News You Can Use Digest - May 29, 2015 - State and Federal Communications

May 29, 2015  •  

News You Can Use Digest – May 29, 2015



Meet the ‘Dark Money’ Phantom
Center for Public Integrity – Carrie Levine | Published: 5/26/2015

David Langdon is a behind-the-scenes player among the small army of lawyers working to keep secret the origins of millions of dollars flowing to candidates. Langdon is also a legal soldier for conservative, often Christian, nonprofit organizations that together spend millions more to influence public policy and wield great influence among evangelical voters. Since the 2010 election cycle, at least 11 groups connected to Langdon or his firm have collectively spent at least $22 million on federal and state elections and ballot initiatives around the country.

Should We Pay Politicians More?
Politico – Kevin Hartnett | Published: 5/27/2015

The prime minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong, makes $1.7 million a year, more than four times as much as the next highest paid national executive – Barack Obama, who earns $400,000 a year. In Singapore, the salaries are seen as an anti-corruption measure. In the U.S., the idea of paying elected officials like corporate chief executives is politically unthinkable. But Renee Bowen, an economist at Stanford, and Cecilia Mo, a political scientist at Vanderbilt, used a game-theory model to argue that when elected representatives are paid more, they are more invested in keeping their jobs, and more likely to pursue citizen-friendly policies.


FEC Deadlocks on Wealthy Donor Giving Limits
Washington Times – Tom Howell, Jr. | Published: 5/21/2015

The FEC deadlocked on a proposal to write new rules in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s McCutcheon decision last year that struck down aggregate campaign finance limits, freeing wealthy Americans to contribute money to as many candidates and political parties as they want. Democrats on the FEC signaled they had been chastened by another effort last year to impose campaign finance rules on Internet videos, after 5,000 comments poured in to commissioners telling them to lay off Internet speech as they considered post-McCutcheon rules.

K Street’s Gains Felt at Boutique Firms, Too
The Hill – Megan Wilson | Published: 5/27/2015

The surge in business on K Street during the first months of 2015 was not limited to Washington’s biggest lobby shops as many smaller lobby and law firms also saw gains. Smaller firms have long decried the standard practice of evaluating Washington’s top shops by earnings alone, arguing it puts them at a disadvantage by appearing to not keep up with their much larger counterparts. When looking at the figures posted by K Street for the first three months of the year, analysts instead ranked industry players on year-over-year increases in total and average per-client revenue, fees per lobbyist, and client retention rates.

Supreme Court to Weigh Meaning of ‘One Person One Vote’
New York Times – Adam Liptak | Published: 5/26/2015

The U.S. Supreme Court said it will decide an important “one person, one vote” case next term to determine whether states should consider total population – or only eligible voters – when drawing roughly equal legislative districts. A shift from using total population would have an enormous impact in states with large immigrant populations, where greater numbers are children or noncitizens. It would shift power from urban areas to more rural districts. The Supreme Court in 1964 ruled states must divide electoral districts population-wise so that political power is equally shared. But it did not specify whether total population or eligible voters was the standard to use.

From the States and Municipalities:

Arizona – Phone Records Show Close Contact between Regulator, APS and ‘Dark Money’
Arizona Republic – Ryan Randazzo | Published: 5/21/2015

Debates over solar energy, and a flood of money from non-profit groups into the campaigns for those who sought to regulate utilities, marked the 2014 Arizona Corporation Commission election. During that time, commission Chairperson Bob Stump sent more than 50 private text messages to an Arizona Public Service Co. (APS) executive and 46 to a political “dark money” organizer, according to a non-profit investigating the commission. Critics say regulators should not have such close contact with the utilities they oversee, and the utilities should not be participating in political campaigns, which could violate election laws and rules that prevent elected officials from campaigning with public resources. APS is widely believed to have contributed to groups that supported two Republicans in the Corporation Commission race, but utility officials will neither confirm nor deny such contributions.

Hawaii – Under Fire: Hawaii ethics director defends his strict ethical views
Honolulu Civil Beat – Ian Lind | Published: 5/27/2015

The Hawaii Ethics Commission is evaluating its executive director, Les Kondo, following complaints that he was going too far with ethics rules. House Speaker Joseph Souki sent a letter to the commission complaining about its “recent attempts to prohibit common and regular practices,” including receiving gifts, meals, and charitable fundraiser tickets of a certain value. Teachers also have been upset about a recommendation that educators who organize and chaperone educational trips should not get a free ride from tour companies. “It’s not my job to tell people what they want to hear or let them do what they want to do; it’s my job to do what’s right, not what’s popular,” Kondo told his colleagues.

