May 26, 2017 •
News You Can Use Digest – May 26, 2017
Sean Hannity Done Talking About Seth Rich and WikiLeaks ‘for Now’ as Fox News Retracts Story
Washinton Post – Kristine Phillips and Peter Holley | Published: 5/24/2017
Fox News retracted a story linking the murder of a Democratic National Committee staff member with the email hacks that aided Donald Trump’s campaign, effectively quashing a conspiracy theory that had taken hold across the right-wing news media. The story of the murdered aide, Seth Rich, who was 27 when he was shot near his Washington, D.C. home in July, has been seized on by conservative pundits as an alternative narrative to the cascade of damaging revelations about the Trump administration’s ties to Russian officials who meddled in the presidential election. No evidence to support that theory has emerged, and the Washington Metropolitan Police Department is still investigating the case.
Work and Politics: What rights do employees have?
USA Today – Charisse Jones and Michael Izzo | Published: 5/16/2017
A U.S. House member’s letter that helped push a New Jersey attorney to resign after her boss was told she was a grassroots “ringleader,” sparked questions about how much an employer can clamp down on an employee’s activism. In an era of heightened political tensions, when many Americans are marching and boycotting for perhaps the first time, the case is showing how politics and the workplace can collide.
‘Soft Money’ Rules Upheld by Supreme Court
Bloomberg BNA – Kenneth Doyle | Published: 5/23/2017
The U.S. Supreme Court turned away a Republican challenge to a federal campaign finance restriction that prevents political parties from raising unlimited amounts of cash to spend on supporting candidates. The Republican Party of Louisiana had argued a provision of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) violates its free speech rights. But the justices let stand a lower court’s ruling that rejected the challenge. BCRA barred state and local parties from taking unlimited donations for any activities concerning federal elections. Such contributions are often called soft money because they are unregulated.
Trump Asked Intelligence Chiefs to Push Back against FBI Collusion Probe after Comey Revealed Its Existence
Washington Post – Adam Entous and Ellen Nakashima | Published: 5/22/2017
President Trump called two of the nation’s top intelligence officials – Dan Coats, the director of National Intelligence, and Admiral Michael Rogers, director of the National Security Agency – and urged them to publicly deny there is any evidence of collusion between his campaign and the Russians. The requests came in the days after then-FBI Director James Comey publicly confirmed the FBI was probing the Trump-Russia connection in his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on March 20. Coats and Rogers refused to comply with the requests, which they both deemed to be inappropriate.
White House Moves to Block Ethics Inquiry into Ex-Lobbyists on Payroll
New York Times – Eric Lipton | Published: 5/22/2017
The Trump administration is trying to block an effort from the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) to find out the names of lobbyists who have been granted waivers to work in the federal government. The White House sent a letter to OGE Director Walter Shaub, challenging the agency’s authority to see the waivers. President Trump in January signed an executive order that banned lobbyists hired in his administration from working with former clients or on issues they had been involved with for two years unless they received a waiver. Dozens of former lobbyists and industry lawyers are now working in the administration. Keeping the waivers confidential would make it impossible to know whether those officials are violating ethics rules or have been given a pass to ignore them.
From the States and Municipalities:
Arizona – Phoenix Moves to Implement New Rules for Lobbyists Following Republic Report
Arizona Republic – Rob O’Dell and Dustin Gardiner | Published: 5/23/2017
The city council gave preliminary approval to amending Phoenix’s lobbying ordinance so those who do not comply with its registration or expense disclosure rules can face sanctions, including fines of up to $2,500, suspension from lobbying, and possible jail time for repeated offenses. The new law also would apply rules to lobbyists’ communication with far more officials at the city. The council also approved a news definition of “lobbyist.” The council will hold one more vote to finalize the changes.
Arkansas – Panel: Dallas Cowboys owner violated Arkansas ethics law
Arkansas Online – John Lyon (Arkansas News Bureau) | Published: 5/20/2017
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who grew up in North Little Rock, paid for the city’s police officers and their families to attend a Cowboys home game of their choice late last season, with travel and lodging accommodations included. The gifts were in recognition of police service and volunteer work in the community. The Arkansas Ethics Commission ruled Jones had committed “an unintentional violation” by making the gift. Jones will receive a warning letter. No sanction was imposed because of his reliance on “the erroneous conclusion” in a North Little Rock City Council resolution. Through that resolution, the council accepted the gifts and subsequently passed them along to the officers as an employee benefit.
Iowa – Ethics Complaint Against Iowa Gun Owners Leader Dismissed
Des Moines Register – Brianne Pfannenstiel | Published: 5/22/2017
A man who has sometimes registered as a statehouse lobbyist was called a “liar” and “immoral,” but the House Ethics Committee dismissed a complaint against Iowa Gun Owners Executive Director Aaron Dorr. The complaint alleged Dorr was telling members of his group that he was lobbying lawmakers, but while Dorr has registered as a lobbyist in the past, he did not this year. Dorr gave documents to the committee saying he had not been designated as a lobbyist for Iowa Gun Owners and was not being paid to be its executive director. Committee Chairperson Rob Taylor said unless the panel decided to issue a subpeona for Dorr’s tax returns and bank records, they would have to accept that explanation.
