News You Can Use Digest - May 1, 2015 - State and Federal Communications

May 1, 2015  •  

News You Can Use Digest – May 1, 2015



Collapse of Comcast-Time Warner Cable Merger Shows Limits of Lobbying
Politico – Tony Romm and Alex Byers | Published: 4/24/2015

Comcast spends more than any other company lobbying Washington, D.C. Its chief executive officer has golfed with President Barack Obama, and its executives raise cash for Democrats. But the strategy did not work as the largest U.S. cable company dropped its merger with Time Warner Cable over continued opposition from Congress and federal regulators. Two agencies had balked at the $45.2 billion proposed merger in a twist of the narrative that says deep connections guarantee big results in Washington. “It’s nice to see that even an effective, very well-funded, pervasive lobbying campaign cannot win when it was wrong,” said Ed Black, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association.

Never Before Have So Many People with So Much Money Run for President
Washington Post – Matea Gold and Ed O’Keefe | Published: 4/27/2015

Some political operatives say 2016 could be the first presidential race in the modern era in which a candidate does not need to win Iowa or New Hampshire to prevail. Strong showings in those early states historically translated into much-needed financial momentum. But this time, wealthy patrons might keep their favorite picks aloft through independent spending. The political money boom is being driven largely by super PACs, which can collect unlimited donations from individuals and corporations. The groups are supposed to operate independently from the candidates they support, but in this race, they are functioning as de facto arms of the campaigns.

States Can Ban Elected Judges from Asking for Campaign Money, Supreme Court Says
Los Angeles Times – David Savage | Published: 4/29/2015

A divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled states can limit judicial candidates’ ability to personally appeal for donations, a rare victory for supporters of campaign finance limits. Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s four liberal justices in the decision to uphold a Florida prohibition on such personal solicitations, saying states have a compelling interest in “preserving the public confidence in the integrity of its judiciary.” The ruling was an outlier for the high court and for Roberts himself, who supported decisions over the past six years that have opened the floodgates on political spending and given rise to super PACs.

From the States and Municipalities:

California – For Statewide Change, Advocates Are Making Their Battles Local
Los Angeles Times – Melanie Mason | Published: 4/24/2015

Whether the subject is plastic grocery bags or soda taxes, some of California’s most compelling policy battles are occurring not in the Capitol but in City Halls and county seats. Local governments are increasingly a staging ground for issues such as the regulation of electronic cigarettes, limits on payday lenders, and fracking moratoriums. The local efforts can prod the state Legislature to act. Political operatives who bypass Sacramento are waging their local campaigns with data-driven sophistication.

Florida – Florida House Abruptly Adjourns Session Early, Saying Impasse Is Insurmountable
Tampa Bay Times – Mary Ellen Klas and Steve Bousquet | Published: 4/28/2015

The Florida House abruptly and unilaterally adjourned on April 28, ending the legislative session before the scheduled date and leaving dozens of major bills dead and escalating tensions between the House and Senate over their health care stalemate. It marked the first time in Florida’s modern history that one chamber shut down and went home on a different day than the other in a regular session. The presiding officers of each chamber must now agree to come back in special session in order to complete the state budget, the only bill they are required to pass each year by the June 30 deadline, or Gov. Rick Scott could order them back together.

Georgia – Ethics Commission Picks Veteran State Attorney as Chief Exec
Columbus Ledger-Enquirer – Kathleen Foody (Associated Press) | Published: 4/28/2015

Stefan Ritter was chosen as the new head of the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission. He is currently a senior assistant attorney general and for several years has served as the ethics commission’s legal counsel. The agency’s previous executive secretary was fired after a judge fined her for allegedly withholding documents in a lawsuit against the state. The agency enforces Georgia’s campaign finance and ethics laws but has been troubled by employee lawsuits and a backlog of cases.

Indiana – Gov. Pence to Sign Ethics Reform Bill
Indianapolis Star – Tony Cook | Published: 4/27/2015

The Indiana General Assembly approved an ethics overhaul that requires greater financial disclosure by lawmakers and expressly prohibits elected officials from using state resources for political purposes. The bill follows an investigation into former state schools Superintendent Tony Bennett’s use of state staff and resources during his 2012 re-election campaign. In another case, a privately lobbied last year to defeat legislation that could have cost his family’s business millions of dollars. The bill now goes to Gov. Mike Pence for consideration.

