News You Can Use Digest - November 13, 2015 - State and Federal Communications

November 13, 2015  •  

News You Can Use Digest – November 13, 2015



Only Three States Score Higher Than D+ in State Integrity Investigation; 11 Flunk
Center for Public Integrity – Nicholas Kusnetz | Published: 11/9/2015

A new report found that in state after state, open records statutes are filled with exemptions, and part-time legislators and agency officials engage in conflicts-of-interest and close relationships with lobbyists while regulators struggle to enforce laws. The State Integrity Investigation measured hundreds of variables to compile transparency and accountability grades for all 50 states. The best grade in the nation, which went to Alaska, is just a “C.” Only two others earned better than a “D+”; 11 states received failing grades. Aside from a few exceptions, there has been little progress on these issues since the research was first carried out in 2012.


Donald Trump Advertises Rising Value of Free Political Publicity
New York Times – Ashley Parker | Published: 11/9/2015

Thirty-second television commercials were once signs of a confident, well-financed candidacy for the White House. Now they are seen as a last resort of struggling campaigns that have not mastered the art of attracting the free media coverage that has lifted the political fortunes of insurgent campaigns. Donald Trump’s ability to command media attention and reach voters without depleting his campaign funds is just the latest example of the way his campaign has upended the conventional approach candidates have used to communicate with voters. In addition to having done countless interviews, Trump, who recently hosted “Saturday Night Live,” has been effective in using social media to attack his rivals, and many of his controversial quips on Twitter are rebroadcast by traditional news media outlets.

Even as House Speaker, Paul Ryan Sleeps in His Office
New York Times – Jennifer Steinhauer | Published: 11/10/2015

Like scores of other members of Congress, most of them Republican, Speaker Paul Ryan chooses to bed down in a cot in his office every night the House is in session. He chooses this over the speaker’s official palatial suite in the Capitol, which Ryan has pointed out stinks thanks to smoke from its prior inhabitant, John Boehner. For the lawmakers, the choice is fiscal, practical, and political. Many say they find Washington rental prices too high. Others say it allows them to work longer hours. Still others, like Ryan, say Washington is simply not their home. Some groups and other members have criticized the arrangement as essentially taxpayer-subsidized housing.

G.O.P. Fight Now a Battle over What Defines a Conservative
New York Times – Jonathan Martin | Published: 11/11/2015

For months, the Republican presidential race has been animated by the party’s anger about the state of the country and an equally undefined hope that a candidate would emerge who could usher in an era of renewal. But the most recent debate and its aftermath marked an abrupt transition from vague promises about making America “great again,” in Donald Trump’s phrase, to a new season of the campaign shaped more by the policy fissures that are dividing Republicans over what exactly to do about the nation’s problems. It exposed a contentious dispute over what it means to be a conservative and offered a preview of the contours of the battle for the Republican nomination.

From the States and Municipalities:

California – Conflict Concerns Won’t Keep Ethics Panel Out of Race
San Diego Union-Tribune – David Garrick | Published: 11/10/2015

The San Diego Ethics Commission will continue enforcing local campaign laws in the race to succeed City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, denying a candidate request that the commission recuse itself based on a potential conflict-of-interest. Rafael Castellanos asked for the recusal because one of his opponents in the race, Gil Cabrera, was a commission member from 2005 to 2010 and worked as special counsel for the commission in 2012 and 2013. The agency’s general counsel downplayed the potential conflict, noting only one of the commission’s seven members remains from when Cabrera served and only two members were there when he worked as a special counsel.

California – Follow the Money: Shining a light on political nonprofits
Capitol Weekly – John Howard | Published: 11/11/2015

California’s Political Reform Act has been largely untouchable for more than 40 years, but now it may get a rewrite. The catalyst for change comes from a tangled trail of some $15 million in so-called dark money that flowed via nonprofits into the state’s 2012 elections final stages. Ultimately, the spending resulted in a $1 million fine. The proposed changes would create, for the first time, a constitutional right to regulate political money and force disclosure. It would require the disclosure of the source of donations of $10,000 or more to nonprofits, when the money is used for political purposes, make explicit who is paying for political ads, and it double the “revolving door” waiting period to two years. The proposal outlaws lobbyists’ gifts to elected officials, and cuts the maximum value of a gift from a member of the public, now $460 annually, to $200 a year.

California – Lobbyist Meetings Missing from San Jose Council Calendars
San Jose Mercury News – Ramona Giwargis | Published: 11/8/2015

Elected officials in San Jose are falling short when it comes to disclosing meetings with lobbyists. A review found the mayor and every city council member had contacts with lobbyists this year that were not disclosed on the officials’ public calendar. Local law requires lobbyists to file quarterly reports on their contacts with elected officials. The San Jose Mercury News said lobbyists reported 105 more such contacts this year than city officials did. Council members defended themselves by saying the undisclosed contacts were human error, they did not realize they were chatting with a lobbyist, or the contacts were unexpected run-ins or email communications the policy does not require them to report. Watchdogs say the discrepancy undermines the goals of transparency and deceives the public.

