May 6, 2016 •
News You Can Use Digest – May 6, 2016
Often-Secret Donors Spend Big to Push Elected Officials’ Pet Projects
USA Today – Fredreka Schouten and Mary Troyan | Published: 4/5/2016
Nonprofit groups have become a fixture in federal politics, allowing secret donors to pump unlimited sums into advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts in elections. But their use has spread rapidly to statehouses and city halls as another source of cash that elected officials of both parties can tap to help shape public policy. Elected officials defend their use, saying nonprofits can move more nimbly than government agencies to advance civic initiatives and are less likely to draw the public’s ire over using taxpayer funds for pet projects or quasi-political expenses, such as polling. Campaign finance watchdogs, however, said they are just another way for unregulated money to seep into the political process and give big donors a covert method to curry favor with decision makers.
Stricter Rules for Voter IDs Reshape Races
New York Times – Michael Wines and Manuel Fernandez | Published: 5/1/2016
Since their inception a decade ago, voter identification laws have been the focus of fierce political and social debate. Proponents, largely Republican, argue the regulations are essential tools to combat election fraud, while critics contend they are mainly intended to suppress turnout of Democratic-leaning constituencies like minorities and students. As the general election nears, in which new or strengthened voter ID laws will be in place in 15 states for the first time in a presidential election, recent academic research indicates the requirements restrict turnout and disproportionately affect voting by minorities. The laws are also reshaping how many campaigns are run, with candidates not only spending time to secure votes, but also time to ensure those votes can be cast.
Clinton Fundraising Leaves Little for State Parties
Politico – Kenneth Vogel and Isaac Arnsdorf | Published: 5/2/2016
The Hillary Victory Fund is a joint fundraising committee comprised of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, the Democratic National Committee, and 32 state party committees. The set-up allows Clinton to solicit checks of $350,000 or more from her wealthy supporters. In the days before Clinton launched the unprecedented fundraising vehicle, she proclaimed “when our state parties are strong, we win. That’s what will happen.” But less than one percent of the $61 million raised by that effort has stayed in the state parties’ coffers. The arrangement has sparked concerns among watchdogs, who see it as a circumvention of contribution limits by a national party apparatus intent on doing whatever it takes to help Clinton win the Democratic nomination and then the White House.
Now, Dennis Hastert Seems an Architect of Dysfunction as Speaker
New York Times – Carl Hulse | Published: 5/2/2016
Dennis Hastert’s admission in federal court that he sexually molested wrestlers on the Illinois high school team he coached years before setting foot on Capitol Hill is provoking a re-evaluation of his tenure as the longest-serving Republican House speaker. Hastert emerges as a deeply flawed figure who contributed significantly to the dysfunction that defines Congress today. Even his namesake Hastert rule, the informal standard that no legislation should be brought to a vote without the support of a majority of the majority, has come to be seen as a structural barrier to compromise.
With Donald Trump in Charge, Republicans Have a Day of Reckoning
New York Times – Patrick Healy, Jonathan Martin, and Maggie Haberman | Published: 5/4/2016
For a Republican Party that usually rallies around its presumptive presidential nominee quickly, the brutal primary campaign and the questions about Donald Trump’s substance and style have fueled a remarkable level of dissatisfaction, antipathy that will not fade simply because Ted Cruz and John Kasich have ceded the race. The journey from denial and resistance to grudging acceptance, and even peace, with the Trump nomination may never be complete for some Republicans. But leaders hope to change that quickly, to save the party from splintering and to have a real shot at winning in November.
From the States and Municipalities:
California – Legislature Passes Bill to Disclose Lobbying on State Contracts
KQED – Guy Marzorati | Published: 5/3/2016
Communicating with government officials to try to win state contracts would be considered lobbying under legislation the California Assembly sent to Gov. Jerry Brown despite opposition from the Fair Political Practices Commission. If Brown signs the Assembly Bill 1200, people who communicate with government officials about contracts enough to earn $2,000 or more a month for their efforts would have to register as lobbyists. It would apply only to people working on contracts worth at least $250,000.
California – State Senator Calls for a Ban on Private Meetings with Coastal Commissioners to ‘Level the Playing Field’
Los Angeles Times – Dan Weikel and Kim Christensen | Published: 5/3/2016
Ex-parte communications between individual members of the California Coastal Commission and developers, lobbyists, environmentalists, and other interested parties have become a major element in the way the commission presides over land use, public access, and environment protection. Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson has introduced legislation to ban those communications, a move that has raised questions about who gets access to individual commissioners and the fairness of the panel’s quasi-judicial process that weighs both sides before rendering a decision.
