May 4, 2018 •
News You Can Use Digest – May 4, 2017
Crimes Are No Longer a Disqualification for Republican Candidates
San Francisco Chronicle – Michael Scherer (Washington Post) | Published: 5/1/2018
Criminal convictions, once seen as career-enders, are no longer disqualifying in the world of Republican politics. In the era of President Trump, even time spent in prison can be turned into a positive talking point, demonstrating a candidate’s battle scars in a broader fight against what he perceives as liberal corruption. Trump has attacked some branches of law enforcement, especially those pursuing white-collar malfeasance, as his allies and former campaign officials are ensnared in various investigations. Following his lead, Republican Senate candidates with criminal convictions in West Virginia and Arizona have cast themselves as victims of the Obama administration’s legal overreach.
Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez Is ‘Severely Admonished’ by Ethics Committee, Ordered to Repay Gifts
Chicago Tribune – Mike DeBonis (Washington Post) | Published: 4/26/2018
The Senate Ethics Committee “severely admonished” U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez for accepting gifts from a wealthy physician while using his position as a senator to promote the doctor’s personal and financial interests. It also ordered Menendez to repay the market value of all improper gifts he has not already repaid. The admonition stems from the same actions for which Menendez was indicted. His trial ended with a deadlocked jury and the federal government decided not to retry Menendez. In its letter of admonition, the Ethics Committee acknowledged the lack of a conviction at trial, but wrote, “The criminal system … neither enforces nor supplants the Senate’s rules or standards of conduct ….”
Giuliani: Trump repaid attorney Cohen for Stormy Daniels settlement
MSN – Devlin Barrett, Robert Costa, and Josh Dawsey (Washington Post) | Published: 5/2/2018
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said President Trump reimbursed his personal attorney Michael Cohen the $130,000 paid to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels to stay quiet about their alleged affair before the 2016 election. The comments by Giuliani, who recently joined Trump’s legal team, contradicted a previous statement by the president, who has said he did not know about the payment. Giuliani said Trump had repaid Cohen over a series of months, and the repayments were to ensure there was no campaign finance violation. Giuliani’s comments are also in direct contrast to what Cohen has been saying for months – that he used his own money to pay Daniels.
Lobbyist Helped Broker Scott Pruitt’s $100,000 Trip to Morocco
Los Angeles Times – Kevin Sullivan, Juliet Eilperin, and Brady Dennis (Washington Post) | Published: 5/1/2018
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is facing new criticism after it was revealed his controversial trip to Morocco was partially arranged by a lobbyist and cost $100,000, more than double what was previously reported. Richard Smotkin, a former Comcast lobbyist who is a longtime friend of Pruitt, accompanied him on the trip and served as a liaison. Smotkin’s role in the trip is unusual and could pose more problems for Pruitt since federal laws prohibit public officials from using government resources to financially benefit friends or relatives. Months after the visit, Smotkin registered as a foreign agent representing the Moroccan government after taking a contract with the country.
From the States and Municipalities:
Arkansas: Wilkins, Former Arkansas Legislator, Pleads Guilty to Bribery
Arkansas Business – Jan Cottingham | Published: 4/30/2018
Former Arkansas lawmaker Henry Wilkins pleaded guilty to accepting over $80,000 in bribes. Wilkins admitted that from 2010 to 2014, he accepted bribes from lobbyists and non-profit organizations. In exchange for the cash, Wilkins said he fixed shell bills, sponsored full bills, and voted for legislation. About $245,000 from Arkansas’ General Improvement funds were steered towards entities that funneled bribes to Wilkins through his church, where he served as pastor, the Justice Department said.
District of Columbia: Anti-Semitic Conspiracy Theories Roil DC City Government
Associated Press – Ashraf Khalili | Published: 5/2/2018
A spiraling controversy over anti-Semitic comments and conspiracy theories has roiled the government in the District of Columbia, seemingly getting worse with every public attempt to ease the tensions. The issue nearly derailed a city council meeting and resulted in the resignation of a city official who organized a disastrous “unity rally” that featured a speaker who called all Jewish people “termites.” Councilperson Trayon White ignited a firestorm by posting a short video on his Facebook page claiming an unexpected snowfall was because of “the Rothschilds controlling the climate to create natural disasters.”
Georgia: Georgia Governor Candidate Aims Gun at Teen in Campaign Ad. ‘Get Over It,’ He Tells Critics.
Chicago Tribune – Samantha Schmidt (Washington Post) | Published: 5/2/2018
A commercial for a Republican candidate in Georgia’s gubernatorial race, which features the politician holding a shotgun while seated next to a teenage boy, is drawing condemnation for what critics see as a casual attitude toward gun violence. In the ad, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp sits with a double-barrel shotgun, which he appears to be cleaning as he holds it across his lap with the action open. Seated next to Kemp is “Jake,” a young man interested in one of Kemp’s daughter’s. Kemp asks Jake the two keys to dating one of his daughters. “Respect, and a healthy appreciation for the Second Amendment,” Jake responds as Kemp pops the break-action closed with a click.
