May 22, 2015 •
News You Can Use Digest – May 22,2015
Albany Corruption Inquiry Hurts Arizona Company That Hired Dean Skelos’s Son
New York Times – Susanne Craig | Published: 5/18/2015
Dean Skelos, then the leader of the New York Senate, and his son, Adam, were arrested on extortion, fraud, and bribe solicitation charges recently. The company at the center of the scandal is AbTech Industries, a small environmental firm based in Arizona. Prosecutors say AbTech hired Adam Skelos to gain influence in its attempt to win government work. The company’s stock has fallen more than 70 percent since the scandal was first reported. In recent weeks it has seen work suspended on a big contract in Nassau County. Separately, AbTech says the Corvais Group, a property management firm, canceled a partnership it had with it. In addition, the Securities and Exchange Commission has begun to scrutinize AbTech.
‘Campaigns’ Aren’t Necessarily Campaigns in the Age of ‘Super PACs’
New York Times – Nicholas Confessore and Eric Lichtblau | Published: 5/17/2015
The 2016 contenders are exploiting loopholes and regulatory gray areas to transform the way presidential campaigns are organized and paid for. Their campaigns are intricate constellations of political committees, super PACs, and tax-exempt groups, engineered to avoid fundraising restrictions imposed on candidates and their parties after the Watergate scandal. Major costs of each candidate’s bid, from television advertising to policy development, are now being shifted to legally independent organizations that can accept unlimited contributions from wealthy individuals, corporations, and labor unions.
Critics Hear E.P.A.’s Voice in ‘Public Comments’
New York Times – Eric Lipton and Coral Davenport | Published: 5/18/2015
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy told a Senate committee in March that the agency had received more than one million comments about its proposed rule intended to protect the nation’s drinking water, and nearly 90 percent favored the agency’s plan. McCarthy is expected to cite those comments to justify the final rule. But critics say there is a reason for the overwhelming result: the EPA had a hand in manufacturing it. In a campaign that tests the limits of federal lobbying law, the agency orchestrated a drive to counter political opposition from Republicans and enlist public support in concert with liberal environmental groups and a grassroots organization aligned with President Barack Obama.
Hillary’s Speech Disclosures Come Under Fire
Politico – Josh Gerstein | Published: 5/20/2015
The Clinton Foundation said it will release details on nearly 100 speeches made by Hillary Clinton, her husband, Bill, and daughter Chelsea that ended up in the account of the global charity. Aides to the Clintons contend that when they delivered such speeches, the former president and former secretary of state were acting as officials of the Clinton Foundation, so the disclosure requirement for payments directed to charity by a government official, presidential candidate, or spouse do not apply. Several ethics lawyers told said they believe the Clintons’ speeches do not fall within the cited exception because there is little indication the addresses delivered across the U.S. and overseas had anything to do with the foundation.
From the States and Municipalities:
Arizona – Clean Elections Panel Advances New Dark-Money Spending Rules
Arizona Daily Sun – Bob Christie (Associated Press) | Published: 5/14/2015
The Arizona Clean Elections Commission voted to open up nearly a dozen proposed rule changes for public comment, including a contentious proposed rule change that would impose new criteria in determining whether a group’s primary purpose is electioneering. One rule would require outside groups to file reports if they spend more than $500 to advocate for or against a candidate or voter initiative. The reports would disclose spending and donors.
Arkansas – Fiscal 2016 Budget Cut Vexes Ethics Panel Chief
Arkansas Online – Spencer Willems | Published: 5/19/2015
During a monthly meeting of the Arkansas Ethics Commission, Director Graham Sloan said his staff will have less money than was budgeted this year and nearly a quarter less than was earmarked by legislators this past session. The cut, which Sloan said he learned of recently, would drop funding for the next fiscal year from about $900,000 to about $705,000, which is just under the commission’s current authorization for this year. Sloan said the cut comes at a point when the commission has never been busier and will cause his office to reduce staff and services.
