News You Can Use Digest - November 14, 2014 - State and Federal Communications

November 14, 2014  •  

News You Can Use Digest – November 14, 2014




Democrats Create an ALEC-Killer

Politico – Kenneth Vogel | Published: 11/9/2014

Liberal activists at the annual winter meeting of the Democracy Alliance will ask top donors to support a plan to reverse the Democratic decline in state governments. The goal of the State Innovation Exchange – SiX for short – is to compete with a well-financed network of conservative groups, including the American Legislative Exchange Council, that for years have dominated state policy battles, advancing pro-business, anti-regulation bills. SiX ultimately plans to raise as much as $10 million a year to boost progressive state lawmakers and their causes while also using tactics like opposition research and video tracking to derail Republicans and their initiatives.


Mitch McConnell’s Triumph Strikes Worry in the Hearts of Campaign Finance Reformers

Huffington Post – Paul Blumenthal | Published: 11/8/2014

The U.S. Senate will likely be led next year by Mitch McConnell, the primary antagonist to campaign finance reformers. Over three decades, he has made it a top priority to disrupt and degrade campaign finance regulations. Believing that limits on campaign funds are a direct impediment to the First Amendment right of free speech, he has opposed past reform efforts. With McConnell’s ascendance and with Republicans increasingly unified in opposition to campaign finance reform, its advocates expect an assault on the few areas where they had hoped to enact new rules in the post-Citizens United world.

Outside Groups with Deep Pockets Lift G.O.P.

New York Times – Nicholas Confessore | Published: 11/5/2014

The midterm election was not only a major victory for the Republican Party, but a pivotal moment for the super PACs and political nonprofit groups that helped the party defeat Democrats across the country. Over the last year and a half, the conservative outside groups retooled and revamped, using lessons in how to exploit voter data, opposition research, and advertising learned from their less moneyed but more effective Democratic counterparts during 2012. As federal courts opened new avenues of influence for the wealthy and lenient enforcement effectively neutered what few legal and regulatory restraints remained on big-money politics, they took advantage of every available tool.

From the States and Municipalities:

Arizona – Ducey Seeking Donations to Gubernatorial Transition Effort

Arizona Daily Star – Howard Fischer (Capitol Media Services) | Published: 11/13/2014

Arizona Gov.-elect Doug Ducey is asking for private contributions to fund his transition team. That is in addition to the donors he will be looking to tap to pay for the ceremonial parts of his inauguration. Spokesperson Daniel Scarpinato said Ducey has placed a $15,000 limit on money from any one source, at least for the transition fund. Scarpinato said there will be no limits on how much anyone can give to the separate fund to pay for the formal inaugural and any parties that might be planned for afterward.

California – California Legislators Flying to Maui to Meet with Special Interests

Los Angeles Times – Patrick McGreevy | Published: 11/12/2014

Two dozen California lawmakers will travel to Hawaii for conferences subsidized and attended by interests that lobby the Legislature, such as oil companies, public employee unions, drug and tobacco firms, and others. Conference organizers said the events, on the island of Maui, provide a relaxed setting in which elected officials and issue experts can discuss solutions to some of the state’s most vexing problems. Watchdogs say it is wrong for corporate executives to pick up the tab so they can meet with lawmakers out of public view just before the next legislative session begins. Sarah Swanbeck of Common Cause said the timing of this year’s event is especially poor because several state senators were hit with criminal charges this year, two of them involving allegations of corruption.

California – Prison Guard Union Failed to Report $24,603 in Gifts to Lawmakers

Los Angeles Times – Patrick McGreevy | Published: 11/11/2014

The state prison officers’ union agreed to a $5,500 fine for failing to disclose gifts it gave to California lawmakers from 2009 to 2011 and a corresponding failure to give gift notifications to the recipients. The gifts include lodging, meals, wine, and spa bags for legislators at the annual Governor’s Cup Foundation golf tournament in Pebble Beach. The California Correctional Peace Officers Association said the failure to report $24,603 in gifts was inadvertent.

California – Sacramento Political Consultant Richie Ross Agrees to Pay Lobbying Fines

Sacramento Bee – Laural Rosenhall | Published: 11/10/2014

Lobbyist Richie Ross agreed to pay $5,000 in fines to the Fair Political Practices Commission for not collecting campaign consulting fees from two lawmakers, thus improperly putting them under the personal obligation to a lobbyist. Ross, who agreed to write off the debt owed by the legislators, is one of a few individuals who serve in dual roles as lobbyist and campaign consultant in California. While state law allows a person to hold both positions, Ross ran into trouble because of his practice of carrying debt for successful candidates who agreed to pay him a “win bonus.”

