News You Can Use Digest – March 24, 2017 - State and Federal Communications

March 24, 2017  •  

News You Can Use Digest – March 24, 2017






Despite a Trust, Ivanka Trump Still Wields Power Over Her Brand
New York Times – Rachel Abrams | Published: 3/20/2017

Ivanka Trump, who moved to Washington saying she would play no formal role in her father’s administration, is now officially setting up shop in the White House. The powerful first daughter has secured her own office on the West Wing’s second floor. She is also in the process of obtaining a security clearance and is set to receive government-issued communications devices. In everything but name, Trump is settling in as what appears to be a full-time staffer in her father’s administration, with a broad and growing portfolio, except she is not being sworn in, will hold no official position, and is not pocketing a salary, her attorney said. Watchdogs immediately questioned whether she is going far enough to eliminate conflicts-of-interest, especially because she will not be automatically subjected to certain ethics rules while serving as a de facto White House adviser.

Ethics Watchdogs Make a Career of It
Roll Call – Kate Ackley | Published: 3/16/2017

Norm Eisen, President Barack Obama’s White House ethics czar, and Richard Painter, an ethics lawyer from the George W. Bush administration, have teamed up to become two of the most vocal critics of President Donald Trump’s conflicts-of-interest. They not only sued the president within days of his inauguration, they have also appeared regularly on television and testified on Capitol Hill. Though government ethics law may seem a lonely pursuit, leading a resistance against the Trump team’s web of potential ethics woes clearly is not. “I never imagined that White House ethics experts would be in such demand,” Eisen said.

From the States and Municipalities:

Florida – Will Legislators Lift the Veil on ‘Dark Money’ in Florida Politics?
Bradenton Herald – Mary Ellen Klas (Miami Herald) | Published: 3/19/2017

In the ramp-up to the annual legislative session, before the self-imposed fundraising ban takes effect, Florida’s most politically powerful corporations seed hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign cash into the committees of legislators. But getting all the details on who got what is impossible. Florida law allows groups that accept contributions from corporations to legally distribute money to other political committees, including those controlled by legislators, without reporting the original source of the cash. The practice of shielding political spending from public view has fueled the “dark money” trend in politics that has allowed groups to launch political attacks in campaigns without fear of being traced.

Illinois – Emails to Emanuel Raise Questions About Dozens of Possible Lobbying Violations
Chicago Tribune – Bill Ruthhart and Hal Dardick | Published: 3/21/2017

The Chicago Tribune reviewed over 2,600 pages of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s personal emails, and found 26 instances where lobbyists, corporate executives, and longtime Emanuel associates and campaign donors sought action from, or access to, the mayor or city officials but did not register as a lobbyist or report their contact to the city ethics board. Some of those who sent emails pitching their business said they did not believe their actions qualified as lobbying or they were not familiar with the city’s ethics rules. But if the board determines someone sought to influence City Hall action but did not register as a lobbyist, it can fine the individual $1,000 per day from five days after the initial contact until they register.

Massachusetts – Construction Firm, Owner Pay $150,000 for Campaign Finance Violations
Boston Globe – Frank Phillips | Published: 3/22/2017

A Massachusetts business owner and his construction company have paid $150,000 for disguising the true source of campaign contributions. The Office of Campaign and Political Finance said J. Derenzo Companies gave $37,000 to employees and their family members to reimburse them for donations they made to nine candidates, including Gov. Charlie Baker and former Gov. Deval Patrick. The contributions were reported as coming from the individuals. State law prohibits disguising the true origin of a donation and bans corporate contributions. The company and its owner, David Howe, agreed to pay $125,000 to the state’s general fund. Howe also gave $25,000 to a charity with personal funds as part of the agreement.

Mississippi – Politicians Will See Campaign Spending Curbed
Hattiesburg American – Geoff Pender | Published: 3/22/2017

The Mississippi Legislature passed a campaign finance reform measure that would restrict politicians’ spending campaign money on personal expenses and provide for some enforcement and oversight by the state Ethics Commission. Gov. Phil Bryant is expected to sign the bill into law, to take effect January 1. Experts have called Mississippi’s lack of rules and transparency on campaign money – and allowing it to be used for personal expenses – “legalized bribery,” with special-interest cash making its way into politicians’ pockets after it runs through their campaign accounts. Campaign money is shielded from tax, ethics, bribery, and other laws because it is ostensibly to be used for campaigning and records of it are supposed to be open to the public.

New Mexico – Voters Will Decide Future of State Ethics Commission Proposal
New Mexico Politics – Steve Terrell (Santa Fe New Mexican) | Published: 3/16/2017

New Mexico voters will decide next year whether to create an independent ethics commission to shore up trust in government after a string of corruption scandals. The Legislature approved a constitutional amendment that calls for creating a seven-member body to investigate ethics violations and apply sanctions. The vote capped a decades-long effort by government watchdog groups and select lawmakers to put ethics complaints in the hands of an independent authority.

