March 31, 2017 •
News You Can Use Digest – March 31, 2017
2 White House Officials Helped Give Nunes Intelligence Reports
New York Times – Matthew Rosenberg, Maggie Haberman, and Adam Goldman | Published: 3/30/2017
Two White House official were involved in giving House Intelligence Committee Chairperson Devin Nunes access to intelligence reports that seemed to show that President Donald Trump and his associates were incidentally included in surveillance efforts. The New York Times reported that multiple sources said Ezra Cohen-Warrick, senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council, and Michael Ellis, a lawyer who used to work for Nunes and is now in the White House Counsel’s Office, helped Nunes get the information. American officials said the reports consisted primarily of ambassadors and other foreign officials talking about how they were trying to develop contacts within Trump’s family and inner circle in advance of his inauguration.
A Former Trump Administration Appointee Who Left Without Signing Ethics Pledge Is Now a Lobbyist
Washington Post – Matea Gold | Published: 3/29/2017
Robert Wasinger, a former campaign official and transition team member for Donald Trump, served briefly as White House liaison to the State Department before joining McGuireWoods Consulting as senior vice president of its federal public affairs group in February. He registered recently as a lobbyist for Verizon and Inovio Pharmaceuticals. Ethics experts said it is troubling that there are now two examples of early Trump appointees who left without committing to the lobbying ban.
From the States and Municipalities:
Arizona – Arizona Firefighters Have Grip on Financial Power in Local Elections – But Should They?
Arizona Republic – Jessica Boehm | Published: 3/28/2017
In 2015 and 2016, firefighter union PACs across Arizona donated hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars to mayoral or city council candidates they often had never met. In total, 31 firefighter union PACs donated more than $250,000 to 59 city council and mayoral candidates in Arizona. Firefighter leaders say their campaign donations are noble efforts to ensure their communities are run by politicians who will do the best job for the community. Others question the power and legality of city employees so actively involved in electing council members, the people who will decide matters such as their wages and department budgets.
California – PG&E to Pay $86.5 Million for Backdoor Lobbying of Regulators
KNSD – Jaxon Van Derbeken | Published: 3/28/2017
Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) will pay $86.5 million in a settlement over corruption allegations that followed a fatal pipeline explosion in San Bruno. The announcement comes in the wake of the disclosure of a series of improper communications and back-channel deals linked to the disaster. The utility’s inappropriate actions also affected gas-pipeline operations in San Carlos. Under pressure, PG&E agreed to release 65,000 emails sent between 2010 and 2014. In them, critics found proof of an overly cozy relationship between top officials at PG&E and regulators both before and after the explosion that killed eight people.
Connecticut – Ted Kennedy Jr.’s 2014 Campaign, Still Under Scrutiny, Shows Election-Reform Troubles
Hartford Courant – Edmund Mahoney and Jon Lender | Published: 3/29/2017
Ted Kennedy, Jr. in his 2014 campaign for the Connecticut Senate signed a contract promising to limit campaign spending to a grant of about $95,000 in taxpayer money he received under the state’s Citizen Election Program, the landmark campaign finance reform its supporters claim is a model for keeping special interest money out of elections. But records show Kennedy and the Democratic Party spent almost four times that much on his campaign, using a loophole opened by an amendment pushed through the Democrat-controlled state Legislature the year before. The Democratic State Central Committee paid about $288,000 to cover “organizational expenditures” on the Kennedy campaign – after family, friends, and business associates of Kennedy donated about $300,000 to the committee.
Florida – Florida Paid Law Firm for Meeting with House Speaker
U.S. News and World Report – Gary Fineout (Associated Press) | Published: 3/27/2017
Blurring the lines between his role as an up-and-coming legislator and his job as an attorney, the law firm of House Speaker Richard Corcoran once charged the state for a meeting with Corcoran in his capacity as a lawmaker. Billing records show the firm of Broad and Cassel charged the state’s economic development agency ahead of a meeting between its affiliate, the state Division of Bond Finance, and Corcoran – putting the meeting in the crosshairs of a new review by Gov. Rick Scott of potential conflicts-of-interest. Corcoran said he was unaware his firm asked to be paid to prepare for the meeting with him. He said he and all lawmakers are routinely asked by friends and colleagues to meet with people to discuss issues and problems they have with state government.
Illinois – Campaign Donation Limits Lifted in Illinois Governor’s Race
Northwest Herald – Sophia Tareen (Associated Press) | Published: 3/27/2017
Chris Kennedy’s roughly $250,000 donation to his own campaign has lifted spending caps in what is expected to be another big money race for Illinois governor. Kennedy’s contribution follows Gov. Bruce Rauner’s record-setting $50 million donation to his own re-election bid last year. But Rauner’s contribution did not remove the limits because of how early the donation was made. When a self-funded statewide candidate or family member gives more than $250,000 in the 12 months before an election, the caps are lifted for all candidates. Illinois’ gubernatorial primary is March 20, 2018.