California – Details Hidden On Legislative Lawyers Drafting Bills for Influential Groups
Capital Public Radio – John Meyers (CaliforniaReport.org) | Published: 5/20/2015
In California, so-called unbacked bills are draft laws with no guarantee of being introduced in either house of the Legislature. Capitol insiders portray the system as one with very few limits and in which legislative staffers sometimes submit proposals for vetting that their elected bosses would never publicly endorse. The process is also accessed by lobbyists, who seek the help of the government’s bill writing experts at the Office of Legislative Counsel. Insiders say these unpublicized bills may be held on to for any possible opening a lobbyist or interest group might see, including eleventh hour maneuvers before the Legislature adjourns.
Hawaii – Ban Upheld on Political Donations by Government Contractors
Honolulu Civil Beat – Nick Grube | Published: 5/20/2015
A federal appeals court panel on upheld Hawaii’s ban on political donations by state and county contractors. The three-judge panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also upheld the state law requiring PACs to register after spending more than $1,000 to influence an election, something officials said is necessary to follow the money during campaign season.
Louisiana – Lobbyists Pay for Louisiana Officials’ Trip, Recipients Don’t Disclose It
New Orleans Times-Picayune – Lee Zurik (WVUE) and Ben Myers | Published: 5/18/2015
Two lobbyists with the Black Alliance for Educational Options reported to the Louisiana Board of Ethics in 2011 that they had spent $1,400 apiece on the same 15 individuals. They included nine state and local elected officials, an executive-branch member, and a few staffers and spouses. None of the officials disclosed the expenses to the state. Public officials, like the lobbyists seeking to influence them, are subject to disclosure laws.
Maine – Senator Accepted Flight from J.D. Irving While Promoting Looser Mining Laws
The Sun Journal – Lance Tapley (Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting) | Published: 5/20/2015
Maine Sen. Thomas Saviello, who has worked to pass legislation allowing J.D. Irving to develop an open-pit mine in the state, accepted a free plane ride from the company’s lobbyists and did not report it to the state ethics commission. Saviello said he did not have to report the 2013 trip ride because its value was not more than $300, the threshold for reporting gifts from lobbyists, and because the purpose was fact-finding. The lobbyists involved also did not report the trip, as required by the ethics commission.
Missouri – Missouri House Speaker Resigns; Intern Breaks Silence
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Virginia Young | Published: 5/14/2015
Missouri House Speaker John Diehl resigned one day after the revelation of sexually suggestive text messages he exchanged with a 19-year-old legislative intern. The college student with whom Diehl had exchanged messages had been an intern for another House member. She no longer works at the Capitol, and Missouri Southern State University also removed its three other interns from Jefferson City. Republicans chose Rep. Todd Richardson as the next speaker.
Rhode Island – R.I. Secretary of State Gorbea Seeks Lobbying Changes
Providence Journal – Jennifer Bogdan | Published: 5/19/2015
Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea’s lobbying reform proposal was the subject of a recent hearing before the House Judiciary Committee. The proposal would increase the fines for violating the law from $2,000 to $5,000. Violators could also see their lobbying privileges suspended for up to three years. The bill also would reduced the frequency with which lobbyists have to file reports during the legislative session from monthly to quarterly.
Texas – Analysis: Ethics at center stage, hurting for attention
Texas Tribune – Ross Ramsey | Published: 5/18/2015
In his State of the State speech, Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott tried to put ethics reform high on the agenda for state lawmakers He added it to his list of five so-called emergency items that could get expedited treatment by lawmakers. But not a lot has changed. Reform is still possible, but the most significant changes being proposed still have not been considered by the House, much less by a committee that would have to reconcile the Senate and House versions of reform.
Wisconsin – Records Indicate Scott Walker Was Copied on Letter Promising Loan to Donor
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – Jason Stein and Patrick Marley | Published: 5/18/2015
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s office was copied on a letter acknowledging his job creation agency would give a $500,000 loan to a campaign donor’s construction company, raising questions about his statements that he was not aware of the deal. It was reported that the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. gave Building Committee Inc. (BCI) the unsecured, taxpayer-backed loan in 2011. The now-defunct company’s owner, William Minahan, gave Walker’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign $10,000, the maximum individual contribution allowed under state law. BCI never repaid the loan and did not use the money to create any jobs, according to The Wisconsin State Journal.
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