March 18, 2016 •
News You Can Use Digest – March 18, 2016
Even as Political Spending Explodes, Disclosure Remains Hazy
CTNewsJunkie.com – Mary Spicuzza (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) and Jeremy White (Sacramento Bee) | Published: 3/15/2016
So-called dark money spending is expected to explode during this presidential election year. Congress could require more disclosure about who is financing campaigns, but it has made no move to do so. Attempts to force more disclosure from outside special interest groups have succeeded in some states. But there is a limit to what states can do, since they do not have oversight of spending on federal races, which are consistently the costliest elections. While some state election agencies have moved to make more donor information public, they often struggle to win support from lawmakers, said Denise Roth Barber of the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
Donald Trump’s Presidential Run Began in an Effort to Gain Stature
New York Times – Maggie Haberman and Alexander Burns | Published: 3/12/2016
During his remarks at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner in 2011, President Obama lampooned Donald Trump. After the dinner ended, Trump quickly left, appearing upset. That evening of public abasement accelerated Trump’s efforts to gain stature within the political world. And it captured the degree to which his campaign is driven by a yearning sometimes obscured by his bluster and bragging: a desire to be taken seriously. That desire has played out over the last several years within a Republican Party that placated and indulged him, and accepted his money and support, seemingly not grasping how determined he was to become a major force in American politics. In the process, the party bestowed upon Trump the kind of legitimacy that he craved, which has helped him pursue a credible bid for the presidency.
Rubio’s Demise Marks the Last Gasp of the Republican Reboot
Washington Post – Robert Costa and Philip Rucker | Published: 3/15/2016
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio dropped out of the presidential race after losing the Florida primary to Donald Trump and failing to unite the Republican establishment against the front-runner. Since Mitt Romney’s loss in 2012, the Republican National Committee and leading voices at think tanks and editorial boards have charted a path back to the White House based on inclusive rhetoric and a focus on middle-class issues. Nobody embodied that vision better than Rubio, a standard-bearer for conservative orthodoxy who readily embraced the proposals of the right’s elite thinkers. But his once-promising candidacy, as well as the conservative reform movement’s playbook, was spectacularly undone by Trump and his defiant politics of economic and ethnic grievance. The drift toward visceral populism became an all-consuming rush, leaving Rubio and others unable to adjust.
Supreme Court Nomination Drives Groups from Left and Right to Fight
New York Times – Eric Lipton | Published: 3/16/2016
With the selection by President Obama of Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court, advocacy groups from the left and the right are now fully engaged in what both sides agree will be a highly contentious nomination fight, even if the Senate never formally considers the president’s choice. Part of the intensity is a reflection of the enormous and diverse range of special interest groups that have decided to engage in this fight, which will be the first in an age in which social media has become a dominant force. In many cases, the groups have set aside longstanding tensions that have prevented them from teaming up in a unified way.
Wild Card for Trump: Who gets to be a convention delegate?
Washington Post – Karen Tumulty and Jose DelReal | Published: 3/16/2016
With more than half the states having now held their nominating contests, Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz are directing their attention to a second, shadow election campaign – one that is out of sight and little understood but critical if Republicans arrive at their national convention with Trump short of a majority of delegates. This parallel campaign is to select the individual delegates who will go to Cleveland in July for what could be the first contested convention in more than 60 years. Chosen through a byzantine process in each state, most of the delegates will become free agents if no one wins a majority on the first ballot. The mere prospect that delegates could deny Trump the nomination led him to predict that violence could erupt in such a scenario.
From the States and Municipalities:
California – FPPC Votes to Tighten California Lobbying Regulations
Sacramento Bee – Taryn Luna | Published: 3/17/2016
The California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) voted to narrow a regulation that allows people to avoid identifying themselves as lobbyists by attending Capitol meetings as experts. The regulation has faced scrutiny as a way for former legislators and officials to skirt state rules requiring they wait a year after leaving office to lobby their former colleagues. The changes approved by the FPPC state that the “ride-along” participant must work for the lobbyist employer and can only act as an expert on subject matter related to the legislation under discussion.
California – How a State Senator – Whose Family is in the Taxi Business – Put the Brakes on Two Uber Bills
Los Angeles Times – Liam Dillon | Published: 3/11/2016
San Diego taxi company owner Alfredo Hueso is a frustrated businessperson. He believes state regulations are helping companies like Uber and Lyft rob him of business. And as he complained in a recent letter to the state Senate president, elected leaders are not doing anything to fix the problem. In that battle, though, Hueso has one advantage over the ridesharing companies: his younger brother is state Sen. Ben Hueso, an important advocate in Sacramento for the taxi industry. Since his election to the Legislature more than five years ago, Sen. Hueso has pushed for stiffer regulation of rideshare companies amid a battle playing out all over the country. At the same time, the burgeoning industry has stepped up its attempt to influence policy in Sacramento.
