News You Can Use Digest - November 21, 2014 - State and Federal Communications

November 21, 2014  •  

News You Can Use Digest – November 21, 2014

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National:

A Citizen’s Guide to Buying Political Access
New York Times – Tara Siegel Bernard | Published: 11/18/2014

A recent study provides some confirmation of what many voters have long assumed: campaign donations buy access to politicians. Precisely how much money it takes to gain access is up for debate, and it will vary across offices, but even politicians themselves have admitted big donors get special treatment. As long as there is not an exchange of money for favors, the potential influence of large donors has been deemed acceptable by the U.S. Supreme Court, which in recent decisions relaxed rules on financing campaigns. At the state level, research has found money is more influential in some Legislatures than in others, and what is considered a meaningful donation will also differ.

Federal:

How the GOP Used Twitter to Stretch Election Laws
CNN – Chris Moody | Published: 11/15/2014

The National Republican Congressional Committee and a pair of GOP-aligned outside groups, the American Action Network and American Crossroads, used anonymous Twitter accounts to share polling information ahead of the 2014 elections, according CNN. That allowed them to skirt rules banning private sharing of information between outside groups and the national parties, rules that have been increasingly circumvented as campaign finance laws have crumbled in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. There are still rules preventing direct coordination but campaigns and committees often publicly post information, messaging, and video footage in order to let super PACs and other outside groups use the information.

New Senators Tilt G.O.P. Back toward Insiders
New York Times – Jeremy Peters | Published: 11/15/2014

When Republicans take over the U.S. Senate in January, the 11 men and women of the party’s freshman class will be, with a lone exception, people whose careers blossomed inside the government bureaucracy. They are a counterintuitive fit with the anti-government, anti-establishment fervor that has energized the GOP of late. And their victories seem hard to reconcile with the strong hostility toward government institutions that dominated the recent midterm elections.

Top Spenders on Capitol Hill Pay Billions, Receive Trillions
Sunlight Foundation – Bill Allison and Sarah Harkins | Published: 11/17/2014

The Sunlight Foundation has devised a new way to gauge how much power corporations wield in Washington, D.C. The foundation took the 200 corporations most active in the capital, analyzed the years 2007 to 2012, and applied several metrics: what the companies got in federal contracts and other federal support, what they spent on lobbying, and how much their executives and PACs gave in campaign contributions. Bill Allison, the foundation’s editorial director, said the top 200 corporations accounted for nearly $6 billion in lobbying and campaign contributions; those same companies benefited from more than $4 trillion in federal contracts and assistance.

From the States and Municipalities:

Idaho – Lawyer-Lobbyists Influence Idaho Law
Idaho Statesman – Audrey Dutton | Published: 11/19/2014

Roy Eiguren, a 62-year-old Boise attorney and lobbyist, remembers a day in 2004 when Idaho lawmakers in a special session started at 8:30 a.m. and had an electric-utilities bill on the governor’s desk by 4 p.m. Eiguren was the primary draftsman on the bill. “… It was, I think, a great example where a lawyer who is a lobbyist can play a very significant role,” said Eiguren. He and other lawyers say they happened into lobbying and have witnessed a transformation in Idaho politics and Capitol culture.

Maine – Maine Ethics Commission Wants More Money to Shed Light on Campaign Spending, Lobbying
Lewiston Sun Journal – Mario Moretto (Bangor Daily News) | Published: 11/19/2014

The Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices is looking for additional funding to increase transparency on the financing of campaigns and lobbying. The request would divert all of the revenue from lobbyist registration fees to the commission. The agency currently receives half of all lobbying fees, and the other half goes to the state’s General Fund. “… The commission staff would like to propose that our agency receive the entire fee and use the increased revenue for [information technology] expenses to better disclose lobbying and campaign finance information to the public,” said Executive Director Jonathan Wayne.

Massachusetts – Baker Limits Corporate, Lobbyist Gifts to Inauguration Committee
Boston Globe – David Scharfenberg | Published: 11/19/2014

Massachusetts Gov.-elect Charles Baker set a $25,000 limit on corporate contributions and a $250 cap on lobbyist gifts to his inauguration committee. Donations to inaugural committees are closely watched. Gov. Deval Patrick collected donations of up to $50,000 in the run up to his first inauguration in 2007, a five-day $1 million celebration. Boston Mayor Martin Walsh solicited gifts of up to $25,000 before his swearing-in.

