June 26, 2015 •
News You Can Use Digest – June 26, 2015
Calls to Drop Confederate Emblems Spread Nationwide
New York Times – Campbell Robertson, Monica Davey, and Julie Bosman | Published: 6/23/2015
After decades of bitter debate over whether the Confederate battle flag is a proud symbol of regional heritage or a shameful emblem of the nation’s most grievous sins, the argument may finally be moving toward an end. South Carolina is leading the way for other states as it considers removing the flag from its Capitol grounds after nine parishioners were shot to death in a black church in Charleston. Photographs that have since surfaced of the accused killer, Dylann Roof, show him posing with the Confederate flag. The banner was long considered politically sacrosanct in the South, at least among conservative whites. It now appears that a rush is on to banish it, along with other images that evoke the Confederacy and sow racial divisiveness.
Can Unlimited Contributions to Political Parties Really Reduce Polarization?
Washington Post – Lee Drutman | Published: 6/23/2015
Ideological polarization has many causes, most of which cannot be altered. But over the past few years, a growing crowd of scholars has explored the possibility that stronger parties could reduce the division. Because different states have different rules on how much money parties can raise, the proposition that making it easier for parties to raise more money reduces polarization can be empirically tested.
Lobbyists: Easy target, easy touch
Politico – Tarini Parti | Published: 6/21/2015
In his speech announcing his intention to run for president, Jeb Bush singled out the lobbying industry for criticism, saying, “We will also challenge the culture that has made lobbying the premier growth industry in the nation’s capital – the rest of the country struggles under big government, while comfortable, complacent interest groups in Washington have been thriving on it.” Bush is not alone in calling out the industry. As presidential candidates look to portray themselves as Washington outsiders, lobbyists have emerged as a common, easy target. But lobbying firms still rank high on the list of fundraising stops for presidential hopefuls.
From the States and Municipalities:
Arkansas – Ethics Panel Issues Opinion on Lobbyist Gifts
Arkansas News – John Lyon | Published: 6/19/2015
The Arkansas Ethics Commission issued an advisory opinion stating that state agency directors, agency deputy directors, agency employees, and most local elected officials and their staffs and the staff members of constitutional officers are not barred from accepting gifts from lobbyists under Amendment 94. Gifts that fall outside of the scope of the amendment would still be subject to analysis, the commission said in the opinion, noting the law excludes gifts with a value of $100 or less.
California – Lawmakers’ Calendars List Meetings with Undercover Agents
San Diego Union Tribune – Judy Lin (Associated Press) | Published: 6/23/2015
Providing a rare glimpse at politicians’ lives outside the Capitol, the California Senate released about 300 pages from the calendars of former Sens. Ron Calderon and Leland Yee, who have been indicted on separate corruption charges. The appointment books appear to corroborate allegations that they met with undercover FBI agents at steakhouses and a lobbyist’s office. A judge found in the first ruling of its kind in California that the public’s interest outweighed the Senate’s interest in keeping the records private after news organizations sued to get the lawmakers’ records.
Florida – How Some of Florida’s Top Lobbyists Produce Blockbuster Budget Results
SaintPetersBlog – Peter Schorsch | Published: 6/16/2015
Speculation is part of the budget-making process in Florida as lobbyists and advocates seek funding for projects and programs. Then desperation hangs in the air during the final week of a 60-day session while they wait to see whether a year’s worth of work will result in a line item in the $77 billion state budget. “It’s a different type of animal than any other part of the legislative session, for sure,” said lobbyist Travis Blanton. “You can’t ever relax or take time off with the budget. You’ve got to play through the whole process [because] you don’t know until the moment when they hit the print button that you are in the budget or not.”
Idaho – Lobbying at the Capitol: Should Idaho state employees have to register under the law?
Idaho Statesman – Bill Dentzer | Published: 6/19/2015
State employees who lobby the Idaho Legislature or government officials as part of their jobs – for example, the lobbyists for the state’s universities – always used to register and disclose their spending. But after an attorney general’s opinion found they did not need to, the university lobbyists and other state workers whose jobs entail lobbying stopped filing. Now, Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney wants to propose legislation to make them register and disclose again. He also obtained a new opinion stating that gifts to lawmakers or executive branch officials must be disclosed, even if they come from state employees in the course of doing their jobs.
Kentucky – Florida Group Challenges Kentucky Law That Bans Corporations from Making Political Contributions
Lexington Herald-Leader – Jack Brammer | Published: 6/18/2015
Kentucky’s ban on corporate contributions to political parties and state and local candidates was challenged in a federal lawsuit filed by a group promoting a right-to-work agenda opposed by organized labor. The Florida-based group, Protect My Check Inc., claims the prohibition violates equal protection and free-speech rights. It said the ban is discriminatory because unions and limited liability companies are allowed to donate to candidates and political parties in Kentucky.
