News You Can Use Digest - June 5, 2015 - State and Federal Communications

June 5, 2015  •  

News You Can Use Digest – June 5, 2015



Poll Shows Americans Favor an Overhaul of Campaign Financing
New York Times – Nicholas Confessore and Megan Thee-Brenan | Published: 6/2/2015

A new poll showed both Democrats and Republicans favor an overhaul of campaign finance laws, including limiting the amount of money that can be spent by super PACs and forcing more public disclosure on organizations now permitted to intervene in elections without disclosing the names of their donors. A majority also reject the argument that political money is a form of speech protected by the First Amendment. More than four in five Americans say money plays too great a role in campaigns, while two-thirds say the wealthy have more of a chance to influence the elections process than the average citizen.

The Murky (and Apparently Widespread) Use of License Plates as Political Favors
Washington Post – Amber Phillips | Published: 6/2/2015

In several states, low-number license plates – the less numerals, the better – are a way to show off someone’s political connections. That is because you cannot just walk into a Departments of Motor Vehicles and request one; you have to know someone to give you the plate. Then-New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu credits his distribution of the desirable license plates with helping George H.W. Bush win the state in a competitive 1988 Republican primary.


Dennis Hastert’s Lobbying Firm Reeling after Indictment
Politico – Tarini Parti and Anna Palmer | Published: 6/4/2015

Former U.S. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert resigned his job as co-leader of Dickstein Shapiro’s public policy and political law practice in the wake of his indictment for lying to federal investigators about structured cash withdrawals to an individual “in order to compensate for and conceal his prior misconduct.” Dickstein Shapiro is already scrambling to rebuild amid a client exodus, tumbling lobbying revenue, and high-profile departures. Some expressed doubts about the firm’s ability to right the ship. “It is going to make clients scratch their heads how does this kind of stuff, particularly at a law firm, go unnoticed and unchecked,” said a managing partner at a Washington law firm. “They’ve already lost a significant number of partners, and now they have a failing management structure allowing allegedly criminal activity under its nose ….”

Payments by Hastert Linked to Report of Sexual Abuse
New York Times – Michael Shear and Michael Schmidt | Published: 5/28/2015

Former U.S. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert was paying a man to not say publicly that Hastert had sexually abused him, according to sources briefed on the evidence uncovered in an FBI investigation into the payments. Federal prosecutors indicted Hastert on allegations he made cash withdrawals designed to hide those payments and for lying to federal authorities about the purpose of the withdrawals. The man, who was not identified in court papers, told the FBI he had been molested by Hastert when Hastert was a high school teacher and wrestling coach.

From the States and Municipalities:

Alaska – Juneau APOC Office Skeletal after Cuts
Peninsula Chronicle – Katie Moritz (Morris News Service) | Published: 6/1/2015

The Juneau office of the Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC), which is responsible for holding the state’s approximately 135 lobbyists financially accountable, took a crippling budget hit from lawmakers when it was dealt a cut that eliminated both existing full-time positions. When the new fiscal year begins, the current part-time assistant will become the one full-time employee in the office. Leslie Ridle, deputy commissioner of the Department of Administration, said she does not think one staff member in Juneau and seven staff statewide is enough to handle APOC’s workload or uphold its mission.

California – Law Students Propose Bill to Close Lucrative Capitol Lobbying Loophole
Los Angeles Times – Melanie Mason | Published: 6/2/2015

Three law students have sponsored a bill that would designate as lobbying the act of communicating with government officials in hopes of influencing how they spend taxpayers’ money on goods and services, and require lobbyists to publicly disclose that activity. Assembly Bill 1200 would cast sunlight into an opaque and lucrative corner of  lobbying. The students did research, drafted bill language, and shopped for a legislator to carry their proposal.California Assemblyperson Richard Gordon became its official author. “When the students came to me and said, ‘do you realize there is this loophole that allows folks to lobby relative to contracting?’ I said you’ve got to be kidding me,” Gordon said.

Colorado – High-Powered Attorneys, Lobbyists Give Big to Denver Candidates
Denver Post – Jon Murray | Published: 5/31/2015

A Denver Post analysis of $4.1 million given to candidates in the run-up to Denver’s municipal elections found at least $290,000 came from attorneys and lobbyists. Another $159,000 was donated by individuals involved in development or real estate. That industry is booming in Denver but has been at the center of one of the election’s biggest issues – the pace of development. Unions, city contractors, and business associations also contributed heavily to candidates. Watchdogs say such hefty direct donations from big interests point to a need for tighter contribution limits in Denver, or some kind of public financing that might amplify the impact of contributions from small donors.

