News You Can Use Digest - March 6, 2015 - State and Federal Communications

March 6, 2015  •  

News You Can Use Digest – March 6, 2015



Body-Camera Maker Has Financial Ties to Police Chiefs
KSL – Ryan Foley (Associated Press) | Published: 3/3/2015

Taser International, a leading supplier of body cameras for police, has cultivated financial ties to police chiefs whose departments have bought the devices, raising a conflict-of-interest questions. A review of records and interviews by The Associated Press show Taser is covering airfare and hotel stays for police chiefs who speak at promotional conferences. It is also hiring recently retired chiefs as consultants, sometimes just months after their cities signed contracts with Taser.


Hillary Clinton Used Personal Email Account at State Dept., Possibly Breaking Rules
New York Times – Michael Schmidt | Published: 3/2/2015

Hillary Clinton used a private e-mail account for her official government business when she was secretary of state. She did not have a government email address during her four-year tenure at the State Department. Her aides took no actions to have her personal emails preserved on department servers at the time, as required by the Federal Records Act. It was not clear why Clinton, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, created the private account. But the practice appears to bolster long-standing criticism that she and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, have not been transparent.

Justice Department Ramps up Scrutiny of Candidates and Independent Groups
Washington Post – Matea Gold and Coby Itkowitz | Published: 2/28/2015

A rare conviction of a Virginia campaign operative is part of a broader focus by the U.S. Justice Department on cases in which candidates may be violating a federal ban on sharing strategic information with well-funded independent allies. The department’s move comes as complaints have stalled before the FEC, which has not moved ahead with any coordination investigations since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010 triggered a proliferation of big-money groups. The newly aggressive stance by the Justice Department is certain to have wide reverberations at a time when candidates are taking more leeway than ever in their relationships with independent allies. Many potential 2016 candidates are working hand-in-glove with super PACs set up to support them.

Petraeus Reaches Deal to Plead Guilty to Misdemeanor; Likely Won’t Face Prison
Washington Post – Adam Goldman and Sari Horwitz | Published: 3/3/2015

David Petraeus reached a plea deal with the U.S. Justice Department that will allow him to avoid an embarrassing trial over whether he provided classified information to a mistress when he was the director of the CIA.  Petraeus will plead guilty to one count of unauthorized removal and retention of classified material, which carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison. He also acknowledged he misled FBI investigators. Federal prosecutors will not seek prison time for the retired four-star general but instead will ask a judge to impose a probationary period of two years. Prosecutors had pushed for charges after FBI agents discovered Petraeus’s former mistress, Paula Broadwell, was in possession of sensitive documents while writing a book about him. The affair forced his resignation as CIA director in 2012.

From the States and Municipalities:

Alabama – Stunning Emails Paint Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard as Desperate for Money, Favors – John Archibald | Published: 2/27/2015

Prosecutors released emails involving indicted Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard that show he was having financial problems and was hitting up high-placed lobbyists and friends for assistance. The court filing is the first glimpse of the evidence against Hubbard, who will go to trial on ethics charges in October. The emails depict Hubbard as stressed after losing his job. He asks former Gov. Bob Riley and others for help in finding a job or investors in his company. An executive at a company paid by the Alabama Republican Party complained in an email they were being “forced” to use Hubbard’s company for campaign printing work. Prosecutors say Hubbard used his political position for financial benefit. Hubbard’s defense lawyer said the filings were designed to mislead the public.

Arizona – Court Skeptical of Arizona Plan for Less-Partisan Congressional Redistricting
New York Times – Adam Liptak | Published: 3/2/2015

The U.S. Supreme Court appeared skeptical of a voter-approved plan that stripped Arizona lawmakers of their role in drawing congressional districts in a bid to remove partisan politics from the process. The court’s conservatives asked questions during the argument that indicated there could be a majority willing to find the ballot initiative violated the U.S. Constitution’s requirement that state Legislatures set congressional district boundaries. About a dozen states have experimented with redistricting commissions that have varying degrees of independence from the state Legislatures, which ordinarily draw election maps. Should the justices reject Arizona’s commission, at least one other, in California, is also likely to be in peril.

California – Backers of Prop. 8 Marriage Initiative Lose Disclosure Case
San Francisco Chronicle – Bob Egelko | Published: 3/2/2015

The U.S. Supreme Court turned away an appeal from same-sex marriage opponents in California who want to keep the identities of their campaign donors secret. The justices let stand a lower court ruling against, the National Organization for Marriage, and other supporters of a 2008 ballot initiative that outlawed same-sex marriages in California until the ban was overturned five years later. The groups sought to conceal their past and future campaign finance records because they feared harassment of donors. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against them, in part, because the names have been publicly available for five years. State law requires political committees to identify those who contribute more than $100 during or after a campaign, along with the donor’s address, occupation, and employer.

