June 16, 2017 •
News You Can Use Digest – June 16, 2017
After the Shootings, Calls for Unity Amid Recriminations and Finger-Pointing
Washington Post – Dan Balz | Published: 6/14/2017
From President Trump to congressional leaders of both parties to ordinary citizens came calls for prayers for the victims of the shootings that left House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and four others wounded, praise for the Capitol Police officers who prevented an even worse tragedy and, above all, words of reconciliation and unity. But barely on the edges of those remarks was another round of recriminations and a renewed debate about what has brought the country to a point of such division, what is to blame for what happened on that baseball field, and what, if anything, can be done to lower temperatures for more than a few minutes.
D.C. and Maryland Sue President Trump, Alleging Breach of Constitutional Oath
Washington Post – Aaron Davis | Published: 6/12/2017
The attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit alleging foreign payments to President Trump’s businesses violated the U.S. Constitution. Trump already faces a similar lawsuit, but the case from two state attorneys general could stand a better chance in court as the first government action over allegations Trump violated the Constitution’s so-called emoluments clause, which bars him from accepting gifts from foreign governments without congressional approval, by maintaining ownership over his business empire despite ceding day-to-day control to his sons. The complaint opens uncharted legal territory. No state has accused a president of violating the emoluments clauses of the Constitution.
Lobbyists’ Foreign Agent Filing Raises Questions
BuzzFeed.com – John Hudson | Published: 6/12/2017
Mercury Public Affairs – which was recently forced, alongside former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, to disclose lobbying on behalf of political interests in Ukraine – filed a disclosure in February on behalf of the Libertas Foundation. The filing lists a contract for $15,000 a month for work related to “Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbia and Greece.” But the filing does not list a foreign agent, one of the key purposes of a Foreign Agents Registration Act disclosure. In the form’s entry for “Name of Foreign Principal” the filing only lists Libertas, which was incorporated in August, just one day before Mercury filed documents with Congress declaring the lobbying work. Normally that space would be filled by the name of a foreign government or entity, not a New York-based organization.
Special Counsel Starts Investigating Trump for Possible Obstruction of Justice, Officials Say
Washington Post – Devlin Barrett, Adam Entous, Ellen Nakashima, and Sari Horwitz | Published: 6/14/2017
What started as a probe of Russian interference of the 2016 election turned into a special counsel-led investigation of whether associated of Donald Trump colluded with Russia. Now the inquiry is reportedly examining whether Trump himself tried to obstruct justice. It was reported that the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller is seeking interviews with current and recently resigned top intelligence officials, including Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency head Mike Rogers. Questions have been raised about whether Trump sought their help in squelching the FBI investigation led by James Comey, whom Trump fired. Coats and Rogers declined to answer questions about their interactions with the president on the Russia subject during a recent Senate hearing.
From the States and Municipalities:
Arizona – What Happens When One of Your Financial Backers Is Indicted?
Arizona Republic – Ronald Hanson and Yvonne Wingett Sanchez | Published: 6/9/2017
The recent indictment of four political figures has forced an unwelcome decision on the numerous elected officials in Arizona they have lavished with campaign contributions over the years: what to do with the cash? So far their responses vary. Gov. Doug Ducey plans to keep nearly $14,000 in donations from those charged in the federal indictment alleging bribery intended to influence the Arizona Corporation Commission. Even as the governor sees no reason to distance himself from the situation, other elected officials said they plan to unload the money to avoid any “taint” from the felony case.
Florida – It’s the End for the Miami Beach Mystery PAC – a Political Whodunit
Miami Herald – Nicholas Nehamas and Joey Flechas | Published: 6/10/2017
A political committee raising funds from special interests will shut down and return its money to donors after being linked to Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Grieco. Since January, Grieco, a candidate for mayor, has offered shifting stories to explain his connection to People for Better Leaders, a PAC that raised $200,000 from local vendors, lobbyists, and developers. Raising special-interest money for PACs is a controversial, and potentially illegal, campaign tactic in Miami Beach, which has stricter campaign finance and ethics laws than the rest of Miami-Dade County. A law passed in 2016 prevents candidates and elected officials, and those acting on their behalf, from soliciting vendors and lobbyists to donate to PACs.
Illinois – Ethics Board Finds Two More Lobbying Violations Tied to Emanuel Emails
Chicago Tribune – Bill Ruthhart | Published: 6/13/2017
The Chicago Board of Ethics found two individuals violated the law by seeking to influence City Hall action without registering as a lobbyist. The new violations come as the ethics board has seen a sharp increase in potential cases after a Chicago Tribune report found Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s personal email accounts have served as a private avenue for lobbyists, corporate executives, and campaign donors who sought action from – or access to – the mayor. The board has determined probable cause for at least 12 other possible lobbying violations, and its review of those cases is ongoing. While the ethics board will notify the two violators, it has yet to make a final determination on how much they will be fined.
