News You Can Use Digest - October 2, 2015 - State and Federal Communications

October 2, 2015  •  

News You Can Use Digest – October 2, 2015



Outside Groups Playing Bigger Role in 2015 State Elections
Center for Public Integrity – Liz Essley Whyte and Ashley Balcerzak | Published: 10/1/2015

Independent groups are playing a much larger role in state elections than a year ago, shows a Center for Public Integrity analysis of television advertising data. Though this year’s races are often drowned out by the hyperbole surrounding the 2016 presidential candidates, the growing role of independent political groups in state races tells a broader tale of their influence up and down the ballot, from governors’ races to state senate elections. With outside organizations playing a larger role in state elections, voters may not know who is behind the most vitriolic ads they see. Some of the groups do not have to disclose their donors, and some use alternate names that obscure their identities.

When Lobbyists Collide
Politico – James Panichi | Published: 9/25/2015

There is the perception that European lobbyists are as subtle and sophisticated as their American counterparts are brash and willing to step on toes to achieve their goals. But some experts say any real differences in the approaches are overstated and often easily overcome. What has long been billed as a clash of civilizations may simply be the result of smart professional adapting to different institutional ecosystems.


Big Donors Seek Larger Roles in Presidential Campaigns
New York Times – Ashley Parker | Published: 9/29/2015

In an election cycle that is already on track to break spending records, and with few limits on contributions to super PACs and other outside groups, wealthy donors have never been more important. No longer satisfied with sitting on the sidelines and writing big checks, many of them are eager to play larger roles in the campaigns. They expect their views to be heard quickly and their concerns taken seriously, sometimes creating headaches and potential awkwardness for the campaigns and super PACs, which must tend to the contributors and their seemingly endless suggestions and questions.

FEC Employees: A bedraggled lot
Center for Public Integrity – Dave Levinthal | Published: 9/28/2015

A survey showed FEC employees, a generally unhappy lot for years, are even more unsatisfied with their jobs than before. The Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey’s satisfaction index places the agency near the bottom of 41 small agencies ranked. Three rank-and-file FEC employees interviewed told a similar story about agency morale: that it is bad and getting worse. The staffers’ primary complaint is that FEC employees often do not feel as if their work is valued by agency leaders, if it is acknowledged at all. Just 32 percent of employees responding to the survey said they were satisfied with the agency as an organization. Even fewer, 30 percent, said they would recommend people work there. The FEC fared marginally better in terms of employee pay satisfaction and personal job satisfaction.

House Speaker John Boehner to Resign at End of October
Washington Post – Mike DeBonis and Paul Kane | Published: 9/25/2015

House Speaker John Boehner will resign from Congress at the end of October. He has struggled from almost the moment he took the speaker’s gavel in 2011 to manage the challenges of divided government and to hold together his fractious and increasingly conservative Republican members. Most recently, Boehner was trying to craft a solution to keep the government open through the rest of the year, but was under pressure from a growing base of conservatives who told him that they would not vote for a bill that did not defund Planned Parenthood. Several of those members were on a path to remove Boehner as speaker, though their ability to do so was far from certain.

From the States and Municipalities:

California – Gun Discounts for LAPD Unit May Have Violated Ethics Rules
Los Angeles Times – Kate Mather | Published: 9/25/2015

Los Angeles police officers in a unit that evaluated Smith & Wesson handguns for a new department contract used their relationship with the company to privately purchase discounted pistols for members of the unit, a possible violation of city ethics rules. Although the unit’s officers were allowed to purchase various pistol models and calibers, the report found that the average discount for Smith & Wesson M&P 9-millimeter handguns was about $125 to $130 off the already reduced price of $455 usually offered to law enforcement officers. Ethics rules prohibit city employees from trying “to create or attempt to create a private advantage or disadvantage, financial or otherwise, for any person.” In addition, employees who are required to file statements of economic interest are not allowed to solicit gifts or accept gifts of more than $100 from a “restricted source.”

Indiana – Indiana Rep. Jud McMillin Resigns after Sex Video Emerges
USA Today – Tony Cook and Chelsea Schneider (Indianapolis Star) | Published: 9/30/2015

House Majority Leader Jud McMillin abruptly resigned after a sexually explicit video was sent via text message from his cellphone. It is unclear who sent the text or how broadly it was distributed. McMillin had texted multiple people stating that his cellphone had been stolen and apologizing for messages they may have received from his number. It is the second sex-related scandal to rock the Indiana House this year. Rep. Justin Moed apologized earlier this year after a website exposed his sexting activities with Sydney Leathers, the woman at the center of the Anthony Weiner scandal.

Iowa – Judge Upholds Iowa Rule on Corporate Spending in Campaigns
Quad City Times; Associated Press –   | Published: 9/29/2015

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pratt upheld an Iowa law that requires the boards of corporations and labor unions to approve any money they spend to influence elections. Pratt ruled the requirement does not violate the right to free association or illegally restrain speech. He said it ensures the integrity of the political system by letting the public know the spending is backed by the group and not “just an individual with access” to its bank account.

