May 25, 2018 •
News You Can Use Digest – May 25, 2018
The Princes, the President and the Fortune Seekers
Seattle Times – Desmond Butler and Tom LoBianco (Associated Press) | Published: 5/21/2018
Two Americans sought to leverage access to President Trump while angling for lucrative contracts from two Gulf countries wanting to shift U.S. foreign policy against Qatar. Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy and businessperson George Nader reportedly worked to catch the president’s ear by passing along praise from the princes of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Broidy and Nader, who marketed themselves as having a back channel to the Oval Office, sought million-dollar contracts with the two Gulf countries for their efforts, according to the Associated Press investigation. The AP previously reported that Broidy and Nader sought to pass an anti-Qatar bill through Congress, while trying to hide their money trail related to such efforts. Nader is now reportedly cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team of investigators, who are said to be examining foreign influence inside the Trump White House.
Trump Violated the Constitution When He Blocked His Critics on Twitter, a Federal Judge Rules
Tampa Bay Times – Brian Fung and Hamza Shaban (Washington Post) | Published: 5/23/2018
U.S. District Court Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald ruled President Trump cannot block people from viewing his Twitter feed over their political views. Buchwald said the president’s Twitter account is a public forum and blocking people who reply to his tweets with differing opinions constitutes viewpoint discrimination, which violates the First Amendment. The government does not dispute that Trump blocked the Twitter users for political reasons, but the Justice Department had argued the president was largely acting in a personal capacity. Buchwald did not order Trump to unblock his followers, saying clarification of the law is sufficient to resolve the dispute. Should the president ignore the ruling, analysts say, future litigation could force Twitter to unblock Trump’s followers unilaterally.
Washington Lobbyists Put on Notice Over Foreign Agent Law
Associated Press – Chad Day and Eric Tucker | Published: 5/22/2018
The prosecution of a Pakistani man in Maryland reflects what current and former U.S. Justice Department officials say is an aggressive enforcement strategy against unregistered foreign agents that began even before special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation exposed a shadowy world of international influence peddling. Officials say they are not interpreting any differently the little-known law called the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires people to disclose when they lobby in the U.S. on behalf of foreign governments or political entities. But they have been taking a more aggressive approach, asking more probing questions of people and firms they suspect need to register, requesting more documents, and conducting investigations with an eye toward bringing criminal charges when appropriate.
From the States and Municipalities:
Alabama: Reform Commission Begins Work on Alabama Ethics Law
AL.com – Mike Cason | Published: 5/17/2018
A committee created to propose changes to the law governing ethics for Alabama officials, public employees, lobbyists, and others is aiming to have a proposal ready in October, allowing time to fine tune it before the 2019 legislative session starts March 5. Deputy Attorney General Mike Duffy was the main author of an ethics bill that was introduced during the 2018 legislative session. Lawmakers decided to set it aside and created the Ethics Reform Commission with the goal of passing reforms next year. Duffy said meetings with people affected by the law helped identify areas of concern that were addressed in the bill, such as more clearly defining who is considered a “principal.”
Arizona: Array of Arizona Politicians, Lobbyists Connected to Bribery Case
Arizona Capitol Times – Katie Campbell | Published: 5/18/2018
The trial of a former regulator, a utility owner, and a lobbyist has tentacles that stretch to many others in Arizona’s political universe. Eighty-two prospective witnesses may be called to testify at the trial scheduled to begin May 30. Former Arizona Corporation Commissioner Gary Pierce and his wife, Sherry, along with lobbyist Jim Norton and Johnson Utilities owner George Johnson, face charges of felony conspiracy, bribery, and fraud. Barry Aarons, who has lobbied at the Legislature for 40 years, said the public is in for a bad impression of Arizona politics no matter the outcome of the trial. “It reinforces that sense people have that the whole thing is corrupt,” said Aarons.
Florida: Florida’s Porous Campaign Finance Laws: ‘You can do almost anything’
Tampa Bay Times – Gary Fineout (Associated Press) | Published: 5/21/2018
So far, at least $13 million has been spent on television ads in the Florida governor’s race that includes six candidates vying for the job that will be vacated by Rick Scott. Television ads are poised to play a crucial role in the race since polls continue to show a majority of the state’s voters do not really know the Republican or Democratic candidates vying to replace him. Some of the ads are being paid for by groups that insist they have no legal obligation to disclose who is paying for them. Other ads are being coordinated with campaigns relying on their own legal interpretation to sidestep laws and rules intended to place limits on ad campaigns being funded by large donors. Mark Herron, an election law attorney based in Tallahassee, said: “You can do almost anything in Florida if you put it in the right bucket.”
Florida: Want to Speak at a Miami Beach Meeting? For Business Owners, That Could Cost $850
Miami Herald – Kyra Gurney | Published: 5/24/2018
Businesses owners who want to speak to public officials in Miami Beach are required to register as lobbyists under Miami-Dade County law and the city charges lobbyists a $500 registration fee plus $350 for each issue on which they plan to lobby. Most cities waive lobbying fees for business owners speaking on their own behalf. While the Miami Beach fees might not be a problem for big businesses and the lobbying firms hired to represent them, they have deterred several “mom-and-pop” business owners from speaking at a city commission meeting.