Missouri – Police Report Reveals Past Diehl Affair with Nixon Staffer
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Virginia Young | Published: 6/19/2015
Former Missouri House Speaker John Diehl, who resigned after exchanging sexually suggestive text messages with a Capitol intern, also had affair with a former aide to Gov. Jay Nixon. While announcing his resignation, Diehl said he had not had any other inappropriate relationships with other women. But a Jefferson City police report notes Diehl and former Nixon aide Brittany Burke acknowledged to police they had an affair last year. At the time, Burke was lobbying the Legislature for the administration.
New Mexico – Transparency-Pushing Nonprofit Discloses Donors
NMPolitics – Heath Haussamen | Published: 6/19/2015
The IRS does not require most nonprofits to disclose their donors publicly even if they engage in lobbying or issue advocacy. But Common Cause’s national policy requires that it release information about donors of $250 or more when requested, which is how NMPolitics.net obtained the list of New Mexico donors. Common Cause New Mexico Executive Director Viki Harrison said her organization believes “it is very important to have full transparency in any efforts to influence policy.” She said she hopes additional nonprofit groups will voluntarily disclose their funding, “just like we hope elected officials, parties, lobbyists, and PACs go above and beyond what is simply the law when they disclose information.”
Ohio – Former Traffic Camera Exec Admits to Bribing Officials in Columbus, Cincinnati
Cleveland Plain Dealer – Jeremy Pelzer (Northeast Ohio Media Group) | Published: 6/19/2015
Karen Finley, a former chief executive officer of Redflex Traffic Systems, pleaded guilty to bribery in an eight-year scheme involving elected city officials from both Cincinnati and Columbus to win or keep traffic-camera contracts. Court records show campaign contributions were funneled to the officials through a political consultant, and the money intended for Columbus officials was given to the Franklin County Democratic Party and Ohio Democratic Party, according to the plea agreement. Finley left the company in 2013 following a similar scandal in Chicago.
Oregon – Cannabis Industry Flexes Its New Political Muscle
Oregon Public Broadcasting – Conrad Wilson | Published: 6/21/2015
The 300 attendees at a recent fundraiser in Portland for U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer represented a newly energized group – members of the cannabis industry, now in an era where their product is legal for recreational use in Oregon. The Oregon Cannabis PAC hosted the event, which raised $100,000. Its leaders say that is the largest sum ever contributed by the industry to a politician during a single event. As the marijuana industry grows around the county, its political clout is growing, too. For members of Congress who are constantly fundraising, the industry offers new, high-yield donors. But it also raises questions about where the money came from and what those donors expect in return.
Oregon – Kate Brown Gets Her Wish: Last of her ethics reforms win approval
Portland Oregonian – Denis Theriault | Published: 6/18/2015
Oregon lawmakers approved the last of Gov. Kate Brown’s ethics reform bills. House Bill 2019 speeds up investigations by the state Government Ethics Commission and sharply limits the governor’s role in appointing its members. House Bill 2020 affirms that the governor’s partner is subject to state ethics rules and bans statewide officers from accepting speaking fees. Both join Senate Bill 9, which Brown has signed. It orders an audit of state agencies’ handling of public records, with its findings expected to serve as the basis of reforms as soon as next year.
Texas – Abbott Vetoes Spousal Loophole
Texas Tribune – Jay Root | Published: 6/20/2015
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed two ethics reform bills that would have given lawmakers cover to hide their spouses’ financial dealings. The vetoes capped Abbott’s inability in his first year to strengthen ethics laws as promised. He even named it one of five legislative priorities. Lawmakers fought for months over allowing more transparency about their personal wealth and curbing conflicts-of-interest. Although the vetoed bills would have tightened some disclosure rules, even ethics watchdogs considered what became known as the “spousal loophole” amendment far too toxic.
Washington – Vaping Giveaways Raise Eyebrows at State Capitol
The Olympian – Melissa Santos (Tacoma News Tribune) | Published: 6/24/2015
In a contest promoted by a group that supports stores that sell electronic cigarettes, customers who emailed Washington legislators to oppose new taxes on vapor products were entered into a drawing for prizes. Other shops told customers that if they emailed or called their lawmakers from inside a participating store, they would get a discount on their purchases. It is an unusual type of lobbying that has frustrated some state lawmakers who are looking to regulate the vaping industry. A spokesperson for state Public Disclosure Commission said providing discounts or giveaways in exchange for people contacting their lawmakers is not against the law, it is just something the agency has not seen before.
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