News You Can Use Digest - May 9, 2014 - State and Federal Communications

May 9, 2014  •  

News You Can Use Digest – May 9, 2014




Federal Election Commission Approves Bitcoin Donations to Political Committees

Washington Post – Matea Gold | Published: 5/8/2014

The FEC unanimously ruled that political committees could legally accept bitcoin donations. The commission also affirmed that political committees could buy and sell the digital currency as an investment, as long as they turned those proceeds into dollars before spending them. But after the vote, individual commissioners offered conflicting views on whether their decision limits bitcoin donations to small amounts.

Lobby Cash Goes Underground in PR Boom

The Hill – Megan Wilson | Published: 5/7/2014

While traditional lobbying revenue hit its lowest point in four years in the first months of 2014, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, industry insiders say those statistics miss the hundreds of millions of dollars that are flowing to firms that are not registered to lobby. Companies and industries are increasingly using public relations for a broad array of tasks. Unlike lobbyists, public affairs firms are not required to report their clients, specific activities, or revenue, so the amount of money they take in is hard to determine.

Lobbying 101: K Street goes back to school

Politico – Byron Tau | Published: 5/7/2014

Two brand-new programs will offer aspiring lobbyists and K Street veterans alike a chance to learn new skills and beef up their resumes. George Washington University has instituted a master’s degree with a focus on global advocacy and lobbying. The Public Affairs Council unveiled a certificate program aimed at giving mid-career professionals a chance to expand their expertise and improve their management skills. Other established programs include the Association of Government Relations Professionals’ Lobbying Certificate Program and the Public Affairs and Advocacy Institute at American University.

From the States and Municipalities:

Florida – Miami-Dade Lobbyist in Middle of FBI Sting against Mayors Pleads Guilty

Miami Herald – Jay Weaver | Published: 5/7/2014

Richard Candia, a lobbyist caught up in a FBI sting that also snared two South Florida mayors, pleaded guilty to honest services fraud. The undercover operation revolved around a bogus federal grant program that prosecutors say was designed to line the pockets of the mayors, Candia, and another lobbyist instead of benefiting their cities. Under his plea agreement, Candia is expected to be a key witness for the prosecution in the upcoming trial of former Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi.

Kansas – Brownback Dismisses Reports of FBI Investigation of Associates as Smear Campaign

Wichita Eagle – Bryan Lowry | Published: 5/5/2014

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback dismissed reports of an FBI investigation into the activities of his former chief of staff, David Kensinger, as a smear campaign. Sources have said three lobbyists and a former state official were interviewed about whether Kensinger and others have been involved in “pay-to-play’ schemes. Two of the interviewees said they were pressured and intimidated by Kensinger to support and donate to certain candidates. But another said no quid pro quo took place.

Kentucky – In Reversal, Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission Finds Former Lawmaker John Arnold Guilty

WFPL – Jonathan Meador | Published: 5/7/2014

In the face of a public outcry, the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission revisited its sexual-harassment case against former state Rep. John Arnold, finding him guilty of three ethics violations and imposing a $3,000 fine. When the commission originally heard the complaints, the hearing ended in a vote of four-to-one that Arnold was guilty. That vote was insufficient for a finding of guilt because the panel has nine members and five votes are needed to take action. That decision led to much public criticism and prompted leaders from both parties to call on the commission to re-hear the case.

Louisiana – Federal Judge Throws Out Campaign Donor Limits for Super PAC Supporting US Sen. David Vitter

Columbus Republic – Melinda Deslatte (Associated Press) | Published: 5/2/2014

A federal judge barred Louisiana from enforcing its $100,000 cap on donations in a four-year election cycle to a super PAC formed by a lawyer who has said it will advocate for U.S. Sen. David Vitter’s 2015 gubernatorial campaign. U.S. District Court Judge Martin Feldman said the state’s contribution limit was unconstitutional for a group that does not coordinate with candidates and “engages only in independent expenditures,” a ruling that could have widespread implications across Louisiana elections.

Missouri – Familiar Impasse Threatens Ethics Measures

Columbia Daily Tribune; Associated Press –   | Published: 5/4/2014

Opposition has once again emerged to suggest ethics reform is at an impasse at the Missouri General Assembly. During each of the past two sessions, bills to curb lobbying have been derailed in the Senate by Democratic attempts to reinstate campaign contribution limits. Both sides show no signs of backing down before lawmakers adjourn on May 16. A stalemate means Missouri would continue to be the only state that allows the trio of unlimited contributions to candidates, unlimited gifts from lobbyists, and no waiting period before elected officials can lobby.