Georgia: Stacey Abrams Wins Georgia Democratic Primary for Governor, Making History
MSN – Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns (New York Times) | Published: 5/22/2018
Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams won the Democratic primary, bringing her a step closer to becoming the nation’s first African-American woman governor. By defeating Stacey Evans, Abrams also became the state’s first black nominee for governor. The general election is sure to draw national attention as voters determine whether a black woman can win in the Deep South, a region that has not had an African-American governor since Reconstruction. Abrams has signaled she is unlikely to spend much time persuading rural whites to return to a Democratic Party they have largely abandoned. She has embarked instead on a strategy of energizing a coalition of young and nonwhite Georgians who represent a growing share of the state’s population.
Louisiana: New Orleans City Council to Investigate Entergy for Paying Actors to Lobby for Power Plant
New Orleans Times-Picayune – Beau Evans | Published: 5/18/2018
In the wake of Entergy’s admission of waging an “astroturf” lobbying campaign leading up to the approval of a power plant in New Orleans, the city council will change public comment cards and introduce legislation to require lobbying groups register. Entergy conducted an internal investigation that found one of its contractors, Hawthorn Group, hired Crowds on Demand, which admitted to paying actors to testify in support of the power plant. The investigation also found Entergy’s contractors coordinated to have other people paid to sit in the audience of a council meeting to show support for the plant with handmade signs.
Maine: Legislative Typo Threatens to Undermine Clean Elections Campaigns
Lewiston Sun Journal – Kevin Miller (Portland Press Herald) | Published: 5/21/2018
Maine lawmakers left dozens of measures in limbo when they adjourned the 2018 legislative session. Advocates for the state’s public campaign finance system and a state ethics commission official warn that a little-noticed victim of the partisan rancor could have significant financial ramifications for the November 2018 elections. Lawmakers failed to pass a routine “errors and inconsistencies” bill to correct unintended budget language that prevents the ethics panel from disbursing additional money to clean elections candidates starting on July 1. As a result, more than 200 legislative candidates and potentially three gubernatorial campaigns will be unable to tap into at least $3 million, money that lawmakers already have budgeted for the public campaign finance system, in the final months of the election season.
Missouri: Missouri Lawmakers Can Keep Accepting Lobbyist Gifts After Failing to Pass Amendment
Kansas City Star – Allison Kite and Jason Hancock | Published: 5/18/2018
Missouri lawmakers can keep accepting free meals, drinks, and event tickets after the House defeated a proposed constitutional amendment. Sen. Jason Holsman had sought to ban lobbyist gifts and alter legislative term limits. The House brought up the proposal in the last hour of the legislative session only to move on moments later after some lawmakers tried to attach tried to attach amendments and sink the proposal. When the session ended, the proposal died.
Montana: Appeals Court Upholds Montana Campaign Finance Reform Law
Washington Times; Associated Press – | Published: 5/23/2018
A three-judge panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Montana’s 2015 law to increase campaign reporting and disclosure meets constitutional muster. A group called Montanans for Community Development was unwilling to register and disclose its donors and spending as required under the statute. The appeals panel called the group’s constitutional claims against the law “scattershot.” It also called the group’s argument “absurd” that the law’s requirement to file electronic campaign reports may be unconstitutional.
New York: From the E.R. to the Garden, M.T.A. Chief Holds Unusually Powerful Perch
New York Times – Brian Rosenthal | Published: 5/22/2018
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo last June selected Joseph Lhota to head the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). But Lhota would only agree to return to the position he held in 2012 on the condition that he could keep his full-time job as the chief of staff of one of the state’s biggest hospital networks, and also retain the prerogative to join any other paid board he wanted. While Lhota remains a respected official, his growing web of jobs has led to potential conflicts-of-interest and competition for his time, complicating the still-flailing effort to resuscitate a transit system used by millions of people every day. Nobody has ever led the MTA while balancing as many other leadership posts as Lhota.
Oklahoma: Many Felons Can’t Vote, But They Can Lobby at the Capitol
Oklahoma Watchdog – Paul Monies | Published: 5/16/2018
Questions have come up in recent years about who can be barred from becoming a registered lobbyist in Oklahoma and whether elected officials should be banned from accepting jobs as lobbyists shortly after leaving office. An Ethics Commission rule requiring a two-year waiting period before certain officials could become lobbyists was rejected by the Legislature this year, with some lawmakers saying it was unjust to deny people the freedom to seek private employment. The issue becomes trickier when it involves someone convicted of a felony. Nothing in state law or ethics rules prohibits lawmakers convicted of felonies from lobbying their former colleagues, but their ability to do so depends largely on prosecutors’ demands.
Pennsylvania: Pa. House GOP Leaders Planning to Impose Sanctions Against Rep. Nick Miccarelli
PennLive.com – Jan Murphy | Published: 5/17/2018
Pennsylvania House Republican leaders said they were moving to take away committee assignments from Rep. Nick Miccarelli, who is accused of abusing two women who dated him, including a fellow lawmaker who is now assigned a bodyguard while she is at the statehouse. The GOP leaders accused Miccarelli of repeatedly violating a caucus policy against retaliation, even after he was told several times about it. Rep. Tarah Toohil obtained a protective order against Miccarelli in March and House leaders provided her with a security escort when she is in the Capitol. The leaders said they also are moving Miccarelli’s desk on the chamber floor, so it will be farther from Toohil’s.
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