News You Can Use Digest - May 15, 2015 - State and Federal Communications

May 15, 2015  •  

News You Can Use Digest – May 15, 2015



Amid Gridlock in D.C., Influence Industry Expands Rapidly in the States
Washington Post – Reid Wilson | Published: 5/11/2015

A Washington Post review shows lobbyists reported spending at least $2.2 billion on activity aimed at influencing legislators in 28 states where data was available during the 2013-2014 biennium, with virtually every state seeing dramatic growth over the last decade. At the same time, total spending on federal lobbying activities has fallen. Watchdog groups say state ethics laws have not kept up to date with the explosion in new spending. While most states make lobbying activity reports available online, some do not, and even some that do are not listed by subject area or sponsor. For practical purposes, that means citizens in many states would not be able to find just who is lobbying in support of or opposition to any given measure without combing through thousands of records.

The Great Democratic Crack-Up of 2016
New York Times – Robert Draper | Published: 5/12/2015

In many states, progressive groups have moved to promote what they hope will be populist candidates in the Elizabeth Warren mold while weeding out those judged to be ideologically tepid. Progressives believe Democrats lost their way by obsessing over what President Bill Clinton once termed “the vital center.” That fixation, they say, has rendered the party brand incomprehensible and raised the question as to what exactly Democrats stand for. Moderates believe the only remedy is for Democrats to refashion themselves as pragmatists who care more about achieving results than ideological purity. Observers say the problem is that neither wing can muster an entirely airtight case that theirs is the road map to electoral success.


10 Members of Congress Took Trip Secretly Funded by Foreign Government
Washington Post – Scott Higham, Steven Rich, and Alice Crites | Published: 5/13/2015

Ten members of Congress and their aides accepted gifts and airfare to Azerbaijan that were secretly paid for by that country’s state-owned oil company, according to a report from the Office of Congressional Ethics given to The Washington Post. Expenses totaled more than $125,000, including airfare. The lawmakers were lavished with gifts ranging from crystal tea sets, silk scarves, and Azerbaijani rugs that were valued at between $2,500 and $10,000 each. The funding for the airfare and gifts was hidden through Texas-based nonprofits, which filed false statements saying they were paying for the trip.

Jeb Bush Leans on Nonprofit Group as He Prepares Likely Presidential Run
Washington Post – Ed O’Keefe and Matea Gold | Published: 5/12/2015

At least four people with expertise on energy issues, foreign affairs, and communications are working with Right to Rise Policy Solutions, a nonprofit advocacy group allied with Jeb Bush that can accept secret, unlimited donations from individuals and corporations. Bush’s reliance on the non­profit as he prepares for a likely presidential bid puts him on untested legal ground, cloaking who is paying the salaries of his expected advisers. But a polarized FEC is unlikely to scrutinize the maneuver.

The New Office Politics: Funding boss’s political causes
The Times Record – Michelle Conlin and Lucas Iberico Lozada (Reuters) | Published: 5/11/2015

Employers are increasingly approaching workers to fundraise, lobby, and campaign in ways they never have before, according to a Reuters analysis of FEC filings and data compiled by the Business Industry Political Action Committee (BIPAC). For years it was unions and trade associations that were the politically powerful workplace players, operating PACs. But since the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision that allowed for unlimited political spending by corporations, the number of companies engaged in this sort of activity – be it nudging employees to write letters, donate, campaign, or vote – has risen 45 percent to 7,317, according to BIPAC’s internal research.

From the States and Municipalities:

Indiana – Lawmakers Flock to Downtown Gambling Parlor for Fundraisers
Indianapolis Star – Tony Cook | Published: 5/13/2015

The Winner’s Circle in Indianapolis, an off-track betting facility, has hosted more than 30 fundraisers over the past two years for state lawmakers, helping them to rake in several thousand dollars over the course of a single afternoon. But the practice is raising questions about whether the events comply with a state ban on campaign contributions from casinos. Questions about the fundraisers are particularly relevant because the owner of the Winner’s Circle, Centaur Gaming, has lobbied intensely at the Capitol during the past two years for permission to have card games with live dealers at its two horse-track casinos in the state.

Louisiana – Lobbyists Spent $3 Million on Louisiana Officials, but Seldom Named Them
New Orleans Times-Picayune – Lee Zurik (WVUE) and Ben Myers | Published: 5/13/2015

Registered lobbyists in Louisiana reported a total of $2.9 million in expenditures between 2009 and 2014, which included nearly 30,000 disclosures. Almost 80 percent of expenses reported did not name which public official benefited, according to a review by The New Orleans Times-Picayune. Lobbyists are required to file monthly reports listing how much they spend on individuals, but they are free to pay for receptions and other group gatherings without disclosing the names of officials who attend. In some cases, those tabs were in the tens of thousands of dollars. The administrator for the Louisiana Board of Ethics, Kathleen Allen, said state laws do not provide a way to randomly audit the disclosures.