Connecticut – Senate Democrats Reject Campaign Finance Overhaul
Hartford Courant – Jenny Wilson | Published: 6/2/2015

The Connecticut Senate rejected a House-approved bill that would have imposed limits on how much state parties can spend to support a publicly funded campaign. The legislation also would have reduced the maximum contribution that individuals could give to state parties to $5,000. The measure was a direct response to the state Democratic Party spending over $1 million last year to support the campaigns of Sen. Ted Kennedy, Jr. and Gov. Dannel Malloy, who were both participating in the Citizen’s Election Program.

Hawaii – Antiquated Law Spares Lobbyists in Honolulu Ethics Scandal
Honolulu Civil Beat – Nick Grube | Published: 6/1/2015

Nestor Garcia, a former Honolulu City Council member, agreed to pay an $8,100 fine after the Ethics Commission found evidence he illegally accepted free meals and golf from lobbyists. The commission said Garcia failed to disclose a conflict-of-interest on a number of bills and resolutions that affected the lobbyists’ interests. But amid the growing scandal, lobbyists have come out relatively unscathed. There has been little scrutiny of their actions, and it is doubtful there will be any punitive action taken against them. Honolulu Ethics Commission Executive Director Chuck Totto would like to update the ethics code on lobbyist gift-giving, but does not have the staff to the handle that extra workload.

New York – How Lobbying in Albany Works
New Yorker – Chris Smith | Published: 5/28/2015

With the recent indictments of the leaders of the New York Assembly and Senate, lobbyists could have even more influence in shaping public policy. But lobbyists usually try to stay under the radar, so their day-to-day activities are often unclear. In an interview, a prominent lobbyist in Albany gave an inside view of his profession.

Pennsylvania – City Council Gives Initial Thumbs Up to New Rules on Independent PACs
KYW – Mike Dunn | Published: 5/29/2015

A Philadelphia City Council committee approved a bill authored by the city’s Board of Ethics that would impose new reporting requirements on independent PACs and non-profits that spend money in support of a candidate. The legislation would affect any person, political committee, or non-profit that spends more than $5,000 within 50 days of an election. They would face four reporting deadlines within the 50 day pre-election period, and they would have to list all funding received and expenditures made, not just the spending that triggered the filing.

Pennsylvania – Two More Dems Plead Guilty in Sting Case
Philadelphia Inquirer – Angela Couloumbis and Craig McCoy | Published: 6/1/2015

A state lawmaker and an ex-representative, both Philadelphia Democrats, pleaded guilty to criminal charges stemming from a bribery scandal. Rep. Ron Waters pleaded guilty to nine conflict-of-interest counts. He resigned his seat and will serve 23 months on probation. Former Rep. Harold James pleaded guilty to a single count of conflict-of-interest and received 12 months of probation. The cases were built on secret recordings by an informant posing as a lobbyist, who offered cash or gifts in exchange for promises of official favors. The investigation had been a secret until it was reported that Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane had decided against pursuing it. Kane inherited the case from her predecessors and she attacked it as too fatally flawed to win convictions.

Texas – Overhaul of Scandal-Torn State-Contracting System Wins Final Approval
Fort Worth Star-Telegram – Dave Montgomery | Published: 6/1/2015

Texas lawmakers approved a bill aimed at increasing transparency and accountability in state contracts. The legislation prohibits conflicts-of-interest between agency heads and vendors, strengthens top-level supervision in the awarding of contracts, and increases scrutiny of vendor performance in carrying out the contracts. Agencies would also be required to post on their websites any noncompetitively bid contract along with the statutory justification for why it was awarded. The bill would require an agency board to approve any contract over $1 million.

Vermont – Condos Pitches Ethics Commission in Wake of Impropriety Allegations – Anne Galloway | Published: 6/3/2015

Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos is calling for the establishment of a state ethics commission. The Center for Public Integrity in 2012 gave Vermont an overall grade of “D+” for its ethics laws. It was “in large part because we do not have an authoritative ethics commission or the required financial disclosures existing in nearly every other state,” Condos wrote in his proposal. He said his office has no authority to investigate or enforce against such problems, and the people complaining often ended up feeling frustrated and increasingly cynical.

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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