Montana – GOP Candidate Benefiting from Super PAC He Founded Takes Heat from Fellow Republicans

Huffington Post – Amanda Terkel | Published: 5/7/2014

The decision by Special Operations for America to support Ryan Zinke, a U.S. House candidate in Montana, is not exactly surprising. Zinke founded the super PAC himself two years ago. The group has been running ads touting his candidacy and was even encouraging people to back him before he officially jumped into the race. The two were literally so close that at one point, the super PAC was renting office space from Zinke in a building across the street from his house.

New Jersey – Analysis: Ethics rules don’t keep ex-BPU officials from related industries

Bergen Record – Jean Rimbach | Published: 5/6/2014

Despite ethics rules on the books, top New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) officials routinely move quickly and easily into the industries that once had cases before them. Unlike some other states, New Jersey has no waiting period, during which departing commissioners face a prohibition on taking a job with a regulated utility, leaving open the opportunity for immediate employment with companies they oversaw. And decisions on what constitutes a banned activity in a post-BPU job are made case by case.

Rhode Island – GTECH Was a Corporate Sponsor for R.I. Senate President Pavia Weed’s Trip to Spain

Providence Journal – Katherine Gregg | Published: 5/2/2014

At least a dozen companies and trade associations that had lobbyists at the Capitol last year provided money to the Senate Presidents Forum, which paid for Rhode Island Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed’s trip to Spain. The state Ethics Commission has placed limits on gifts from “interested” parties, defined as any person or an entity that has a direct financial interest in a decision the public official is authorized to make. Paiva Weed believes such trips provide opportunities to confer with counterparts who face the same kinds of issues as Rhode Island. “I did not have one-on-one meetings with [any] lobbyist,” said Paiva Weed.

Rhode Island – Target 12 Investigation Triggers RI Probe of 38 Studios Lobbying

WPRI – Tim White and Ted Nessi | Published: 5/5/2014

Rhode Island Secretary of State Ralph Mollis will investigate whether 38 Studios, the video game company founded by former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling that went bankrupt in 2012, violated state lobbying laws. According to WPRI, 38 Studios did not register any lobbyists with the state while the company was active in Rhode Island, as required by law. But a contract uncovered by the television station showed 38 Studios had agreed to pay $300,000 per year to an associate of the former House Speaker Gordon Fox to work with government agencies and officials.

Texas – Ken Paxton’s Business List Has Surged Since He Entered Legislature

Dallas Morning News – Gromer Jeffers, Jr. | Published: 5/4/2014

Since he joined the Legislature in 2003, Texas Sen. Ken Paxton, who is running for state attorney general, has started or become part of 28 business ventures. Paxton, like other lawmakers, has voted on measures that could affect his personal holdings. He has declined to say how much his net worth has grown since he joined the Legislature, and he has refused to release his federal tax returns. The state requires officeholders to list only broad ranges that their income and investments fall in, so it is difficult to say how extensive Paxton’s business holdings are.

Wisconsin – Conflicting Rulings Cloud Wisconsin Campaign Finance Inquiry

New York Times – Monica Davey | Published: 5/7/2014

A U.S. appeals court ruled Wisconsin investigators can continue a secret probe into possible campaign finance law violations by conservative groups in the state. The order stopped for now enforcement of a federal judge’s ruling that the 20-month inquiry must be halted, and records and property seized by investigators returned to the Wisconsin Club for Growth, the group that sued to halt the probe.

Wisconsin – Wisconsin to No Longer Have Aggregate Campaign Funding Limits after Federal Lawsuit Settled

Minneapolis Star Tribune – Scott Bauer (Associated Press) | Published: 5/8/2014

Wisconsin has reached a settlement in a federal lawsuit challenging the state’s limits on how much individuals can contribute to campaigns. The state law prohibits donors from giving more than $10,000 a year to all candidates. The settlement says in light of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Wisconsin’s law is unconstitutional so donors now will be able to spend as much as they want in aggregate to PACs and political parties.

Jim SedorState and Federal Communications produces a weekly summary of national news, offering more than 80 articles per week focused on ethics, lobbying, and campaign finance.

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