Michigan – Which Lobbyists Interact with Your Lawmakers?
Lansing State Journal – Justin Hinkley | Published: 11/15/2014

Critics say two decades of term limits have drained institutional knowledge from the Michigan Legislature. In response, lobbyists in Lansing have launched a series of forums to train their peers on best practices for the industry as watchdogs call for more transparency. A movement also is afoot to change term limits in the state, though that is not specifically related to lobbying. “People aren’t always up to speed on the rules, the unwritten ones and the written ones, and because of that, there’s the potential for sloppiness,” said Rob Fowler, chief executive officer of the Small Business Association of Michigan.”

Mississippi – Federal Panel Upholds Mississippi Campaign Finance Law
Biloxi Sun Herald; Associated Press –   | Published: 11/14/2014

A federal appeals panel upheld the constitutionality of a Mississippi campaign finance law that requires reporting by people or groups that spend at least $200 to support or oppose a ballot initiative. The three-judge panel of the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a 2013 decision by U.S. District Court Judge Sharion Aycock, who found the $200 reporting threshold too burdensome for smaller groups. The appeals panel said Mississippi’s reporting requirements are similar to those of other states.

Missouri – Missouri Attorney General Puts Limit on Contributions
New York Times – Eric Lipton | Published: 11/19/2014

To repair his reputation, Missouri Attorney Chris Koster has announced self-imposed guidelines on what campaign donations he will accept as he runs his office while also running for governor in 2016. He has been hurt by reports that his office may have given preferential treatment to campaign donors and lobbyists. Under Koster’s new policy, he will no longer accept donations from individuals or companies that are the subject of an ongoing investigation or one that has been resolved in the prior three months, nor will he accept contributions from any lobbyists, attorneys, or law firms who represent them. He also announced he would no longer take gifts of any value from registered lobbyists.

Rhode Island – Patrick Lynch Lobbied Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office for Years but Never Registered
The Daily Journal – Michelle Smith (Associated Press) | Published: 11/17/2014

Since his tenure as Rhode Island’s attorney general ended, Patrick Lynch has lobbied his former office several times, but he has never registered with the state as a lobbyist. Lynch denies his communications constitute lobbying. But in emails sent by him and his assistant, Lynch pushed for actions on topics including online gambling and concerns about business practices by Google. Under state law, lobbying is defined as seeking to promote, oppose, or influence decisions or actions by the executive branch, including decisions by the attorney general’s office. Lobbyists are required  to register annually with the secretary of state’s office and file twice-yearly reports.

Virginia – McAuliffe’s Ethics Panel Recommends Changes on Gift, Disclosure, Conflict Rules
Richmond Times-Dispatch – Jim Nolan | Published: 11/14/2014

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s government integrity commission agreed to preliminary recommendations that would limit the value of gifts lawmakers could receive but would also weaken disclosure rules. The commission proposed a ban on gifts exceeding $250, with the exception of trips cleared in advance by an independent board with the authority to investigate malfeasance and impose fines. Although lawmakers currently have to disclose gifts worth more than $50, under the commission’s proposal, that threshold would increase to $100. The commission must deliver its full recommendations to McAuliffe by December 1.

West Virginia – Ethics Commission Hires Stepto as Director
Charleston Gazette – Phil Kabler | Published: 11/13/2014

The interim executive director of the West Virginia Ethics Commission has been given the job permanently. Rebecca Stepto was chosen from among 15 applicants. Stepto became interim executive director after the commission fired Joan Parker without explanation.

Wisconsin – Did Senators’ Sendoff Violate Wisconsin Lobbying Law?
Wisconsin Reporter – M.D. Kittle | Published: 11/19/2014

The farewell reception for retiring Wisconsin Sens. Tim Cullen, Bob Jauch, and Dale Schultz was attended by a slew of prominent politicians, along with many lobbyists. The fact that the lobbyists paid the $10 entry fee appears to be a violation of state law.  The statute says “no candidate for an elective state office, elective state official, agency official, or legislative employee of the state may solicit or accept anything of pecuniary value from a lobbyist or principal.” There are exceptions to the rules, but they do not appear to apply in this case.

Wyoming – Lawmakers Punt on Campaign Disclosure Bill
Wyoming Tribune-Eagle – Trevor Brown | Published: 11/15/2014

A legislative panel has tabled a proposed bill that would tighten Wyoming’s campaign contribution laws. The proposal sought to force groups who attack or support candidates to disclose their donors. The current law says independent expenditures need to be reported to the state if it “expressly” advocates for the election or defeat of a candidate. The proposed bill said these groups would need to disclose their donors if they “directly or indirectly” advocated for the election or defeat of a candidate. But this caused worries by some that this definition would be overly broad.

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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