March 16, 2018 •
News You Can Use Digest – March 15, 2018
A Super PAC Has Raised Millions to Mobilize Black Voters. Does It Matter That Its Funders Are White?
Center for Public Integrity – Lateshia Beachum | Published: 3/12/2018
BlackPAC spent nearly $614,000 on canvassing and calls in a matter of weeks last year in Alabama’s special U.S. Senate election, ranking it among the biggest super PAC rainmakers in a race that attracted more than $19 million in non-candidate spending overall, including the primaries. Avowedly anti-Donald Trump, anti-white supremacy, and pro-black political power, BlackPAC is now positioning itself as a difference-maker headed into the 2018 midterm elections. But some to wonder if BlackPAC is little more than a convenient rent-a-group for wealthy Democratic interests struggling to connect with black voters in a post-Barack Obama political era.
Companies Fretting Over ‘Foreign Agents’ Label
The Hill – Megan Wilson | Published: 3/13/2018
Legislation in Congress would eliminate a provision that has long shielded international corporations with U.S. subsidiaries from having to file under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). The exemption allows private entities, like non-U.S. companies, to disclose their activities through the Lobbying Disclosure Act rather than register as a foreign agent, which comes with a much stricter disclosure regiment. FARA also requires disclosure of more than just lobbying, including advisory services and public relations. While watchdogs support the potential change, saying it would help curtail abuse, international corporations warn that being called a “foreign agent” could create the wrong impression.
White House Aides Blur the Legal Lines Between Partisans and Public Servants
New York Times – Julie Hirschfeld Davis | Published: 3/12/2018
Over the past 14 months there have been at least eight complaints against White House officials for potential violations of the Hatch Act, the law that since 1939 has barred government officials from using their positions to engage in partisan politics. A handful of high-profile violations and the increased number of complaints suggest that, more than a year after taking office, President Trump, who has openly defied many norms of government ethics and transparency, is surrounded by aides who blur the line between their roles as partisans and public servants, sometimes skirting or disregarding altogether decades-old standards that govern the behavior of senior White House officials.
From the States and Municipalities:
California – ‘Hamilton’ Tickets Without the Wait – or the Cost? It Helps to Be an L.A. Politician
Los Angeles Times – Emily Alpert Reyes | Published: 3/10/2018
For many Los Angeles politicians, getting into the hottest show in town was much easier than for the public. Instead of making city council members line up outside the theater to see “Hamilton,” the Pantages Theatre came to them, offering each one a coveted pair of tickets to opening night. Council President Herb Wesson ultimately accepted six tickets to the August show from the theater owner, a gift worth nearly $1,000. Free tickets are a routine part of political life in Los Angeles, where lawmakers have been given free seats at Dodgers games, galas, and other events. Politicians can legally accept them if they stay within city and state rules, which include restrictions on who can give them gifts and how much they can accept.
District of Columbia – D.C. Mayor, Reversing Course, Signs Law Creating Publicly Financed Campaigns
Washington Post – Peter Jamison | Published: 3/13/2018
In a turnaround that caught many by surprise, District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser signed a bill creating a public financing program for local campaigns and said she would fund it in the upcoming city budget. The law, which will first affect elections in 2020, will steer millions of dollars annually toward the campaigns of local candidates and is aimed at reducing their reliance on wealthy donors. The switch may help Bowser, who is seeking a second term, combat a perception that she has not done enough to erase a “pay-to-play” culture in city government.
Florida – State Ethics Board Sides with Watchdog Over Hagan, Hillsborough County
WTSP – Noah Pransky | Published: 3/9/2018
The Florida Commission on Ethics rejected Hillsborough County’s controversial petition seeking legal fees from a citizen watchdog who filed an unsuccessful ethics complaint against Commissioner Ken Hagan. The commission expressed concern that other citizen watchdogs could be stymied in future attempts to hold officials accountable if they required George Niemann to pay the county back more than $10,000 in legal fees related to his complaint.
Illinois – Assessor Berrios Loses Court Fight to Overturn Cook County’s Limits on Campaign Donations
Chicago Tribune – Ray Long and Hal Dardick | Published: 3/14/2018
Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios lost his court challenge to the county’s campaign contribution limits, marking a legal and political setback that could restrict how much property tax appeals lawyers who handle cases before his office pour into the assessor’s political funds. Berrios, whose political committees were fined $41,000 for accepting donations exceeding caps set by the county’s ethics ordinance, is expected to appeal. Berrios’ lawyers contended the county rules violate the state constitution because only the Illinois Legislature has authority to set campaign contribution limits. They said the rules also violated the U.S. Constitution because they limited the free-speech rights of tax appeal attorneys.
Iowa – Bill Dix Resigns from Iowa Senate after Video with Lobbyist Is Posted
Des Moines Register – Jason Noble, Brianne Pfannensteil, and William Petroski | Published: 3/12/2018
Iowa Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix resigned after a website posted a video showing the married lawmaker kissing a lobbyist in a Des Moines bar. The woman was identified as a lobbyist for Iowa League of Cities, an organization that seeks to sway legislation at the Capitol. As the leader of the Republican majority, Dix controlled what bills come up for debate. Sexual harassment has been a major issue in the Senate in recent years following a $1.75 million settlement reached in the case of a former staffer. Dix faced calls for his resignation over the chamber’s handling of a case, which resulted in the creation of the position of human resources manager.