Missouri – Lawmakers Fail to Ramp up Ethics Laws for Missouri Officials
Columbia Missourian – Summer Ballentine (Associated Press) | Published: 5/24/2015

Despite months of discussions and assurances from legislative leaders who said this year would be different, ethics reform fell apart in the last few weeks of the session. That means Missouri for at least another year will remain the only state with the trio of unlimited campaign contributions, uncapped lobbyist gifts, and no laws preventing legislators from leaving office and immediately becoming lobbyists. Lawmakers’ failure to pass ethics bills comes as the Capitol is under increased scrutiny after the House ended the legislative session in scandal. Former House Speaker John Diehl admitted to exchanging sexually suggestive text messages with a 19-year-old Capitol intern and resigned the last day of the session.

Montana – Court Reverses Ruling on Montana Campaign Contribution Limits
The Missoulian – Matt Volz (Associated Press) | Published: 5/26/2015

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals invoked the Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision to raise the bar for states to justify limiting campaign donations. States can limit contributions if they have a legitimate interest in doing so. But proving that interest has changed since the Citizens United decision that said corporations can spend unlimited amounts in elections, said the three-judge panel. Before Citizens United, states only had to show they aimed to curb the influence of big money on politicians. After Citizens United, states must show more specifically that their laws are stopping an exchange of money for political favors, according to the opinion. The ruling by the Ninth Circuit was made in a case that challenged Montana’s contribution limits as violating donors’ rights to free speech.

New York – JCOPE’s New Guidance, or: You might be a lobbyist if …
Albany Times Union – Chris Bragg | Published: 5/27/2015

Proposed rules issued by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics said political consultants who take certain actions related to lobbying efforts must register, even if they do not directly ask lawmakers or agencies to act on bills or regulations. That could force firms that currently enjoy close relationships with New York lawmakers, and which simultaneously have clients with interests before those legislators, to start disclosing more interactions with them. Another provision directs firms who control the message and content of grassroots lobbying campaigns to register as lobbyists.

Oregon – Forget Fines – Oregon Prefers Warnings for Public Officials Guilty of Ethics Violations
Portland Oregonian – Nick Budnick and Laura Gunderson | Published: 5/26/2015

The Portland Oregonian found the state ethics commission has deliberately lightened up on those accused of abusing their public positions. The Oregon Government Ethics Commission has negotiated reduced penalties for every case it has handled involving a public official since 2008. “The commission is not one where we stand there looking to punish someone,” said Chairperson Kenny Montoya. Ron Bersin, the agency’s executive director, said the commission relies on education and training to keep public officials honest, but the panel hammers errant public officials when it is justified.

Tennessee – Ethics Panel Fading to Obscurity 10 Years after Tenn. Waltz
Albany Times Union – Erik Schelzig (Associated Press) | Published: 5/25/2015

May 26 marked the 10th anniversary of the arrest of five former lawmakers in the FBI’s sting operation called “Tennessee Waltz.” The case involved a scheme by state lawmakers to collect money in exchange for shepherding through bills on behalf of E-Cycle Management, which was an FBI front company. Following the scandal, lawmakers were spurred into trying to improve transparency and ethics in the statehouse. A decade later, most of those efforts have faded.

Texas – House Passes Ethics Bill, Senate Showdown Likely
Texas Tribune – Jay Root | Published: 5/26/2015

The Texas House approved an ethics bill that would force disclosure of “dark money” in campaigns. The legislation would also lower the amount lobbyists can spend to entertain state officials without disclosing the names of the politicians. But the House turned down an amendment to close a loophole that allows lobbyists to easily evade that disclosure by teaming up with other lobbyists to spend far more than the current $114, lowered to $50 in the House bill. The measure faces a showdown with the Senate over the details of their competing versions.

Vermont – Legislative Wrap: Lobbyist disclosure tops transparency effort – Erin Mansfield | Published: 5/22/2015

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin is expected to sign Senate Bill 93, which increases the number of times per year that lobbyists and their employers must file expenditure reports from three to seven. Lobbyists are already required to register with the secretary of state’s office, but they only need to report spending once during the legislative session – April 25, when the session is almost over. The new law would require monthly reporting while lawmakers are in Montpelier. The bill also requires lobbying groups to disclose the name of the organization in ads and file a report within 48 hours of running an advertising campaign worth $1,000 or more.

Virginia – Conservative Group Paying Ken Cuccinelli’s Campaign
Washington Post – Rachel Weiner | Published: 5/26/2015

Former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli won a legal victory against a conservative PAC he accused of duping campaign donors. Cuccinelli and the Conservative StrikeForce PAC reached a settlement that will prohibit the PAC from using a candidate’s name for future fundraising efforts against the candidate’s wishes. The PAC also agreed to pay Cuccinelli’s failed gubernatorial campaign $85,000 and give it exclusive rights to the PAC’s direct mail and email donor lists. Cuccinelli said the PAC used his name without his permission to mislead “thousands of innocent Americans” who thought they were helping his campaign.

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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