Massachusetts: Massachusetts Sen. Stan Rosenberg Resigns After Ethics Report Says He Failed to Protect State Senate from His Husband Bryon Hefner
MassLive.com – Gintautas Dumcius and Shira Schoenberg | Published: 5/3/2018
Massachusetts Sen. Stan Rosenberg will resign after a report said he failed to protect the Senate from his husband, Bryon Hefner, who has been accused of sexual misconduct. Rosenberg stepped down as Senate president when the allegations first surfaced. Investigators concluded Rosenberg showed “significant failure of judgment and leadership,” and knew or should have known that his now-estranged husband was “disruptive, volatile and abusive,” and had racially or sexually harassed employees of the Senate. The report did not accuse Rosenberg of breaking any chamber rules, though it did say he violated policy by giving Hefner access to his Senate email account despite a promise to his colleagues he would build a “firewall” between his personal and professional life.
Michigan: Michigan Lawmakers Voted on Bills Even After Admitting Conflicts of Interest
Center for Public Integrity – Kristian Hernandez | Published: 4/24/2018
A Center for Public Integrity analysis found seven Michigan legislators who voted on bills even when they publicly noted their own conflicts-of-interest in the matters. Currently, the penalties for voting when a conflict exists are modest., and seemingly unused. But a new bill introduced this session would make voting on such conflicts-of-interest a felony punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 and as much as four years in prison, which would make Michigan stricter than some states. But some officials say conflicts-of-interest are not a concern to their constituents, and the efforts to regulate them are just a ploy used for political attacks. Other officials and watchdogs say the measure falls short in fixing the transparency and accountability issues.
Minnesota: Allegations Against Minnesota Rep. Rod Hamilton Pose Big Test for New House Sexual Harassment Policy
Minnesota Post – Brianna Bierschbach | Published: 4/27/2018
Within 24 hours of Minnesota lawmakers adopting major changes to the House’s internal sexual harassment policy, that new policy is facing a big test as a woman filed a police report accusing state Rep. Rod Hamilton of sexual assault. Hamilton allegedly invited the woman back to his apartment near the Capitol during a snowstorm and “stroked her hair, traced her ear with his finger, kissed her cheek and held her hands and hugged her.” The woman first met Hamilton through her work advocating for sexual assault victims in Minnesota. Hamilton’s case deals with the question of how the chamber will handle an incident that involves a third party: someone who does not directly work for the House and Senate.
Montana: En Banc 9th Circuit Stays Out of War on Montana Campaign Caps
Coiurthouse News Service – John Parton | Published: 5/2/2018
Montana’s campaign contribution limits will stay in place for the June 5 primary elections after a federal appeals court decided against revisiting the issue. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said it would not reconsider its October ruling upholding the contribution limits for state races. The decision is part of a long-running lawsuit over claims that Montana’s limits are so low that they restrict donors’ free-speech rights. The Ninth Circuit ruled he limits prevent corruption or the appearance of corruption.
North Carolina: Steak Dinners, Travel, HOA Fees: How some NC legislators spend campaign donors’ money
Charlotte Observer – Will Doran and Lynn Bonner | Published: 4/25/2018
State campaign finance law allows North Carolina legislators to use donations to pay expenses that come along with being a lawmaker. They can use campaign contributions for housing, travel, and other expenses associated with working as lawmakers and spending part of the week in Raleigh. Spending on suits and other personal items is allowed for legislators who would otherwise have no need for them. Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina, said it is up to each state candidate to determine whether spending from campaign accounts on personal items could withstand scrutiny from constituents. Use of campaign funds for living expenses points to the inadequacy of legislator pay, Phillips said.
Oklahoma: Chairman of Oklahoma Ethics Commission Accuses Legislators of Retaliation
The Oklahoman – Nolan Clay | Published: 5/1/2018
Oklahoma Ethics Commission Chairperson John Hawkins accused legislators of retaliating against the agency by illegally cutting its budget. Hawkins said lawmakers took the action because of new restrictions imposed on gift-getting and on becoming a lobbyist after leaving office. The commission is not getting any money next fiscal year from the state’s general revenue fund. Instead it is being required to use $710,351 from a fund made up of fees collected from lobbyists, candidates, political parties, and PACs. The commission is meeting May 11 and may decide to file a legal challenge. It contends the state constitution requires the Legislature to appropriate funds to the agency.
South Carolina: South Carolina Lawmakers Getting Help on Following State Ethics Laws
Charleston Post and Courier – Seanna Adcox (Associated Press) | Published: 4/28/2018
While the House Ethics Committee has issued official opinions since its creation in 1991, the questions have skyrocketed in the last few years as South Carolina legislators sought to avoid their colleagues’ fate in an ongoing probe into statehouse corruption. Auditing by a firm newly hired in 2016 also helps ensure House members are following the ethics laws that many of them helped craft. Ethics Committee Chairperson Mike Pitts insists his efforts have nothing to do with the corruption probe. He said he does want to help legislators clear up mistakes on their campaign disclosure reports “that could be troublesome.”
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