Illinois – Court Strikes Down Ban on Campaign Contributions from Medical Marijuana Licensees
Illinois Policy – Jacob Huebert | Published: 3/24/2017
An Illinois law banning state marijuana growers and sellers from making campaign contributions has been struck down as unconstitutional. U.S. District Court Judge John Lee ruled the legislation, passed in 2013, the same year the General Assembly voted to legalize medical marijuana, violates free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. Lee said the state had provided no justification for banning contributions from the medical cannabis industry while not banning donations from any other regulated industries.
Iowa – House Ethics Committee Admonishes Americans for Prosperity Lobbyist
Des Moines Register – Brianne Pfannenstiel | Published: 3/22/2017
The Iowa House Ethics Committee voted to issue a letter admonishing Americans for Prosperity lobbyist Drew Klein for failing to register his position on a controversial bill scaling back collective bargaining rights. State law requires lobbyists to register their support or opposition to legislation moving through the Capitol to create transparency. The committee said Klein did not officially register his support of House File 291 until after it had already been under discussion. That prompted a complaint from the Iowa Federation of Labor.
Missouri – Goodbye to All That? Missouri Lawmakers Dragging Feet on Lobbyist-Gift Ban
St. Louis Public Radio – Marshall Griffin | Published: 3/24/2017
There has been no movement for nearly two months on bills that would ban gifts from lobbyists to Missouri lawmakers. The House passed House Bill 60 on January 17, and a Senate committee conducted a joint hearing on it and on the Senate version, Senate Bill 305. With the legislative session scheduled to end on May 12, it remains to be seen whether what was once a strong priority for Republicans will pass at all.
New Jersey – 2 Christie Allies Are Sentenced in George Washington Bridge Scandal
New York Times – Nick Corasaniti | Published: 3/29/2017
Two former aides to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie were sentenced to prison for their role in a political revenge plot involving traffic jams at the George Washington Bridge, a scandal that sank Christie’s presidential aspirations. Bill Baroni, Christie’s appointee to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, was sentenced to two years, and Bridget Kelly, Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, received 18 months. The government’s star witness, David Wildstein, testified he and the co-defendants sought to retaliate against a Democratic mayor for not endorsing Christie’s re-election. Christie was not charged with any wrongdoing. But his version of events – that he was not aware that anyone in his office was involved until months after the fact – was contradicted by testimony from multiple people.
New Mexico – What Financial Disclosure Forms Don’t Require Reveal as Much as What They Do
New Mexico In Depth – Sandra Fish | Published: 3/23/2017
New Mexico In Depth created a database of the information in financial disclosures filed by lawmakers this year. The disclosures do not just reveal potential conflicts for lawmakers. In fact, sometimes the forms do not reveal much at all. The watchdog group Ethics Watch has noted that reporting requirements are unclear and lawmakers interpret them in a variety of ways. New Mexico is the only state in the nation that does not pay lawmakers. So, they typically have outside jobs that can pose conflicts-of-interest with their work at the Capitol.
Oregon – Lax Conflicts of Interest Rules Let Oregon Lawmakers Keep Quiet About Their Ties
Portland Oregonian – Gordon Friedman | Published: 3/26/2017
Oregon law allows officials to make decisions financially benefitting a class of people equally, even if the state lawmaker is a member of that group. That means it is perfectly legal for Oregon lawmakers to sponsor and vote for bills that benefit people in the occupation they hold or the type of companies their families work for. Regardless of potential conflicts, lawmakers are not allowed under Senate and House rules to recuse themselves from voting. They are required only to announce prior to voting that a potential conflict exists. Failing to disclose a conflict can result in censure or other discipline. But the onus is also on lawmakers to self-report.
Pennsylvania – Judge Mid-Trial Dismisses All Charges in Pennsylvania Pay-to-Play Case
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – Angela Couloumbis and Craig McCoy (Philadelphia Inquirer) | Published: 3/27/2017
U.S. District Court Judge John Jones III has thrown out a “pay-to-play” case against an investment adviser accused of bribing Pennsylvania’s former treasurer to get state business. Jones said prosecutors had not proven that favors were traded in exchange for campaign contributions from defendant Richard Ireland. Prosecutors had relied on testimony from former state Treasurer Rob McCord, who pleaded guilty two years ago to extortion charges after being caught strong-arming contributions from campaign donors, including some who had state contracts. But during testimony, McCord provided such lukewarm support for the government’s case that prosecutors grew increasingly short with him, almost treating him as a hostile witness.
Texas – Liquor Regulators Partying on Taxpayers’ Tab
Texas Tribune – Jay Root | Published: 3/24/2017
The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) has spent at least $85,000 on out-of-state travel since the 2011 fiscal year, much of it on liquor industry conferences. Almost $17,000 has been paid to the National Conference of State Liquor Administrators (NCSLA), an industry trade group that brings liquor interests and government regulators together, for registration and membership fees over the same period. TABC Director Sherry Cook says the NCSLA’s meetings provide training and networking opportunities that help keep her agency abreast of the complicated regulatory structure in various states. Critics say they are junkets that waste precious tax dollars while raising troubling questions about the cozy relationship between the government regulators and powerful corporate interests.
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