June 10, 2016 •
News You Can Use Digest – June 10, 2016
Study: Ordinary people struggle to use many state campaign finance websites
StateScoop – Alex Koma | Published: 5/31/2016
The Campaign Finance Institute released a report that examines how easily ordinary people could use state websites to find out how much money each state’s governor collected in campaign contributions in their most recent elections. Researchers found, for example, that users only managed to answer about 54 percent of questions correctly based on the information available on the websites. Fourteen states earned outright negative ratings, while 10 received middling scores. A total of 12 states got high marks from testers. Michael Malbin, the institute’s executive director, said he hopes the study shines a light on how difficult the sites are to use for “political amateurs, people who don’t use them as part of their occupations.”
Clinton Celebrates Victory, Declaring: ‘We’ve reached a milestone’
Washington Post – Anne Gearan, Robert Costa, and John Wagner | Published: 6/8/2016
Hillary Clinton claimed the Democratic presidential nomination after decisive victories in the California, New Jersey, and New Mexico primaries, and appealed to supporters of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders to unite with her against Donald Trump. With the Democratic race nearing a close, Clinton savored the biggest night of journey from lawyer, wife, and first lady to senator, secretary of state, and now, the first woman to win a major party’s nomination. The only remaining way for Sanders to win the nomination is to persuade super delegates to effectively overturn the will of the voters.
Exclusive: Trump’s 3,500 lawsuits unprecedented for a presidential nominee
USA Today – Nick Penzenstadler and Susan Page | Published: 6/2/2016
A USA Today analysis of legal filings finds that Donald Trump and his businesses have been involved in at least 3,500 legal actions in federal and state courts during the past three decades. They range from skirmishes with casino patrons to million-dollar real estate suits to personal defamation lawsuits. The sheer volume of lawsuits is unprecedented for a presidential nominee. No candidate of a major party has had anything approaching the number of Trump’s courtroom entanglements. Trump’s history of legal actions provides clues about his style as a leader and manager.
From the States and Municipalities:
California – Builders Pierce California’s Environmental Shield with New Weapon: The ballot
New York Times – Ian Lovett | Published: 6/7/2016
Once heralded as a vital check on corporate influence over government, California’s ballot initiative system, which allows residents to propose laws and approve them by popular vote, has been used to sharply cut property taxes and to enact the country’s first medical marijuana law. But these days, developers are using the process for another purpose: to sidestep state environmental laws and speed major developments. Supporters of the ballot measures say they allow residents to override a broken system in which lawsuits and environmental reviews can delay projects for years. But environmentalists argue the arrangement grants special privileges to developers, even if only a relatively small fraction of residents support a project. And land-use experts say the strategy will become more common unless the state government steps in to curtail it.
California – Countywide Ethics Commission Overwhelmingly Approved
Voice of OC – Tracy Wood | Published: 6/7/2016
Voters approved a ballot measure that will establish an ethics commission in Orange County. The commission will enforce campaign finance law on countywide elected officials. The initiative also gives the ethics panel the authority to enforce the county’s gift ban, lobbyist registry, and parts of the county ethics code.
California – Ex-California Lawmaker Tom Calderon Pleads Guilty to Money Laundering
Sacramento Bee – David Siders and Alexei Koseff | Published: 6/6/2016
Former California Assemblyperson Thomas Calderon pleaded guilty to money laundering as part of a plea agreement in which he acknowledged concealing bribes that his brother, then-state Sen. Ron Calderon, accepted in exchange for supporting the expansion of tax credits for the film industry. Though his conviction carries up to 20 years in prison, prosecutors are requesting that he get no more than one year. The bribes came from an undercover FBI agent who posed as the owner of a movie studio. Thomas Calderon deposited a $30,000 bribe from the undercover agent into a bank account belong to the consulting company he founded, according to the plea agreement. He then wrote a check for $9,000 from that bank account to Ron Calderon’s daughter, the agreement says.
Florida – Bryant Miller Olive Appeals $50 Fine – and Loses
Florida Politics – Jim Rosica | Published: 6/3/2016
The Bryant Miller Olive law firm lost its appeal of a $50 fine for the late filing of one of its lobbyist compensation reports in Florida. Commissioners, though, were split on whether to waive the fine. Some wondered why the firm was fighting a one-day fine; others asked why commission staff bothered to pursue it. Foyt Ralston, a lobbyist with the firm, said it “made every attempt to submit our report.” The company appealed “partially on principle, but this is what we had to do to ask the question of how these things are handled,” Ralston said.