Missouri – New Campaign Finance Rules Ignore Missouri Voters’ Decision
Governing – Kurt Erickson (Tribune News Service) | Published: 5/23/2017
The Missouri Ethics Commission issued an opinion saying campaign committees formed by party leaders in the House and Senate are no longer limited to contributions totaling $25,000 annually. Commission Executive Director James Klahr said those committees can once again receive unlimited donations. Under a November change to the state constitution, Missouri voters overwhelmingly capped contributions to individual candidates for office at $2,600 per election. Donations to a political party were capped at $25,000.
Montana – Bullock Vetoes Bill to Raise Allowable Campaign Contributions
Billings Gazette – Holly Michels | Published: 5/19/2017
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock vetoed a bill that would have revised campaign finance laws in the state and made changes to the commissioner of political practices office. Bullock said Senate Bill 368 would undermine the agency’s effectiveness and raise contribution limits far above what residents think is acceptable. The legislation would have increased the filing fees for legislative candidates, changed laws related to investigation of campaign practices, created an appeal procedure for certain complaints, and prohibit the commissioner from filing criminal action against a candidate for some violations.
New Mexico – Loophole and Vague Laws Create Ambiguity in Lobbyist Reporting
New Mexico In Depth – Sandra Fish | Published: 5/19/2017
New Mexico’s lobbyist reporting law has been criticized as lacking transparency. A loophole in a 2016 reform effort changed the reporting requirements for organizations and people they hire who spend money to influence public officials in New Mexico. Critics also say the law’s vagueness results in a situation in which lobbyists are now free to report some expenses, or not. And how they report them depends on a lobbyist’s interpretation of the rules.
New York – JCOPE Settlement Expected to Reveal Glenwood Behind $690K
Albany Times Union – Chris Bragg | Published: 5/23/2017
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics reached a settlement with nonprofit lobbying group Pledge 2 Protect that is expected to require the group to disclose that real estate giant Glenwood was intended to force groups like Pledge 2 Protect, issue-oriented nonprofits with lobbying operations, to disclose their donors. But in a series of six transactions in 2013, nearly $700,000 was funneled from previously unknown donors to a newly founded boutique law firm, Marquart & Small, which then passed the funds on to Pledge 2 Protect. Only the name of Marquart & Small showed up on subsequent lobbying disclosure filings, not the names of the original donors.
North Carolina – Supreme Court Ruling Wipes Out Republican-Drawn House Districts in N.C.
USA Today – Richard Wolff | Published: 5/22/2017
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled North Carolina’s Republican-controlled Legislature unlawfully relied on race when drawing two of the state’s congressional districts. The decision continued a trend at the court, where justices have found racial considerations improperly predominated in redistricting decisions by GOP Legislatures in Virginia, Alabama, and North Carolina. Some involved congressional districts, others state legislative districts. The states had contended their efforts were partisan attempts to protect their majorities, which the Supreme Court in the past has allowed, rather than attempts to diminish the impact of minority voters, which is forbidden. But the justices declared North Carolina had relied too heavily on race in their efforts to “reshuffle,” voters from one district to another.
South Carolina – How South Carolina Lawmakers Are Re-examining Their Rule Book after Statehouse Probe Indictments
Charleston Post and Courier – Andy Shain | Published: 5/21/2017
The House and Senate ethics committees are reviewing their advisory opinions to determine if alterations or updates are needed to ensure state lawmakers get the proper guidance to stay within the boundaries of South Carolina’s ethics law. The law does not cover every potential personal conflict in a legislator’s campaign or legislative duties. So, lawmakers receive opinions from their ethics panels to fill the gaps and create a more complete rulebook for them to follow. Since 2014, four legislators have been indicted in an ongoing probe of statehouse corruption.
Virginia – A ‘Personal Friend’ Exemption on Gifts to Virginia’s Elected Officials Leaves Open an Unlimited Loophole
The Virginian-Pilot – Bill Bartel | Published: 5/23/2017
Changes to Virginia’s ethics laws that went into effect last year place a $100 annual limit on gifts from a lobbyist, his or her clients, or someone seeking business with the state. The reform ended a common practice of lobbyists providing lawmakers with unlimited gifts, such as expensive sports tickets or pricey dinners. A new ethics council was set up advise officials and to approve acceptance of specific gifts or travel costing more than $100. But there remained a large exception: there is no limit on gifts to an officeholder or immediate family members from a “personal friend” who is not a lobbyist, a lobbyist’s client, or someone seeking state business.
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