Kentucky – Gov. Gets 360 Derby Tickets, Who Uses Them?
Louisville Courier-Journal – Tom Loftus | Published: 4/29/2015

Churchill Downs sets aside 360 tickets to the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks every year for sale to the governor’s entourage. Many of those seats are prime – 160 of them are coveted spots on Millionaires Row. Gov. Steve Beshear says the purpose for the large number of tickets, and all of his official Derby activities, is to show off Kentucky to official economic-development and tourism guests who might bring jobs to the state. But records of previous years’ ticket assignments from the governor’s allotment show only about 60 of the 360 tickets are used by the official guests of the state Economic Development Cabinet or Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinets. Ticket holders also include family of the governor, top administration officials, Democratic Party activists, and some big contributors to the governor’s political causes.

Massachusetts – Baker Inaugural Committee Returning Donations That Exceeded Limit
Boston Globe – Sara Morrison | Published: 4/28/2015

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s inauguration committee will return donations from two lobbying firms that exceeded a limit he imposed for lobbyist contributions. Baker said lobbyists could only give a maximum of $250. But at least five firms registered as lobbyists with the state gave well over that limit. The inaugural committee pledged to return $2,500 to Beacon Strategies Group and $10,000 to Bay State Strategies Group.

Montana – Senate Confirms Motl as Political Practices Commissioner
Helena Independent Record – Charles Johnson | Published: 4/24/2015

Montana senators confirmed Jonathan Motl as the state’s commissioner of political practices. Motl has come under fire during his tenure for what opponents call a bias against Republican candidates. Senators supporting Motl called attention to the work he did on a major campaign finance bill that was signed into law this session. Senate Bill 289 will require more disclosure for “dark money” in campaigns.

New Jersey – The Dinner Proposal That Led United into Corruption Probe
Bloomberg Business – David Kocieniewski and David Voreacos | Published: 4/28/2015

Federal prosecutors are investigating whether United Airlines made improper attempts to influence David Samson at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, according to sources. The authority oversees Newark Liberty International Airport. United was seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in public investment for the airport when its chief executive dined with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s top Port Authority official in September 2011. Investigators are looking into whether Samson abused his public position for private gain. According to people close to the case, prosecutors want to know if Samson gave United preferential treatment on Port Authority business in return for the airline reviving a route that he and his wife had used but had been cancelled.

North Carolina – Not Just Photo-Ops: Businesses gain from political visits
Asheville Times-Citizen – Caitlin Byrd | Published: 4/27/2015

Chris Champlin, vice president of Thermo Fisher Scientific, estimates at least six politicians have accepted invitations to visit the Asheville, North Carolina plant in the last 12 months. For politicians, visiting and speaking at businesses gives them a chance to learn more about an employer in the region. But these events are not one-sided affairs; sometimes the businesses have the most to gain. When it comes time to call on legislators for some help, a special visit to the business can help cement a company and its interests in the mind of a politician. “… Once they walk in the door, put on the steel-toe boot covers and the safety glasses, it’s just a much more meaningful interaction than I could ever hope to accomplish in Washington, D.C. in a business suit,” said Tim Fenton, senior director of global government relations for Thermo Fisher Scientific.

Pennsylvania – Council Moves to Illuminate Super PAC Money
Philadelphia Inquirer – Tricia Nadolny | Published: 4/23/2015

Independent groups would face additional reporting requirements under a bill introduced in the Philadelphia City Council. Those groups, which are not permitted to coordinate with candidates they support, are not required to file finance reports until days before an election. The bill would change that by requiring super PACs to disclose their donors six weeks before an election or primary and every two weeks thereafter. It would apply to donations of $5,000 or more spent on communications, including television, print, and radio ads, that make reference a candidate in any way.

Rhode Island – Raimondo Signs into Law New Campaign Finance Measures
Providence Journal – Jennifer Bogdan | Published: 4/23/2015

Gov. Gina Raimondo signed four bills aimed at strengthening Rhode Island’s campaign finance reporting laws. One bill requires candidates and PACs to file bank statements from their campaign finance accounts following their final quarterly report to the Board of Elections. Another measure requires that candidates and PACs maintain a campaign finance account separate from personal bank account. Lawmakers reviewed the system after ex-House Speaker Gordon Fox acknowledged taking a $52,500 bribe and making dozens of interbank transfers totaling $108,000, using money from his campaign account for personal expenses.

Texas – Senate Strengthens and Passes Ethics Bill
Texas Tribune – Jay Root | Published: 4/28/2015

The Texas Senate strengthened and approved an ethics reform bill with provisions that call for drug testing of elected officials, convicted felons to leave office, tougher financial disclosures, and more transparent dealings with lobbyists. Sen. Kirk Watson got his amendment added on that requires disclosure of lobbyists paying for lawmakers meals if over $50 even when splitting the checks between multiple lobbyists, a loophole many use now. Senate Bill 19 now goes to the House.

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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