News You Can Use Digest - March 25, 2016 - State and Federal Communications

March 25, 2016  •  

News You Can Use Digest – March 25, 2016



Scorecard: Essential disclosure requirements for contributions to state campaigns, 2016
National Institute on Money in State Politics; Staff –   | Published: 3/15/2016

The National Institute on Money in State Politics released its latest review of campaign finance transparency across the country. The institute formulated its national scorecard to grade states’ disclosure practices governing direct contributions to state candidates, state political parties, and, where applicable, committees that support or oppose any kind of statewide ballot question. Twenty-nine states received a “B” or better, including 10 that earned an “A”; conversely, 12 states got a “D” or worse, including eight that flunked. Scores varied widely across the country, with almost every region represented on each side of the grading spectrum. Maine led the way with a perfect score. Mississippi stood alone at the opposite pole with only 37.5 points.

The U.S. Has ‘Worst Elections of Any Long-Established Democracy,’ Report Finds
Washington Post – Rick Noack | Published: 3/21/2016

The U.S. ranked 47th worldwide, out of 139 countries, in a comparison of election standards and procedures. The survey is a measure of dozens of factors, including voter registration, campaign financing rules, election laws, the voting process, and vote count. Overall, one in six elections around the world were considered electoral failures. But in general, countries in the Americas and Central and Eastern Europe, as well as in Asia, were considered to be on the winning side in terms of electoral integrity, with Scandinavian and Western European nations topping the lists.


GOP Campaigns Hunt for Convention Killer App
Politico – Robert Samuelsohn | Published: 3/24/2016

Tracking, counting, and potentially swaying the Republican National Convention’s 2,472 delegates amid a maze of confusing rules is a critical function in a nominating process that figures to be contested, which is why the campaigns have already embarked on a once-in-a-generation feat of political and technological engineering. The goal is not necessarily an app, but rather some combination of technology designed for the first contested national convention in 40 years. While campaigns for statewide office have used delegate-tracking data technology in state party conventions and even at recent national party conventions, nothing on the scale of what would be required for the summer of 2016 has ever been attempted.

How ‘Ghost Corporations’ Are Funding the 2016 Election
Washington Post – Matea Gold and Anu Narayanswamy | Published: 3/18/2016

A growing cadre of mystery groups are financing super PACs. Many were formed just days or weeks before making six- or ­seven-figure contributions, an arrangement that election law experts say violates a long-standing federal ban on straw donors. But the individuals behind the “ghost corporations” appear to face little risk of reprisal from a deeply polarized FEC, which recently deadlocked on whether to even investigate such cases. Advocates for stronger campaign-finance enforcement fear there will be even more pop-up limited liability corporations funneling money into independent groups, making it difficult to discern the identities of wealthy players seeking to influence this year’s presidential and congressional contests.

Trump Wannabes Shake Up Cable Airwaves
Politico – Hadas Gold | Published: 3/21/2016

These days, with Donald Trump steamrolling to the Republican nomination while so many party regulars oppose him, the cable networks have little choice but to look outside their comfort zone for talking heads. They have almost endless hours of airtime to fill, and most of their regular conservative commentators – the ones kept on a retainer to be available at odd hours – are arrayed against Trump. Some speakers now have A-list status for the simple reason that they favor Trump. While their relationships to the Trump campaign range from loose to very loose, they do share their favored candidate’s penchant for eye-popping comments.

From the States and Municipalities:

Alabama – Alabama Governor, Robert Bentley, Denies Having Affair with Aide
New York Times – Alan Blinder | Published: 3/23/2016

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley admitted he made inappropriate remarks to a top female staffer, but denied accusations they had a “physical affair.” The governor’s admission capped a bizarre day in which, a day after his firing, his former law enforcement secretary and one-time close friend made public the content of a clandestine recording, made by a family member before Bentley’s wife filed for divorce last year, and accused his former boss of having an inappropriate relationship with the staffer. The governor, a former Baptist deacon, acknowledged he said “some inappropriate things” to his senior political adviser, Rebekah Caldwell Mason.

California – Former L.A. City Council Aide, Wife Acquitted of Embezzlement in Corruption Case
Los Angeles Times – Marisa Gerber | Published: 3/22/2016

Jurors found Robert Katherman, Jr. and his wife, Marilyn, not guilty of misappropriation of public funds and embezzlement. A third defendant, Ronald Smith, treasurer of the West Basin Municipal Water District, pleaded guilty in 2014 to embezzling nearly $20,000 from the agency. Prosecutors alleged Smith, persuaded the water agency to give paid sponsorships to the Adopt a Stormdrain Foundation. The Kathermans were members of the nonprofit’s board. The couple, prosecutors argued, steered money to Smith, who used the funds to pay for tennis and dance lessons for his children and to fix his boat. But defense attorneys argued Smith deceived Rob Katherman into believing the checks covered educational grants, and that Marilyn Katherman had nothing to do with them at all.

Florida – Trump Camp Says $25,000 Charity Contribution to Florida AG Was a Mistake
Washington Post – David Fahrenthold and Rosalind Helderman | Published: 3/22/2016

Donald Trump’s aides admitted his charitable foundation made mistakes when it donated to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s political committee. In 2013, the Trump Foundation gave $25,000 to And Justice for All, a committee supporting Bondi’s re-election bid. But federal tax law bans 501(c)(3) charities like the Trump Foundation from contributing to political campaigns. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington asked for an IRS investigation into whether the foundation should lose its tax-exempt status and whether its accountants committed perjury by not properly disclosing a political contribution on its tax forms.