Kentucky – FBI Agent: Illegal donations went to campaigns of Andy Beshear, Jack Conway
Lexington Herald-Leader – John Cheves | Published: 5/3/2016
Newly released court documents show former Kentucky Personnel Cabinet Secretary Tim Longmeyer, who pleaded guilty to a federal bribery charge, arranged for illegal campaign donations to Andy Beshear, who was elected attorney general, and Jack Conway, who lost his bid to become governor. An affidavit states there is no indication the candidates were aware of the scheme. Court documents indicate the money came from a scheme Longmeyer had with MC Squared Consulting, which gave him kickbacks in exchange for help securing contracts with two insurers.
New York – Executive Chamber Receives Subpoena; Percoco Said to Be Under Federal Gaze
Albany Times Union – Casey Seiler | Published: 4/29/2016
The federal investigation into one of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature economic development programs has come to focus on one of his former top aides, Joseph Percoco. The inquiry is also focused on several other men and a company linked to the program, called the Buffalo Billion. The governor’s office was served with a federal grand jury subpoena for documents related to the investigation. “The state has reason to believe that in certain programs and regulatory approvals they may have been defrauded by improper bidding and failures to disclose potential conflicts-of-interest by lobbyists and former state employees,” the governor’s office said in a statement.
New York – From Albany to Prison: Ex-lawmakers on life behind bars
New York Times – Vivian Yee | Published: 4/30/2016
In interviews, four former New York lawmakers that were convicted on corruption charges tell of spiritual awakenings, physical survival, and mental toughening. But what figures largest in these personal narratives – what they say has sustained them throughout – is the belief they were wrongly prosecuted. With onetime Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver being sentenced to 12 years recently, along with the expected arrivals of convicted ex-Sens. Dean Skelos and John Sampson, there will be at least nine former members of the Legislature in the federal prison system. Nine more were released over the last few years.
New York – Sheldon Silver, Ex-New York Assembly Speaker, Gets 12-Year Prison Sentence
New York Times – Benjamin Weiser and Vivian Yee | Published: 5/3/2016
A federal judge sentenced former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to 12 years in prison after he was convicted of corruption charges. The judge also ordered him to forfeit more than $5 million in proceeds from his crimes and pay a $1.75 million fine. Silver was found guilty of fraud, extortion, and money laundering in dealings with real estate developers and a Columbia University cancer researcher. Prosecutors also alleged he found jobs for two women with whom he had extramarital affairs. “Silver’s crimes corrupted the institution that he led for more than 20 years,” prosecutors wrote in their sentencing recommendation. “As a fixture in the legislative leadership, an entire generation of New York legislators served in an institution framed by his corrupt example.”
Pennsylvania – Guilty: Aide to former PA Gov. Rendell pleas to wire fraud
Binghamton Press & Bulletin – Marc Levy (Associated Press) | Published: 5/1/2016
An ex-chief of staff to former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell pleaded guilty to federal wire fraud charges in connection with an FBI undercover investigation into lobbying activities in Harrisburg. John Estey is accused of taking $20,000 from an undercover business created by the FBI five years ago. He agreed to make campaign contributions that would influence state lawmakers and to distribute the money in a way that would hide the company’s role. State law bans campaign donations from corporations. But Estey only gave $7,000 to legislators, secretly keep the rest for himself.
Utah – Donor Speed-Dating with Guv Doesn’t Sit Well with Some
Salt Lake Tribune – Robert Gehrke | Published: 4/28/2016
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s campaign is pitching a novel fundraising approach, granting one-on-one meetings with the governor in a speed-dating-style format for donors who give generously to his re-election efforts. The tactic, presented by the governor’s campaign staff at a meeting at the Alta Club in Salt Lake City to more than two dozen lobbyists and supporters, was alarming to several in attendance. “I think everyone who was there was like, ‘Too much,'” said one of several lobbyists who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to not upset the governor or his staff. “It made people cringe.”
Virginia – Fla. Businessman Paid $10K for Va. Senator’s Trip to Meet Syrian President Assad
Washington Post – Laura Vozzella | Published: 5/3/2016
A businessperson paid $10,000 for the cost of Virginia Sen. Richard Black’s recent trip to Syria, where he met with President Bashar al Assad. State ethics officials signed off on the gift, finding it complied with state ethics laws. Black will be required to report the free business-class air travel and accommodations on his financial disclosure form. But he is not sure how to put a dollar figure on something the Syrian government lavished on him during his visit: security. “When we went to Palmyra, as we were traveling some of the roads, they had a very large assault jet flying in at treetop level with ear-splitting roars, and on the other side were four assault helicopters,” Black said. Accounting for largesse of that sort will be a new one in Richmond, even after three rounds of ethics reform.
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