Connecticut – Election Highlights Flaws In Campaign Finance System – Christine Stuart and Hugh McQuaid | Published: 11/10/2014

On one hand, 2014 was a banner year for Connecticut’s public campaign finance system. Both candidates for governor, all the candidates for constitutional office, and more than 80 percent of the candidates for General Assembly seats participated. On the other hand, outside groups spent $15.9 million on the governor’s race, outpacing the $13 million the two candidates received from the clean election program. The public financing program has been on the books since 2005, but the midterm election was the first test of the law as it was reshaped by the state Legislature last year.

Florida – Link Shows How Lobby Firm Cultivates Influence

New York Times – Eric Lipton | Published: 11/9/2014

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi invited Lori Kalani, a lobbyist and lawyer from Dickstein Shapiro, to stay at Bondi’s Tampa home while Kalani recovered from surgery. Dickstein Shapiro, a Washington, D.C.-based firm that specializes in building personal relationships with state attorneys general to help corporate clients avoid becoming targets of investigation, paid for Bondi’s travel to a resort island in Michigan in 2013. The Florida Commission on Ethics is reviewing a complaint asking it to investigate whether Dickstein Shapiro violated state law by not registering as a lobbying firm.

Georgia – Audit Reveals Systemic Problems at Ethics Commission

Gainesville Times – Joshua Silavent | Published: 11/6/2014

A review of the operations of the Georgia ethics commission by state auditors found inconsistent treatment of complaints, lack of formal procedures that results in unequal application of the law, and questionable expenditures. The report lists management problems, such as underqualified staff, poor documentation, and inadequate data controls. The commission requested the review in hopes of ending a string of scandals stemming from agency operations, according to Chairperson Hillary Stringfellow. There have been four executive secretaries heading the commission staff since 2006 and a 46 percent employee turnover rate in the last two years.

Louisiana – Feds Investigating Arson Attack on Political Operative’s Uptown Home

New Orleans Times-Picayune – Ken Daley | Published: 11/8/2014

The home and two cars of a campaign finance director for a pro-solar energy candidate running for the Louisiana Public Service Commission were firebombed on November 6. No one was injured in the explosions, and authorities have yet to establish a direct link between the apparent attacks and the campaign’s efforts to promote solar energy. The finance director targeted, Mario Zervigon, is a well-known political operative in the state. Zervignon worked for Forest Bradley-Wright, who is campaigning on a program that allows solar-panel users to continue to sell their excess electricity to utility companies. He is facing incumbent Eric Skrmetta in the December 6 run-off election.

Louisiana – Louisiana Politicians Spent Lavishly on Meals, Golfing, Gifts, Other Perks in 2013

New Orleans Times-Picayune – Lee Zurdik (WVUE) and Manuel Torres | Published: 11/6/2014

Records show Louisiana politicians spent millions of dollars in 2013 on meals, golf rounds and club dues; gifts to unnamed recipients; tickets to Louisiana State University and New Orleans Saints football games; and other events. State law prohibits using campaign money for personal expenses, according to the Board of Ethics, but allows expenses “related to a political campaign or the holding of a public office or party position.” Lawmakers last year failed to clearly define what that means, despite calls by watchdogs and the ethics board for stricter rules.

Mississippi – Christopher Epps, Former Chief of Prisons in Mississippi, Is Arraigned

New York Times – Timothy Williams | Published: 11/6/2014

Mississippi’s former prisons chief pleaded not guilty to federal charges that he accepted cash and mortgage payments in exchange for awarding prison contracts to companies tied to a local businessperson. Christopher Epps, who resigned as commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Corrections on November 5, was indicted on charges he and co-defendant Cecil McCrory were involved in a kickback scheme that started in 2007 and continued for seven years.

Nevada – With a $10,000 Cap on Political Contributions, How Did Caesars Give Gov. Brian Sandoval $215,000?

Las Vegas Sun – Conor Shine | Published: 11/12/2014

In more than a dozen cases, one company or person used multiple companies to donate to a single candidate in excess of Nevada’s standard limit, according to a Las Vegas Sun analysis. The practice stems from the way the law is written. Political contributions are capped at $10,000 per donor, whether it is an individual or a business. But for businesses that operate subsidiaries, each subsidiary or affiliate is eligible to make a $10,000 contribution, even if they are all controlled by the same person or group of people. The result is a gap in the law that allows mostly large companies in Nevada’s gaming, mining, and taxi industries to direct tens of thousands of dollars to their preferred candidates.

Pennsylvania – Sending Signals: Gov.-elect Tom Wolf bans gifts, limits no-bid legal work

Philadelphia Inquirer – Tom Fitzgerald and Amy Worden | Published: 11/12/2014

A code of conduct for Pennsylvania Gov.-elect Tom Wolf’s transition team foreshadows something he plans to impose on his first day on office: a gift ban on his appointees and executive branch employees. Wolf plans to sign an executive order to prohibit gifts, even though state law allows officials to accept gifts worth up to $250 without reporting them, or gifts worth more than that amount if disclosed. Wolf also said he would curb the practice of giving no-bid contracts to private law firms when he takes office.

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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