Massachusetts – Massachusetts Public Official Financial Records Obscured by State Law
MassLive – Dan Glaun | Published: 9/25/2015

While Massachusetts lawmakers, state officials, and other policy-makers are required to report the details of their property and financial holdings each year, the public does not have ready access to those disclosures. The state’s ethics law includes a quirk that can deter access to what are records designed to inform the public: all requests must be accompanied by personal identification and are forwarded to the official whose finances are being inspected. In practice, this means sending the State Ethics Commission individual forms for each statement, along with a copy of the requester’s license. It also means no online access to the statements, and no access whatsoever for residents unwilling to alert their representatives to their curiosity into those officials’ personal finances.

Michigan – Are State Lawmakers Running on Your Dime? Courser, Gamrat Staffs Weren’t the Only Ones Blurring That Line
MLive – Emily Lawler | Published: 9/29/2015

State law, supervisors, and Michigan House rules ask staffers to walk a fine line between official and political business. But it is a line that sometimes blurs. It is not unusual for staff members to serve an official, state-paid role while doing campaign work like knocking doors after hours, or clocking out for a few minutes to do a political task during normal House business hours, according to interviews with former employees. There are also House staffers who run substantial side businesses, collecting a state salary but doing thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of political business.

New Jersey – Tangled Web Surrounds United’s Aborted Atlantic City Routes
New York Times; Associated Press –   | Published: 9/27/2015

Desperate to draw visitors to Atlantic City, New Jersey officials gave United Airlines more than $100,000 in incentives to fly to the seaside resort for at least a year. Then, when United abruptly canceled the money-losing routes eight months later, the officials appointed by Gov. Chris Christie decided not to enforce a contract provision that required the airline to repay the money. The Atlantic City flights and the debt forgiveness are just two elements of the tangled relationships between the Christie administration, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and United Airlines – New Jersey’s eighth-largest employer. For instance, it was a public agency headed by Christie’s Transportation Commissioner Jamie Fox, a former United lobbyist, that forgave the airline’s debt.

New York – Power in Money: When is lobbying in N.Y. not lobbying?
Binghamton Press and Sun-Bulletin – Joseph Spector | Published: 9/27/2015

As lobbying spending in New York increased from $144 million in 2005 to $226 million in 2015, so too has the sophistication of the campaigns. No longer is the key to success solely hiring a lobbying firm to stroll the hallways trying to drum up votes. It requires a broad media strategy to win over lawmakers in their districts and in Albany. A review of records shows public-relations firms have collected more than $3 million since 2010 from political campaigns and then worked on efforts to promote key issues before the Legislature through coordinated lobbying efforts. PR firms that can offer a cache of services to public officials and private companies are the new frontier, and state laws have yet to keep up.

New York – U.S. Investigating Contract Awards in Buffalo Turnaround Project
New York Times – Susanne Craig, William Rashbaum, and Thomas Kaplan | Published: 9/27/2015

Federal investigators subpoenaed the State University of New York Polytechnic Institute and Empire State Development in a probe of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s program to revitalize Buffalo’s economy. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office has been examining how the government-funded projects were awarded, and whether state elected officials played a role in choosing who would benefit from the major infusion of funds. SUNY Polytechnic Institute has played a central role in administering the governor’s effort and Empire State Development, the state’s economic development agency, is providing funding for the program.

North Carolina – NC Primaries Officially on March 15 with Signing

Raleigh News & Observer – Gary Robertson (Associated Press) | Published: 9/30/2015

North Carolina will hold its primary elections on March 15 next year under a bill signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory. The new law allows state House and Senate caucuses to create “affiliated party committees” that can raise money to support legislative candidates without going through the state party operations. Supplemental legislation approved by lawmakers makes clear the caucus committees could only spend money to support House or Senate candidates, depending on the group. The measure also allows the creation of similar affiliated committees jointly held by members of the Council of State from the same party. Council members include the governor, lieutenant governor, and other statewide elected officials. None of the groups could raise money from lobbyists during the legislative sessions.

South Carolina – Capitol Gains: SC politicians use office to pad pockets
Center for Public Integrity – Tony Bartelme and Rachel Baye | Published: 9/25/2015

An investigation found South Carolina lawmakers and candidates used campaign accounts, reimbursements from state government, and gifts from special interests to pay for car repairs, football tickets, male-enhancement pills, and other questionable items. The inner workings of this cash network typically remain hidden unless prosecutors subpoena questionable receipts and other evidence locked away from public view, as happened in the case of former House Speaker Bobby Harrell. His conviction for misusing campaign money to pay for his private plane left many in the capital wondering whether other lawmakers would be charged. At least one active criminal investigation is underway, and a handful of legislators have been mentioned in a State Law Enforcement Division report.

Jim Sedor


State 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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