Florida – FBI Agents Blow Lid Off Opa-locka City Hall Corruption Probe
Miami Herald – Jay Weaver, Michael Sallah, and Katie Lepri | Published: 3/10/2016
Federal agents raided Opa-locka City Hall to gather official records, computers, and other evidence in a public corruption probe zeroing in on top public officials, including the mayor and other city commissioners. The FBI’s search follows a two-year investigation into allegations of kickback schemes between government contractors and public officials, according to law enforcement sources familiar with the case. The crackdown comes at a time when Opa-locka, one of Miami-Dade County’s poorest cities, has been struggling with a financial crisis stemming from millions of dollars in uncollected revenue and mismanagement.
Hawaii – Honolulu Ethics Director on Leave after Internal Investigation
Honolulu Civil Beat – Anita Hofschneider | Published: 3/14/2016
Chuck Totto, the Honolulu Ethics Commission’s longtime executive director, is on leave following an independent investigation by the commissioners into the management of the agency’s staff. He has been gone since March 1 and plans to return on April 4. Totto has had a contentious relationship with Mayor Kirk Caldwell and, increasingly, the commission over the last three years.
Hawaii – Passing The Buck: When Hawaii politicians give to each other
Honolulu Civil Beat – Nathan Eagle | Published: 3/15/2016
Hawaii law prohibits candidates from using their own campaign funds to support others running for office. But some state legislators and other officeholders have long gotten around the ban through a loophole that lets them buy up to two tickets to another politician’s fundraiser for an amount often equal to the maximum allowable individual campaign contribution. Now the Legislature is considering a bill that would remove the need to hold a fundraiser and simply allow direct campaign donations between candidates, something critics contend amounts to buying influence.
Michigan – Could More Government Transparency Help Prevent Another Flint?
Christian Science Monitor – Jessica Mendoza | Published: 3/17/2016
The drinking water crisis in Flint, which left about 200 children diagnosed with dangerous levels of lead in their blood, underscored not only officials’ failure to address concerns about the city’s water quality, open government advocates say. It also reflects an overall lack of transparency in Michigan’s government, which two watchdog groups characterized as the worst in the nation. As some, but not all, e-mails related to the decision to switch Flint’s water source have been released, it also has called to question loopholes in the state’s Freedom of Information Act, which some say allowed officials to function with little public oversight. More broadly, the situation has renewed national conversation about the value of the public’s right to know and the role of accountability in effective governance.
New Mexico – Questions Raised about Martinez’s Inaugural Spending
Las Cruces Sun-News – Justin Horwath | Published: 3/14/2016
How the nearly $1 million that Susana Martinez’s inaugural committee raised was spent has remained largely a mystery and was, until recently, among the subjects of a long-running FBI investigation into Jay McCleskey, the governor’s top political adviser. McCleskey’s lawyer said the FBI has dropped its inquiry and no grand jury indictment is forthcoming. Records obtained by The Santa Fe New Mexican provide details into the committee’s spending, including more than $130,000 that went to companies connected to McCleskey. The documents also provide strong evidence that, despite the committee’s promises to the contrary, some of the 2010 inaugural money was used for fundraising for Martinez’s 2014 re-election campaign. The committee had promised to donate all unspent money to charity.
New York – Suit to Close LLC Loophole Tossed
Albany Times Union – Chris Bragg | Published: 3/16/2016
A judge has dismissed a challenge to the New York Board of Elections’ treatment of limited liability companies (LLCs). The board treats LLCs as individuals for the purpose of determining campaign contribution limits, which allows those who control many of them give politicians far more than the caps that apply to other individuals. The Brennan Center for Justice brought a case challenging this interpretation. State Supreme Court Justice Lisa Fisher dismissed the case, finding the statute of limitations against the 1996 board decision had passed. She also wrote that the treatment of LLCs “has all the hallmarks of a political question best suited for resolution through legislative action.”
Washington – Judge Finds Grocery Group Violated Campaign Laws in 2013
Tacoma News-Tribune – Donna Gordon Blankinship (Associated Press) | Published: 3/11/2016
A judged ruled the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association (GMA) violated Washington’s campaign finance disclosure laws by hiding the identities of corporate donors that were funding efforts to defeat a food labeling initiative in the state. But Superior Court Judge Anne Hirsch said the case has to go to trial to determine what fine the group will pay; the amount depends on whether the violation was intentional. The GMA raised $14 million from corporations to fight Initiative 522 and then donated $11 million in the organization’s name. State Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued the association in October 2013.
Washington – Voters Could Get $150 to Give to Candidates under Proposed Initiative
Seattle Times – Jim Brunner | Published: 3/14/2016
Washington voters would be allowed to make $150 in taxpayer-funded donations to legislative candidates every two years under a ballot initiative proposal. Backers of the measure, aimed at the November 2016 ballot, say it would curb the influence of moneyed special interests by creating the new public campaign financing system, modeled in part on a “Democracy vouchers” initiative approved by Seattle voters last year. It also would make a host of changes to state campaign finance and lobbying laws, including a $100 limit on campaign donations by government contractors and lobbyists to candidates for offices with power to benefit them.
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