carrie Levine | Published: 7/7/2016

Corporations, unions, and other special interests will spend tens of millions of dollars to bankroll festivities at the Democratic and Republican national conventions. Some high-profile companies and individual donors are scaling back on giving to the host committees as they want to distance themselves from controversies surrounding Donald Trump. Meanwhile, many special interests will participate in convention-related activities, but they have become more creative in how they influence conventioneers, or are refusing to discuss their convention plans. “They want to show up, they want to rub elbows with everyone at the conventions, they just don’t want the corporate name out there,” said Craig Holman, a lobbyist for Public Citizen who has tracked influence efforts at the conventions.

The Lobbying Reform That Enriched Congress
Politico – Isaac Arnsdorf | Published: 7/3/2016

In the wake of the Jack Abramoff scandal, Democrats seized on the chaos to retake both chambers of Congress, promising voters they would change what they called a “culture of corruption.” Their attempt to make good on that promise, the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007, was embraced by both parties as a historic breakthrough. But critics say the result of the law is very nearly the opposite of what the American public was told it was getting at the time. Not only did the lobbying reform bill fail to slow the “revolving door,” it created an entire class of professional influencers who operate in the shadows.

From the States and Municipalities:

Connecticut – Anthem-Cigna Controversy Exposes Gaps in Ethics Rules
Connecticut Mirror – Mark Pazniokas | Published: 7/5/2016

Connecticut Insurance Commissioner Katharine Wade’s refusal to recuse herself from ruling on the Anthem-Cigna merger has provoked a reappraisal of state ethics regulators, who heavily rely on the self-reporting of public officials, and an ethics code that may be clearer to lawyers than lovers of English. Wade, a former Cigna vice president of government affairs, in February did not try to hide the fact that her staff was reviewing Anthem’s application to acquire Cigna for $54 billion. “On behalf of the Department, I signed a contract with an independent economist to assist Department staff in their review of the Anthem Form A application. Presently, there are no Cigna matters before me,” Wade wrote to the Office of State Ethics. Wade declined recently to say what basis she concluded there were no Cigna matters before her under the meaning the state ethics code, given that she already has asserted her intention to rule on the merger.

Massachusetts – Senate Slow to Embrace DeLeo Ethics Panel
Lowell Sun – Matt Murphy (State House News Service) | Published: 7/7/2016

Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s efforts to jumpstart a review of the state’s ethics, campaign finance, and lobbying laws has hit a roadblock in the Senate, where leaders so far have refused to go along out of concern the broad scope of the speaker’s proposed review would lead to a dead end. DeLeo had offered a resolve that would have created a joint task force of the House, Senate, and Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration to review the state’s complex ethics laws. The House referred the speaker’s proposal to a joint committee, but so far the Senate has refused to admit the bill, leaving open the possibility that the House could choose to work with the governor alone on the review.

Michigan – Unions Win Injunction Blocking Michigan Fundraising Law
Detroit News – Jonathan Oosting | Published: 7/1/2016

A U.S. District Court Judge granted a preliminary injunction against a law passed by the Michigan Legislature last year that would make it easier for corporations to deduct money from employees’ paychecks for their own PACs while forbidding them from making similar deductions on behalf of labor unions. It is the second preliminary injunction from a federal judge against a provision of the law, which also prohibited local government officials from distributing information about ballot proposals, a restriction dubbed a “gag order” by critics.

Minnesota – Lobbying in Minnesota: Spending has nearly doubled since 2002
St. Paul Pioneer Press – Rachel Stassen-Berger | Published: 7/4/2016

Special interest groups have spent $800 million lobbying government officials in Minnesota over the last 13 years. The St. Paul Pioneer Press review also found the amount of annual spending has doubled and the number of lobbying clients has tripled. Business interests have dominated the spending annually, making up about half of the lobbying expenditures every year since 2002. Utilities have spent the most, followed by the health industry. Spending or the lack thereof does not always translate to influence, however. Good lobbyists, say lobbyists and lawmakers alike, know that. “Lobbyists don’t write laws … lobbyists write ideas. Lobbyists write suggestions,” said Tom Lehman, who has been a lobbyist for 26 years.

New York – Agency Clears Mayor de Blasio and Nonprofit of Campaign Finance Violations
New York Times – Vivian Yee | Published: 7/6/2016

The New York City Campaign Finance Board determined a nonprofit closely linked to Mayor Bill de Blasio did not spend money to bolster the mayor’s re-election bid, but the board said the group’s spending raised serious policy issues. The board said Campaign for One New York’s 2014 spending was not campaign-related, primarily because it occurred so far from the mayor’s re-election race in 2017. Yet the board appeared to find much that was troublesome, if not illegal, in the behavior of the nonprofit, which has amassed millions of dollars in donations to push for City Hall initiatives. The board also clarified rules governing nonprofit advocacy groups that are affiliated with politicians.

New York – In Inquiry into Ex-Cuomo Aide, Disclosure Form Only Adds Mystery
New York Times – Vivian Yee | Published: 7/5/2016

Two companies listed in a financial disclosure form from 2014 belonging to Joseph Percoco, who for many years was New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s closest aide, seem to be at the heart of a sprawling federal investigation encircling Cuomo’s administration. One firm, Chris Pitts LLC, is named for a minor Democratic activist in rural Connecticut who, until recently, lived with his sister and got around town in an aging Chevrolet. The other, COR Development Company, is one of the most prominent real estate developers in central New York. In an investigation with few signposts for those outside the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, Percoco’s disclosure is the nearest thing to a map key. Yet the connection between the Percoco and COR and Chris Pitts LLC. is not as straightforward as the black and white of an official form might imply.

New York – JCOPE Shut Down in Lobbying Reform
Queens Chronicle – Michelle Kraidman | Published: 6/30/2016

The Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) in February approved an advisory opinion that required paid consultants, who “controlled the delivery” of a message to editorial boards encouraging them to support positions that were favorable to a client, to register as lobbyists. They also would have had to report their contacts with media outlets’ opinion writers. That led to great opposition as accredited media sources, and several public relations and consulting firms sued JCOPE, arguing the new regulations were unconstitutional. Now, a statement released by the governor’s office announced that the agreed-upon legislation for an ethics reform plan does not include what JCOPE had originally recommended. “[The agreement] explicitly excludes communications with journalists, including editorial boards, from the definition of lobbying and exclude these communications from lobbying regulation,” the statement said.

Rhode Island – Raimondo: Lobbying law makes rules ‘clear, simple, consistent and transparent’
Providence Journal – Jennifer Bogdan | Published: 7/6/2016

In a ceremonial signing of lobbying legislation, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo described the changes as making the rules “clear, simple, consistent, and transparent.” The legislation, which goes into effect on January 1, clarifies who is a lobbyist and what constitutes lobbying. The penalty for failure to register is a fine of up to $50,000 and revocation of lobbyist registration for up to three years. Lobbyists will also be required to file monthly public reports of their activities from January to June and quarterly reports from July to December. The reports must include all compensation received, all expenditures made, and “all money and anything of value provided or promised to any legislative or executive branch official” in excess of $250.

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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