New York – Lobbyist in Libous Case Reaches $10k Settlement, as Legal Questions Remain
Albany Times Union – Chris Bragg | Published: 3/17/2017

Lobbyist Fred Hiffa, whose firm made payments to a law firm employing the son of late New York Sen. Thomas Libous at a time it regularly lobbied the once-influential politician, agreed to pay $10,000 to settle ethics charges. The Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) said Hiffa arranged for payments totaling $50,000 over one year to the law firm that employed Libous’ son. Libous was convicted of lying to the FBI about his son’s arrangement. But some legal experts said the gift ban law at the center of JCOPE’s case does not seem to apply to the Libous matter, as well as the case of former Sen. Dean Skelos, who was convicted on corruption charges relating to companies hiring his son.

New York – No Charges, but Harsh Criticism for Mayor de Blasio
New York Times – William Rashbaum | Published: 3/16/2017

Prosecutors said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and his aides will not face criminal charges for their role in soliciting donations for the mayor’s campaign and an affiliated nonprofit group, the Campaign for One New York. The investigation involved accusations that de Blasio and his aides gave favorable treatment to donors who contributed to his 2013 mayoral election campaign. Also at issue is whether the de Blasio team illegally raised money for several key state senate races. Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim said the decision not to file charges was based, among other things, on the high burden of proof required in prosecuting serious public corruption cases, the clarity of existing law, and the difficulty in proving criminal intent in corruption schemes where there is no evidence of personal profit.

North Carolina – Judges Issue Split Ruling on NC Governor-Legislature Power Struggle
Charlotte Observer – Anne Blythe (Raleigh News & Observer) | Published: 3/17/2017

A three-judge panel delivered a mixed decision in the power struggle between Gov. Roy Cooper and legislative leaders in North Carolina. The General Assembly passed two laws that require Senate confirmation of Cooper’s cabinet secretaries, cut the number of state positions to which the governor can appoint supporters, and overhauled the structure of North Carolina’s state and county elections boards. The panel agreed with Cooper that the law calling for combining the State Board of Elections and the State Ethics Commission was unconstitutional. The judges also ruled that a provision cutting the number of at-will policy-making and managerial positions in Cooper’s administration should be blocked. The judges upheld the Senate’s right to confirm the governor’s cabinet secretaries, saying Cooper has not demonstrated his administration will be hurt by the law.

Oklahoma – Oklahoma State Senator Faces Charges and Condemnation
New York Times – Matthew Haig | Published: 3/17/2017

Oklahoma Sen. Ralph Shortey was accused in a child prostitution case of offering to pay a 17-year-old boy for sex. Shortey was charged with three felony counts one week after police found him with the teenager in a hotel room. The maximum punishment, if convicted, is 25 years in prison. The Senate voted to punish Shortey for “disorderly behavior.” The unanimous vote stripped him of most of his privileges at the Capitol, including his office and parking space.

Pennsylvania – D.A. Seth Williams Indicted on Corruption, Bribery-Related Charges
Philadelphia Inquirer – Jeremy Roebuck, David Gambacorta, and Chris Brennan | Published: 3/21/2017

Philadelphia’s top prosecutor was charged with taking more than $160,000 in luxury gifts, Caribbean trips, and cash, often in exchange for official favors that included help with a court case, according to a bribery and extortion indictment. Federal prosecutors said District Attorney Seth Williams also spent $10,000 from a joint account he shared with a relative meant for the relative’s nursing home costs. The indictment caps a nearly two-year investigation into Williams’ financial affairs. In January, the city Board of Ethics imposed its largest fine ever, $62,000, on Williams for failing to disclose gifts and sources of income, and accepting gifts from prohibited sources.

Pennsylvania – Former Top Allentown Bureaucrat Francis Dougherty Pleads Guilty, Implicates Mayor
Allentown Morning Call – Emily Opilo | Published: 3/22/2017

Former Allentown Managing Director Francis Dougherty pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge in an ongoing FBI “pay-to-play” corruption probe. Prosecutors say Dougherty helped rig a $3 million contract to replace the city’s streetlights so it would go to a company whose executives and consultants gave thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to Mayor Ed Pawlowski. The mayor has not been charged, but he matches the description of the unnamed public official in court papers. As part of his plea deal, Dougherty must continue to cooperate with prosecutors concerning his knowledge of and participation in political corruption in Allentown.

South Carolina – Veteran State Sen. Courson of Columbia Suspended from Office after Misconduct Indictment
The State – John Monk | Published: 3/16/2017

One of South Carolina’s longest-serving senators has been indicted on ethics charges tied to veteran powerbroker Richard Quinn. A grand jury indicted Sen. John Courson on misconduct in office and using campaign donations for personal expenses. All three charges are tied to Courson’s payments to Quinn’s political consulting firm. Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant suspended Courson pending the case’s resolution. The indictments allege Courson gave Quinn’s firm nearly $248,000 and received back nearly $133,000 for personal use. The Quinn firm has not been charged with any wrongdoing.

Texas – Dallas City Council Overhauls Ethics Rules; Mayor Mike Rawlings Lauds Changes as ‘Remarkable’
Dallas News – Tristan Hallman | Published: 3/22/2017

The Dallas City Council approved changes to the ethics law. The reforms include lowering the gift-reporting threshold to $250, requiring attorneys and law firms representing clients – along with leaders of associations – to register as lobbyists, and prohibiting city council members from discussing ongoing contract bids. Council members voted down several of their colleagues’ attempts to include additional changes. The ordinance will take effect on July 1, 2017.


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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