News You Can Use Digest - June 3, 2016 - State and Federal Communications

June 3, 2016  •  

News You Can Use Digest – June 3, 2016



Are Members of Congress Overpaid?
The Atlantic – Nora Kelly | Published: 6/2/2016

Seventy-eight percent of the American public disapproves of lawmakers’ job performances. Thus, like any other group of poorly performing American workers, Congress probably will not get a raise next year. Lawmakers already make a hefty six figures and more than three times the U.S. median household income. But although their pay might look rich at first glance, deciding what salary the members of Congress merit is complicated by the political climate, and the potential for legislators to make a whole lot more if they were to work almost anywhere else.

Can Donald Trump Win? These Battleground Regions Will Decide
New York Times – Jonathan Martin, Alexander Burns, Trip Gabriel, and Fernanda Santos | Published: 5/29/2016

In the Republican primaries, Donald Trump proved a master of nationalizing the political debate, appealing to voters across regional lines with harangues about immigration and crime that captivated an almost uniformly white primary electorate. At the outset of the general election, Trump has dominated the day-to-day news on national television and social media. In the general election, however, his fate will be determined not by his Twitter followers or a relatively homogeneous GOP electorate, but by a set of interlocking and increasingly diverse regions that hold many of the 270 electoral votes he needs to win. And in the four regions likely to decide the presidency – Florida, the upper Southeast, the Rust Belt, and the interior West – Trump faces daunting obstacles.

Clinton’s Challenge: Become a change agent in a year shaped by voter fury
Washington Post – Philip Rucker | Published: 5/31/2016

Hillary Clinton has promised that if elected, her presidency would bring better-paying jobs, renovated schools, and repaired bridges and highways. Labor laws would toughen, student debt would decline, and health care would be more accessible. But many people do not see Clinton in that light. Her advisers are grappling with how to convince swing voters that a former secretary of state, U.S. senator, and first lady who owns a home in Washington, has cultivated deep ties to Wall Street, and has played a starring role in the political scene for a quarter-century will usher in change.

‘I Can Watch It on TV’: Excuses for Republicans skipping a Donald Trump
New York Times – Jeremy Peters | Published: 6/1/2016

Prominent Republicans have announced their intention to skip the party’s national convention in Cleveland this summer, the latest sign that Donald Trump continues to struggle in his effort to unite the party behind his candidacy. The list of those who have sent regrets includes governors and U.S. senators, almost all facing tough re-election fights this year, and lifelong party devotees who have attended every convention for decades. The coolness toward Trump amounts to a remarkable rebuke. A broad range of party leaders are openly rejecting the man who will be their nominee. And the July convention, usually a moment of public catharsis for political parties after contentious primaries, is shaping up to be another reminder of the disarray and disunity that is still rocking the GOP after a bitter fight for the nomination.

From the States and Municipalities:

Alabama – Former Ethics Director Says He Advised Hubbard of Law
Montgomery Advertiser – Brian Lyman | Published: 5/31/2016

During testimony at Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard’s trial on corruption charges, the retired director of the state Ethics Commission said he often cautioned Hubbard about actions that would violate state law. Prosecutors called Jim Sumner to give jurors a tutorial on the law and to try to show Hubbard willfully ignored his advice. Hubbard faces 23 felony ethics charges accusing him of using his political positions to make money and solicit work, investments, and clients from people with business before the Legislature. Prosecutors say Hubbard improperly used the “mantle of his office” to benefit his businesses and clients. Hubbard has maintained the transactions were legal and permitted under the exceptions the state ethics law provides for normal business dealings and longstanding friendships.

California – In California, Varied Election Filing Practices Reveal a System Struggling to Catch Up
Los Angeles Times – Kaitlyn Landgraf and Ana Santos | Published: 5/31/2016

California accepted the first electronic filing of a campaign statement in U.S. history in 1998. Little has changed since then. More than half of the state’s counties, most of them small and rural, do not provide online access to campaign finance records, and they say they are not likely to change any time soon. Some counties say shifting online would be too expensive given tight budgets. Others have implemented electronic filing systems, but have not made them mandatory for candidates and committees. That means it is more difficult to determine whom local donors are, how much money they raised, and for which campaigns. Counties operate independently because there is no state law requiring online filing.

California – Quizzing the Candidates Leaves a Secret Paper Trail
CALmatters – Laurel Rosenhall | Published: 5/25/2016

The document from the Service Employees International Union reads like a contract, asking candidates seeking a seat in the California Legislature to pledge support for workers organizing unions. It lists priority issues and asks if the candidate will be a “supporter,” “champion,” or “partner” as the union pursues its agenda in Sacramento. Such questionnaires are a staple of electoral politics. The surveys can help sift a field of contestants as decisions are made about how to spend campaign money. By locking potential legislators into a position before they are even elected, questionnaires may also influence policy-making in a way that excludes the public and raises ethical questions. Out of view from voters, they can create private covenants between soon-to-be public officials and the groups that will lobby them. “It’s the smoke-filled backroom of politics,” said Sen. Steve Glazer.