Michigan – How Bingo Games Led to $500K Fine for Mich. Democratic Party
USA Today – Kathleen Gray (Detroit Free Press) | Published: 6/9/2017
The Michigan Democratic Party agreed to pay a $500,000 fine after the FEC concluded the party under-reported cash contributions at past bingo fundraisers by $4.4 million and violated several campaign finance laws. The party inaccurately reported approximately 12,500 contributions from the game-of-chance fundraisers, which it had operated over nearly 14 years but shut down three years ago. The civil fine is among the largest ever levied by the FEC.
New Mexico – Secretary of State Planning New Campaign Funding Rules
Albuquerque Journal – Dan Boyd | Published: 6/14/2017
New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver is proposing changes to campaign finance reporting rules for candidates and committees designed to provide more detailed and accurate disclosures of political contributions. Toulouse Oliver published proposed rules that address contributions to political committees that both coordinate with candidates and operate independently. Three public hearings on the rules will be held during July at Albuquerque, Las Cruces, and Santa Fe. The draft rules follow in the footsteps of legislation vetoed by Gov. Susana Martinez that would have made more information available about unlimited independent political donations.
New York – Uber Reaches $98K Settlement Over Millions in Unreported Lobbying
Albany Times Union – Chris Bragg | Published: 6/8/2017
Uber was fined $98,000 by the New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics for underreporting about $6.3 million in lobbying spending. The fine covers activities in 2015 and 2016 when Uber successfully battled New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s attempt to limit its service in the city and pushed to expand upstate. The settlement says most of the underreporting was due to an oversight by a compliance firm that Uber used. Uber has been one of the top spenders on lobbying in recent years as it fought to operate across the state.
Ohio – Ohio Lobbyists Fail to Report $55,000 in Legislative Gifts for First 4 Months of 2017
Cleveland Plain Dealer – Jane Morice | Published: 6/7/2017
Lobbyists in Ohio failed to report about $55,000 in gifts, meals, and beverages for lawmakers during the first four months of this year, said a report from the legislative inspector general. The office follows statehouse calendars, social media, reservations, and tips to keep track of lobbying activity and compares it to submitted reports, Inspector General Tony Bledsoe said. All meals and beverages of any cost and all gifts of more than $25 must be reported.
Oklahoma – Oklahoma Ethics Commission Hikes Fee $50 on All Filers
NonDoc.com – William Savage III | Published: 6/8/2017
The Oklahoma Ethics Commission has raised the fees it charges. State party committees, PACs, campaign committees, lobbyists, the principals who hire lobbyists, state agencies, and their legislative liaisons will all pay $50 more for filing annual registrations with the commission. The fee hike will take effect on July 1 and is expected to generate enough to cover the cost of new software.
Pennsylvania – Ex-Pa. Treasurer Pleads Guilty to Lying to the FBI
Philadelphia Inquirer – Angela Couloumbis | Published: 6/9/2017
Former Pennsylvania Treasurer Barbara Hafer pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about whether an investment adviser funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to her after she left office. The maximum possible sentence for the felony offense is five years and a $250,000 fine. Federal prosecutors said Hafer denied in 2016 that she received money from asset manager Richard Ireland shortly after her term as treasurer ended in early 2005. In fact, a company tied to him had funneled $675,000 to her new company, Hafer and Associates, between 2005 and 2007, prosecutors said. Hafer is the second ex-state treasurer in three years to plead guilty to federal charges.
Vermont – Scott Calls New Ethics Law a Step to Restore Trust in Government
VTDigger.org – Dan Schwartz | Published: 6/14/2017
Vermont Gov. Phil Scott has signed into law a bill establishing a state ethics commission. The measure creates a five-member panel that reviews cases of unethical behavior. The commission would then have the power to send cases to the state attorney general’s office. The law also requires lawmakers to disclose sources of income above $5,000. Before the bill became law, Vermont was among five states without an ethics commission or code of conduct in state law for public officials.
Wisconsin – Supreme Court Could Tackle Partisan Gerrymandering in Watershed Case
Washington Post – Robert Barnes | Published: 6/11/2017
The U.S. Supreme Court is being asked to uphold a lower court’s finding that the Wisconsin redistricting effort in 2011 was more than just extraordinary, it was unconstitutional. Such a conclusion would mark a watershed moment for the way American elections are conducted. The Supreme Court has regularly tossed out state electoral maps because they have been gerrymandered to reduce the influence of racial minorities by depressing the impact of their votes. But the justices have never found a plan unconstitutional because of partisan gerrymandering – when a majority party draws the state’s electoral districts to give such an advantage to its candidates that it dilutes the votes of those supporting the other party.
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