Massachusetts – Brian Joyce Thrives at the Edge of a Fuzzy Boundary
Boston Globe – Andrea Estes | Published: 5/3/2015

A review by The Boston Globe shows Brian Joyce, the assistant majority leader in the Massachusetts Senate, has frequently blurred the lines between his public duties and his private business. While other lawyer-legislators take pains to separate their two jobs, Joyce seems to freely mix the two. He aggressively seeks legal work from cities and towns that rely on the Legislature for funding, and he rarely discloses clients to the state Ethics Commission, which is required if a lawmaker sees potential for conflicts-of-interest in his votes.

Missouri – Free Food Fills Missouri Capitol’s Hallways as Ethics Bill Dies
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Virginia Young | Published: 5/13/2015

Missouri imposes no limits on lobbyist-provided meals or gifts, and that appears unlikely to change when the legislative session ends on May 15. An ethics bill has languished in a conference committee since early April. The sticking point is whether to impose a $25 cap on individual meals, tickets, and trips that legislators receive from lobbyists. The bill’s sponsor, Senate Majority Leader Ron Richard, opposes the cap, saying it could be easily circumvented. The committee appointed to iron out the differences has never met, though negotiators have traded drafts. They say they have resolved all issues in the bill except the gift limit.

Missouri – Missouri House Speaker John Diehl Admits Sexually Charged Relationship with Intern
Kansas City Star – Jason Hancock | Published: 5/13/2015

Missouri House Speaker John Diehl exchanged sexually charged text messages with a freshman college intern. He is married with three sons. Richard Miller, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Missouri Southern State University, said the school pulled its four interns out of the Capitol this spring after an unspecified incident.

Missouri – Republican Legislator Faces Ethics Complaint over Comments to Reporter about Gifts
PoliticMo – Eli Yokley | Published: 5/12/2015

An ethics complaint has been filed against Missouri Rep. Craig Redmon, who says he has helped other lawmakers hide lobbyist gifts from required public reporting. Redmon said he sometimes has told people to put under his name expenses that actually were made for others. He says that shields other legislators, particularly those concerned with reporting any lobbyist gifts. Progress Missouri said that practice would be deceptive and wrong. It is unclear whether lobbyists actually have reported expenses made on behalf of other lawmakers as if they were for Redmon.

New York – Dean Skelos, New York Senate Leader, Vacates Post
New York Times – Thomas Kaplan and Susanne Craig | Published: 5/11/2015

Dean Skelos resigned his leadership post in the New York Senate after his arrest on federal corruption charges and was quickly replaced by Sen. John Flanagan. Skelos, who intends to keep his legislative seat, became the latest leader to lose his grip on power in a state government marred by corruption. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver stepped down from his leadership position early this year. Skelos is fighting charges he used his position to extort payments for his son, who is also charged in the case. Both men say they are innocent.

New York – Scarborough Pleads Guilty Twice
Albany Times Union – Brendan Lyons | Published: 5/7/2015

New York Assemblyperson William Scarborough pleaded guilty to federal theft and fraud charges, admitting he submitted at least $40,000 in false expense vouchers for days he did not actually travel to Albany. In state court, Scarborough later pleaded guilty to grand larceny, admitting he took $38,000 in unauthorized cash withdrawals from his campaign fund for personal use. The felony convictions automatically remove Scarborough from the Assembly.

Rhode Island – State of R.I. Drops 38 Studios Lobbying Cases
Providence Journal – Jennifer Bogdan | Published: 5/13/2015

Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea is dismissing cases against three people accused of lobbying violations in the 38 Studios deal, including ex-Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling. Former 38 Studios Director Thomas Zaccagnino and attorney Michael Corso had been ordered to file retroactive reports or face a fine. Corrente says both orders would likely be overturned in court because of procedural deficiencies in existing lobbying statutes. In the wake of the dismissal, Gorbea has proposed a new lobbying reform bill.

Virginia – Lobbyists Take Changes to Gifts Law in Stride
The Virginian-Pilot – Patrick Wilson | Published: 5/11/2015

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed a new law in April that caps gifts to public officials, including travel or meals, at $100. It also forbids officials from accepting more than $100 in a calendar year from any one lobbyist or company, although gifts valued at less than $20 do not count toward the limit. Getting comfortable with the new law will be an “evolving process” for many lobbyists, said Whitt Clement, a former delegate and state transportation secretary who lobbies for the firm Hunton & Williams.

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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