Florida – Hialeah Mayor Tries to Pay County’s $4K Ethics Fine in Pennies
Miami Herald – Brenda Medina | Published: 11/6/2015

Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez finally decided pay the $4,000 fine the Miami-Dade County ethics commission imposed earlier this year on his business dealings. Hernandez sent the commission a truck stacked with 28 buckets filled with pennies to cover the fine. But his payment was not accepted. Apparently, the commission accepts only checks. “I paid it with American money, of the United States, and I have the right to do that,” said Hernandez.

New Hampshire – G.O.P. Candidates, Lagging, Rely on New Hampshire to Get Close
New York Times – Jonathan Martin | Published: 11/8/2015

Some Republican candidates are staking their presidential bids on an idea that seems increasingly quaint: that campaigning one on one in this small state can set you on the path to becoming president. It is a notion that is facing a rigorous test this election cycle, as the large Republican field, social media, and televised debates that attract massive audiences have reshaped the race like never before. The outcome in New Hampshire will echo beyond this election and reveal much about how the country chooses presidents, and whether the tradition of direct voting in the first-in-the-nation primary matters anymore. Its possible diminishment is already unsettling residents, who view their role of scrutinizing and winnowing the field of candidates as a solemn duty.

New York – Legislation Introduced to Tighten New York City Campaign Finance Rules
New York Daily News – Erin Durkin | Published: 11/9/2015

A package of bills to tighten New York City’s campaign finance rules was introduced in the city council. One bill would ban candidates from getting matching funds for donations raised by fundraisers who do business with the city. The legislation would also ban all candidates, including those who are not taking matching funds, from accepting contribution from political committees that are not registered with the city. Another bill would restrict contributions from businesses with numerous limited liability companies.

Pennsylvania – Pennsylvania Ethics Officials Crack Down on Lobbyists
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review – Kari Andren | Published: 11/11/2015

The Pennsylvania Ethics Commission is ramping up enforcement against groups that fail to file mandated quarterly expense reports, and the state House has approved a bill to up the ante for non-compliance by lobbyists and the groups they represent by dramatically increasing penalties for not abiding by disclosure rules. Thirty-one groups were cited for failing to file expense reports this year; fines and penalties total about $90,300. In 2014, the commission issued just 15 citations. The House bill would hike the maximum penalty imposed from $50 per day to a tiered system of $50 for the first 10 days, $100 for each of the next 10 days, and $200 for each late day after 20 days.

Texas – Ethics Commission Recommends Controversial Lobbying Ordinance
Austin Monitor – Jack Craver | Published: 11/12/2015

The Ethics Review Commission recommend to the Austin City Council a resolution aimed at overhauling city lobbying rules.  A revised draft crafted by a commission working group incorporated some of the concerns expressed by developers. Stuart Sampley, president of the Austin chapter of the American Institute of Architects, said the ordinance unfairly targeted development, design, and architectural professionals and misrepresented their day-to-day interactions with city officials as lobbying. The recommendations from the working group urged city staff to explore a number of potential negative effects of stricter lobbying requirements. Backers of the reform hope the measure will be on the agenda for council at its last meeting of the year on December 17.

Washington – Seattle’s Experiment with Campaign Funding
The Atlantic – Russell Berman | Published: 11/9/2015

Starting in 2017, Seattle residents will be able to contribute to local candidates without spending a dime of their own money. Instead, the government will send each registered voter four $25 vouchers that they can give to candidates of their choice. Candidates can opt out, but those who participate will have to abide by strict limits on spending and on receiving private donations. “The promise of vouchers is turning every single voter in the city into a donor,” said Alan Durning, the executive director of the Sightline Institute, a think tank and advocacy group that pushed for the new program. Critics have said the measure’s design will benefit incumbents and entrenched political organizations who do not need any extra boost.

Wisconsin – Senate GOP Votes to Overhaul Campaign Finance, Revamp Board
Albany Times Union – Todd Richmond (Associated Press) | Published: 11/7/2015

The Wisconsin Senate approved, with changes, a pair of bills altering the state’s campaign finance and election oversight rules. They will now return to the Assembly, which must approve the changes before sending the bills to Gov. Scott Walker. Republicans backing the proposals say they are necessary to bring the state’s statutes in line with court rulings and to protect First Amendment rights to free speech. Democrats argue the bills, along with one limiting the scope of crimes that can be investigated in so-called John Doe probes, would open the door for corruption and expand the influence of money in politics.


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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