Indiana – Hogsett to Lobbyists: Disclose gifts, or face ban
Indianapolis Star – Brian Eason | Published: 3/23/2016

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett wants to close loopholes in the city ethics code with a package of reforms introduced recently. The proposed ordinance would strengthen reporting requirements, impose stronger penalties for violations, and create a web portal for easier public access to ethics disclosures. Thomas Cook, the mayor’s chief of staff, said the existing law lists certain gifts a lobbyist has to report, such as food, entertainment, and travel expenses, meaning lobbyists can omit those that do not fall into specific categories. Another problem, Cook says, was a lack of teeth. In addition to existing fines, lobbyists under the proposal could incur lifetime bans for themselves and their firms if they repeatedly break the rules, while contractors who violate the ordinance could be banned for a single offense.

Massachusetts – Large Donations Help Mass. GOP Avoid State Cap
Boston Globe – Frank Phillips | Published: 3/17/2016

Wealthy individuals with interests before state government are helping to keep the usually financially strapped Massachusetts Republican Party flush with cash and circumventing the state’s strict limits on political contributions and transparency requirements. These large donations are funneled through the Massachusetts Victory Committee, a joint fundraising effort between the state and national parties. Because of its national component, it was set up under federal guidelines, which allows annual donations up to $43,400, far above the $5,000 cap set for state-regulated political donations to party accounts and the $1,000 annual limit for contributions to Gov. Charlie Baker’s campaign committee. This appears to be the only such arrangement nationwide, according to FEC filings.

Mississippi – Many Mississippi Officials Take from Closed Campaign Accounts, Review Reveals
New York Times; Associated Press –   | Published: 3/20/2016

An Associated Press review shows that of 99 elected officials in Mississippi who have left office in recent years, as many as 25 may have pocketed more than $1,000 when they closed their campaign accounts. At least five former officeholders took more than $50,000. Mississippi is one of five states where such withdrawals are legal as long as state and federal income taxes are paid, with no restrictions on how the money is spent. A proposal to end the practice has consistently failed to win support from lawmakers; it died again this year without even a committee vote. Experts say the practice makes campaign contributions perilously close to bribes.

Montana – For Some Montana Office Seekers, It’s Not about Winning
Great Falls Tribune – Bobby Caina Calvan (Associated Press) | Published: 3/20/2016

Montana law allows campaign donors to give a gubernatorial candidate a maximum of $1,320 – up to $660 in the primary and another $660 in November’s general election. But without a primary challenger, candidates would have to send back any amount exceeding $660. Most states have limits on campaign contributions, but Montana and South Carolina may be the only ones requiring candidates to return money when they run unopposed. Some say Montana law should be changed to prevent “paper candidates.” It has become a ritual among Montana election watchers to see who Democrats and Republicans can wrangle into key races to skirt campaign finance rules.

New York – Harold Ickes, Mentor to Mayor Bill de Blasio, Builds Lobbying Victories
New York Times – Michael Grynbaum | Published: 3/19/2016

On his path to becoming mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio has long relied on Harold Ickes, whom he calls his mentor. Ickes has advised de Blasio’s campaigns, introduced him to wealthy donors, and recommended him for a breakthrough job managing Hillary Clinton’s run for U.S. Senate. Shortly after de Blasio’s election in 2013, Ickes opened a New York branch of his lobbying firm. Although he had not lobbied in the city for nearly a decade, Ickes proved a quick study, collecting about $1 million in fees and securing wins for major clients. The mayor has said his friendship with Ickes does not influence his decision-making, or the city’s treatment of his mentor’s clients. But an examination of public records obtained shows the close relationship has given Ickes extraordinary access, enabling him to push his clients’ interests directly to the city’s top officials.

New York – Oft-Criticized Ethics Watchdog Names Cuomo Aide as Executive Director
Gotham Gazette – David Howard King | Published: 3/23/2016

The Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) picked a former aide to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo as its new director. JCOPE chose Seth Agata a former counsel to Cuomo and the governor’s pick last year to serve as chairperson of the Public Employment Relations Board. Agata will be the board’s third consecutive director with close ties to Cuomo. Critics have questioned JCOPE’s effectiveness and whether Cuomo has too much influence over its work. Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group said he had known Agata for years and he was an “honest, hard-working straight shooter. … Whether he’s independent enough or not is the question.”

Ohio – Security Officials Brace for GOP Convention amid Trump Protests, Brussels Attack
Politico – Anna Palmer | Published: 3/23/2016

Cleveland is preparing to host the Republican National Convention during one of the most tumultuous presidential elections in decades. Tensions are escalating as Donald Trump warns of “riots” if he is denied the nomination at the July convention. Add two major terrorist attacks abroad in four months into the cauldron, including the bombings in Brussels, and it is not hard to imagine the potential for chaos at the convention this summer. Still, convention organizers and security officials say they are ready to execute a plan that was in the works before fisticuffs broke out regularly at Trump’s rallies.

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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