California – Eric Garcetti’s Mayor’s Fund Lets Companies Give Big
Los Angeles Times – Peter Jamison, Doug Smith, and David Zahniser | Published: 3/3/2015

The Mayor’s Fund has received numerous contributions from companies with a stake in Los Angeles City Hall decisions and from charitable foundations. Modeled on similar nonprofits in New York and other cities, the fund provides a financial boost for civic programs that might otherwise fall victim to city belt-tightening. But the nonprofit, which took in about $5.2 million between its formation in June and last month, can also offer a discreet destination for special-interest money that is not subject to campaign finance restrictions. City law caps contributions by individuals or businesses at $1,300 per election for mayoral candidates. By contrast, the average donation to the Mayor’s Fund has been $111,000.

Illinois – As in First Round, No Limits on Fundraising in Mayoral Runoff
Chicago Tribune – John Byrne | Published: 3/2/2015

The super PAC Chicago Forward recently made an independent expenditure of $110,000 to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s campaign fund for “political communications.” That means there will be no campaign fundraising limits for the April 7 mayoral run-off between Emmanuel and city Councilperson Jesus Garcia. Under state law, once a candidate in a local race receives a donation to his or her campaign of at least $100,000 within a year of the election, all contribution limits for all candidates in the race are lifted.

Iowa – The Real Iowa Kingmaker
Politico – Helena Bottemiller Evich | Published: 3/3/2015

Bruce Rastetter, an agribusiness mogul, has long worked behind the scenes to help bankroll conservatives candidates across the country. Now he is about to host a dozen potential Republican presidential hopefuls at the first Iowa Agriculture Summit. It is an event designed to promote farm policy in a state where pigs outnumber voters by 10-to-one, but it is also a bold display of the political power Rastetter has amassed, and a reminder to candidates that his endorsement would be a big get ahead of the Iowa caucuses. Rastetter’s moves over the past decade look like a “how to” guide for becoming a political power player.

Massachusetts – Inaugural Donors Have Dealings with State Treasurer
Boston Globe – Frank Phillips | Published: 3/2/2015

Massachusetts Treasurer Deborah Goldberg raised $93,000 for her inauguration and transition costs, over two-thirds of which came in large donations from special interests that deal directly with her office. The practice of inaugural committees collecting large contributions, including from corporations, is not illegal in Massachusetts. Incoming governors, in particular, have routinely tapped special interests to finance their transitions and inaugurations. Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, said the system, which also has no requirements for detailing expenses, heightens the potential for conflicts-of-interest.

Rhode Island – Former House Speaker Fox Pleads Guilty to Bribery, Tax Fraud Charges
Providence Journal – Katie Mulvaney, Karen Lee Ziner, and Tom Mooney | Published: 3/3/2015

Former Rhode Island House Speaker Gordon Fox pleaded guilty to charges of bribery, wire fraud, and filing a false tax return following an investigation that included a federal raid on his statehouse office and home. Fox acknowledged he received a $52,500 bribe in cash and checks in 2008 to help grant a liquor license to a bar near Brown University when he served as vice chairperson of the board of licenses for Providence. He also acknowledges taking $108,000 from his campaign account for personal expenses, including mortgage payments, his American Express bill, and purchases at Tiffany’s and Warwick Animal Hospital. Prosecutors and Fox agreed to request a three-year prison sentence.

Rhode Island – Panel Recommends Higher Fees for Lobbyists
Providence Journal – Jennifer Bogdon | Published: 2/28/2015

Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea’s transition committee recommended raising the registration fees for lobbyists and increasing the fines for failing to register. Its report suggests legislation is needed to “modernize the state’s antiquated lobbying laws.” The committee also recommended updates to the state’s lobbying tracker system, described as “unnecessarily complicated.” Lobbyists currently must register separately in the General Assembly and executive branch, but the group recommended consolidating the reporting requirements.

Utah – Utah House Again Defeats Donation Limits
Salt Lake Tribune – Lee Davidson | Published: 3/3/2015

An attempt to set limits on campaign contribution failed in Utah. House Bill 60 would have capped donations at $20,000 for statewide offices such as governor, $10,000 for legislative races, and $40,000 for PACs or parties. House Majority Assistant Whip Brad Wilson said limits would just increase the amount of unregulated “dark money” spent by third parties in campaigns. Utah is one of just four states without limits on political donations.

Virginia – Virginia Senate Republicans Were Set to Sink Ethics Bill
Washington Post – Laura Vozzella, Jenna Portnoy, and Rachel Weiner | Published: 2/28/2015

Virginia lawmakers adjourned after passing legislation at the last minute aimed at tightening the state’s ethics rules for public officials. The ethics-reform proposal puts a $100 cap on gifts lawmakers can accept from lobbyists and their clients, or others seeking to do business with the state, but it also adds a long list of exceptions. It creates an ethics council but gives it no power to investigate or issue fines and penalties. Negotiations went down to the wire on the ethics changes, which lawmakers have said was one of their top priorities for the session. The new measures were their second effort at tightening the rules after the conviction last year of former Gov. Bob McDonnell that stemmed from his acceptance of gifts, loans, and trips.

Jim SedorState and Federal Communications produces a weekly summary of national news, offering more than 80 articles per week focused on ethics, lobbying, and campaign finance.

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