Colorado – Councilman Says He Will Start Drafting Changes to Denver Code of Ethics
Denver Post – Jon Murray | Published: 5/29/2016

City Councilperson Kevin Flynn said he will draft a bill to reform Denver’s ethics law. Flynn said he likely would include a proposed gift limit. It would set a maximum annual value of $250 per donor or business on gifts of meals and event tickets to officials or employees who are in a position to take action that benefits the donor. It is still unclear how strong the council’s appetite for stronger ethics rules will be. Previous councils have been resistant, but Flynn says his sense is the current council is more likely to support most of the changes under discussion.

Florida – Prison Inspectors Detail Alleged Interference in Their Investigations
Miami Herald – Mary Ellen Klas | Published: 6/1/2016

Two investigators filed a lawsuit accusing the Florida Department of Corrections of retaliating against them for alleging cover-ups, inmate abuse, and political interference on behalf of a company whose lead lobbyist became Gov. Rick Scott’s general counsel. Doug Glisson and John Ulm allege their bosses systematically tried to discredit them and set them up for demotions by concocting charges, violating agency procedures, and even forging signatures. They claim the governor’s office has wielded influence over agency investigations and point to both the governor’s former top lawyer, Pete Antonacci, and his chief inspector general, Melinda Miguel, as being involved.

Kentucky – Governor Gets 237 Derby tickets. Who Uses Them?
Louisville Courier-Journal – Tom Loftus | Published: 5/27/2016

Lobbyists, campaign donors, and state officials continued to buy prime tickets to the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks this year from the batch that Churchill Downs sets aside for sale to the governor’s group. For years, governors and Churchill Downs say the sale of so many tickets to the governor’s group is intended as an economic development tool for the state. And the list of those who got the tickets this year from the governor’s allocation shows 62 of the Millionaires’ Row seats went to guests of the state Economic Development and Tourism cabinets. But lobbying firms McCarthy Strategic Solutions and McBrayer, McGinnis, Leslie, and Kirkland each bought batches of tickets through the governor’s allotment.

Montana – Group of Republicans Call for Special Session on Campaign Finance
Helena Independent Record – Holly Michels | Published: 5/31/2016

Ten Montana lawmakers filed paperwork to ask for a special session of the Legislature to fix what the group calls “defects” in state law governing campaign contributions and close a loophole that allows for cash from PACs to flow to candidates without limit. Contribution limits put in place by Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl recently are disproportionately low to that of surrounding states, the Republican lawmakers argue in the filing. The secretary of state will send legislators a ballot to vote on if they favor a special session. If a majority of the reply affirmatively to the poll, the secretary of state will let each lawmaker know the time and day the special session will convene.

New York – De Blasio Doled Out City Appointments from Shady Spreadsheet of Big Campaign Donors
New York Daily News – Jennifer Fermino and Greg Smith | Published: 5/31/2016

Campaign donors, lobbyists doubling as bundlers, lawyers, and real estate developers were listed on a spreadsheet of 97 names from which top officials in the administration of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio were said to have selected key appointments during his first months in office. Ultimately, at least 43 of the 97 individuals appearing on the spreadsheet accepted at least one appointment. “Confidential notes” on the list reveal the prospective candidate’s business ties, but do not highlight actual qualifications for specific appointments. They do, however, reference support for the mayor, sometimes in financial terms.

Oregon – Lobbying, Campaign Contributions Give Special Interests Clout
Hillsboro Tribune – Hillary Borrud | Published: 5/30/2016

The combination of spending on lobbying and campaign contributions is common practice for many companies and interest groups in Oregon, which has no limits on the size of political donations and expenditures. But it is difficult for the public to track the connection because the state uses separate systems to record campaign and lobbying spending. The state also does not require lobbyists to disclose if they play a role in raising campaign money. Dan Meek, co-chairperson of the Independent Party of Oregon, said he is more concerned about the lack of campaign contribution limits than lobbyist spending. “Lobbying expenses and reporting is overshadowed by campaign contributions,” Meek said. “I also think lobbyists are only as effective as the campaign contributions they can deliver.”

Pennsylvania – Investigation Puts Scrutiny on Lobbyists, Political Ties
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review – Brad Bumsted and Mike Wereschagin | Published: 5/28/2016

Approximately 900 lobbyists spent more than $500 million last year to influence lawmakers in the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Those same lawmakers pay some lobbyists, many of them their former aides, to run their election campaigns, meaning each relies on the other for millions of dollars every election cycle. Pennsylvania’s lobbying industry is under increased scrutiny as a result of a federal investigation; the probe resulted in the guilty plea of lobbyist John Estey to wire fraud. It occurs as those seeking to reform the industry push for full spending disclosure, a gift ban, and an end to lobbyists running legislative campaigns.

Texas – Texas Ethics Commission Tightens Rules on Trips Paid by Lobbyists
Austin American-Statesman – Sean Collins Walsh | Published: 6/1/2016

The Texas Ethics Commission voted to make it more difficult for lobbyists and lawmakers to take advantage of an exemption in state law that allows special interests to fund educational trips. Under the new rule, lobbyists can only pay for trips that are necessary for the official to obtain information relevant to state business; a trip must be the only way the official can obtain the information; and the outing must not be for a “merely ceremonial event or pleasure trip.” Commissioner Paul Hobby had said lobbyists asked for the increased regulation because they were being asked to pay for so many trips.

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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