Maryland – Security Video Shows Maryland Lobbyist Touching Lawmaker. He Says It Vindicates Him. She Says It Vindicates Her.
Baltimore Sun – Erin Cox | Published: 3/13/2018
A security camera video shared shows the physical contact that prompted a female Maryland senator to lodge a harassment complaint against a longtime Annapolis lobbyist, the first public accusation of sexual misconduct in the statehouse since the start of the #MeToo movement. The video shows lobbyist Gil Genn approaching Sen. Cheryl Kagan near a crowded bar at Castlebay Irish Pub in Annapolis, putting his hand on her back and sliding it down. Kagan had accused Genn of groping her when they met on March 1. Genn strongly pushed back against Kagan’s claim that the video showed him touching her inappropriately.
Missouri – Missouri Ethics Watchdog Will Be Unable to Meet after Greitens’ Inaction
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Jack Suntrup | Published: 3/13/2018
The Missouri Ethics Commission will be unable to meet because it will not have enough members to establish a quorum. The terms of three members on the six-member commission expired on March 12. It must have at least four members to meet. James Klahr, the commission’s executive director, said without a quorum, the panel will be unable to act on complaints, even though staffers still will be able to monitor issues. He said the lack of a quorum is a continuous problem. “This is an issue that comes up every two years,” Klahr said.
New York – Joseph Percoco, Ex-Cuomo Aide, Found Guilty in Corruption Trial
New York Times – Vivian Wang and Benjamin Weiser | Published: 3/13/2018
Joseph Percoco, a former aide to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, was found guilty of agreeing to take bribes from executives at two companies seeking to do business with the state. The jury also convicted one of the businesspeople charged with paying the bribes, Steven Aiello, an executive at Cor Development. The verdict followed a multi-week trial that put a spotlight on the attempts of private companies to gain influence with Cuomo, who once likened Percoco to a brother. The governor was not accused of wrongdoing, but the trial highlighted Albany as a place where wealthy special interests use campaign donations to gain influence and flout rules meant to regulate lobbying.
North Carolina – Cooper to Appoint North Carolina Elections Board This Week
Durham Herald-Sun – Gary Robertson (Associated Press) | Published: 3/14/2018
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper will appoint members to a combined state elections and ethics board, even while he continues to fight in court over the legality of the board’s latest iteration. Cooper’s office announced the decision two days before a new law approved by legislators creating a nine-member panel is supposed to take effect. The governor has sued GOP legislative leaders three times over bills creating different versions of the joint board. A state board administering elections and campaign finance laws has been vacant since last June while the constitutionality of the combination board has been litigated.
Pennsylvania – Conor Lamb Wins Pennsylvania House Seat, Giving Democrats a Map for Trump Country
New York Times – Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin | Published: 3/14/2018
Conor Lamb scored a razor-thin but extraordinary upset in a special U.S. House election in Pennsylvania after a few thousand absentee ballots cemented a Democratic victory in the heart of President Trump’s Rust Belt base. The Republican candidate, Rick Saccone, may still contest the outcome. But Lamb’s 627-vote lead appeared insurmountable, given the four counties in Pennsylvania’s 18th district have about 500 provisional, military, and other absentee ballots left to count, election officials said. That slim margin, in a district that Trump carried by nearly 20 percentage points in 2016, nonetheless upended the political landscape ahead of November’s midterm elections. It also emboldened Democrats to run maverick campaigns even in deep-red areas where Republicans remain bedeviled by Trump’s unpopularity.
Pennsylvania – Gov. Wolf Proposes Ethics Reforms for Pennsylvania Lawmakers
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – Kate Giammarise | Published: 3/12/2018
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf proposed an ethics reform package that includes a complete gift ban for elected officials. Wolf is also proposing that if lawmakers do not pass a budget by the annual July 1 deadline, pay will be suspended for himself, lawmakers, and their top aides. This deadline has been missed by state lawmakers the last three years. The plan calls for broader provisions to discourage “pay-to-play,” such as requiring disclosure of campaign contributions made by parties seeking state contracts. The governor also suggested additional transparency for legislators who have outside income, requiring disclosure of sources, type of work, and amount of income received.
Wyoming – An Effort to Crackdown on ‘Dark Money’ in Wyoming Quietly Died at the Legislature. Nobody Is Quite Sure Why.
Casper Star-Tribune – Arno Rosenfeld | Published: 3/13/2018
The Wyoming Legislature this year sought to clarify and strengthen campaign finance rules. House Bill 2 was meant to improve the ability of law enforcement and local government to enforce the existing laws, while House Bill 67 was meant to clarify those laws. The first measure passed and has been signed into law by Gov. Matt Mead, while House Bill 67 died a quiet – and critics say alarming – death, falling victim to one of the Legislature’s many cut-off deadlines. House Bill 67 would have tightened definitions for political spending to include “electioneering communications,” messages that do not explicitly call for voters to act in a certain manner but nonetheless seek to influence an election.
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