Florida – Hialeah Restaurant Owner Tried to Bribe Commissioner, State Says
Miami Herald – David Ovalle | Published: 6/1/2016
When the owner of Hialeah’s Rancho Okeechobee needed permission to keep the restaurant open late for a special event, he walked into the office of Miami-Dade County Commissioner Jose Diaz. “You have a friend in Rancho Okeechobee,” he wrote in a letter, according to police. And inside the envelope: $700 cash. The envelope stuffed with cash led not to political favors but to the arrest of Elezear Gadea, the restaurant owner, who has been charged with offering a bribe, authorities said. He later gave an undercover detective, posing as a commissioner’s aide, $2,000 in cash to help him, according to police.
Missouri – Four Years Later, an Ex-Politician Is Still Benefiting from His Campaign Fund
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Kevin McDermott | Published: 6/5/2016
When Missouri House Speaker Steve Tilley resigned in 2012, he kept his $1.1 million campaign fund open. Donors gave the money to further the public agenda he represented. Instead, those funds are furthering Tilley’s lobbying and political consulting work, through a web of private firms and PACs tied to his family members and political allies. Rep. Jay Barnes described a series of newly outlawed maneuvers that are essentially a diagram of what Tilley has done since leaving office: putting campaign funds in long-term investments that do not allow immediate access to the money; moving the money into separate PACs controlled by the former officeholder; and passing the cash to other elected officials while lobbying those officials.
New York – Independent Budgeting a Little-Used Practice for City Watchdog Agencies
Gotham Gazette – Aaron Holmes | Published: 6/3/2016
During the annual budget process, New York City agencies and entities are at the mercy of the mayor and the city council, who ultimately set the budget. But unlike many, the several agencies and officials who regularly monitor or regulate the administration are put in an awkward situation, annually appealing for funding in a dynamic that can hamper their ability to carry out charter-mandated duties and, in some cases, lead to politically-motivated budget cuts.
New York – NY Gov. Cuomo Wants New Limits on Secret Campaign Funds
The Associated Press – David Klepper | Published: 6/8/2016
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to tighten restrictions on laws governing money given to candidates via so-called independent expenditure committees. Legislation announced by the governor would strengthen rules prohibiting independent groups from working with campaigns to elect specific candidates. It also would require greater disclosure of spending by independent groups. Cuomo released a legal opinion from his top counsel that seeks to clarify ambiguities in current rules prohibiting coordination. The opinion, meant to advise prosecutors or groups like the state Board of Elections, lays out several indications of improper cooperation between a candidate and an independent group. They include sharing major donors or office space, or family members or former staffers of the candidate who lead the independent organization.
Ohio – Lobbyist John Raphael’s Influence Spread Swiftly
Columbus Dispatch – Lucas Sullivan | Published: 6/8/2016
A judge sentenced former Columbus lobbyist John Raphael to 15 months in prison for extorting campaign contributions from red-light-camera vendor Redflex to help secure city contracts for the company. Raphael’s actions have resulted in more than 37 subpoenas, a federal grand jury, hundreds of court depositions, the interrogations of more than 50 Columbus and Franklin County employees, and at least two searches by FBI agents. “It became known that if a company wanted to land a contract, it had to go through John,” said a former city council aide. The city council has enacted new ethics laws this year that call for more accountability and monitoring of lobbyists.
Rhode Island – General Assembly Passes Lobbying Reform Act
Newport Buzz – Christian Winthrop | Published: 6/7/2016
Rhode Island lawmakers gave final approval to legislation that will reform the state’s lobbying law. Senate Bill 2361 and House Bill 7388 clarify the definitions of lobbyist and lobbying; provide a framework for investigations and hearings; strengthen and simplify lobbying reporting guidelines while making it easier for the general public to access these reports; and increase maximum penalties for non-compliance to more than double the current amounts. The bills await Gov. Gina Raimondo’s signature.
Wisconsin – What’s in a Name? Ask the Wisconsin Ethics Commission
Minneapolis Star Tribune – Scott Bauer (Associated Press) | Published: 6/9/2016
Members of the newly created commission to regulate ethics and campaign finance laws for Wisconsin officeholders and lobbyists continued their organizational work with the simplest of tasks: deciding on a name. The Wisconsin Ethics Commission, the name board members agreed upon, was created by the Legislature as one of two groups to replace the Government Accountability Board (GAB) starting on June 30. The agency does not yet have an administrator. Twenty-two people applied for the job, said outgoing GAB Executive Director Kevin Kennedy.
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