October 9, 2015 •
News You Can Use Digest – October 9, 2015
Corporations Improve Reporting of Political Activity – with Exceptions
Center for Public Integrity – Dave Levinthal and Cady Zuvich | Published: 10/8/2015
A new study asserts that most of the nation’s largest corporations are showing “sustained, concrete progress” toward volunteering more information about how they interact with governments, politicians, and campaigns. The study awarded points in 24 categories to companies that, for example, voluntarily disclose contributions to certain nonprofit groups, publish policies that govern political expenditures from its corporate treasury, and reveal money spent to influence state-level ballot initiatives. Such disclosures generally exceed what is required of corporations, such as regularly filing disclosure reports about congressional lobbying activity.
Donald Trump’s Candidacy Raises Novel Ethics Questions
USA Today – Fredreka Schouten | Published: 10/6/2015
Experts say federal law would not explicitly prohibit Donald Trump from continuing to run his sprawling gambling, real-estate, and brand-marketing empire if he is elected president. And the conflict-of-interest rules that bar Cabinet secretaries and other high-ranking executive branch officials from overseeing matters that boost their personal bottom lines do not apply to the president. As president, Trump would appoint members to the Federal Reserve Board, which sets interest rates that could affect mortgages on his real estate. His pick for the Interior Department would make decisions affecting Indian tribes with gambling interests that compete with Trump’s casinos. “[Trump] stands out because he’s not just a businessman – he’s the Flo Ziegfeld or the P.T. Barnum of politics. He’s genuinely unique”” said Barbara Perry, director of presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center.
Experts: John Kasich political ads chart new territory
USA Today – Fredreka Schouten | Published: 10/7/2015
A television ad promoting Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s presidential campaign opens with images of Islamic State fighters and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and touts Kasich as the one candidate with the experience to deal with a dangerous world. The video does not come from the Republican’s campaign, however. Instead, it is produced and funded by an outside group that can raise unlimited amounts to back Kasich’s candidacy. And in a test of rules that bar candidates from coordinating with independent groups, Kasich shot footage for this and other ads in concert with the outside group. Kasich’s camp and his allies argue that is permissible because he was not officially a candidate when he taped material for the commercials.
Gallup Gives Up the Horse Race
Politico – Steven Shepard | Published: 10/6/2015
After a bruising 2012 cycle, in which its polls were farther off than most of its competitors, Gallup said it is not planning any polls for the presidential primaries this cycle. And, even following an internal probe into what went wrong last time around, Gallup would not commit to tracking the general election next year. The move comes at a time of unusual tumult in the polling world. Some have expressed concern about the accuracy of polling at a time when fewer people are reachable or willing to talk to pollsters.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy Drops Out of Race for House Speaker
Washington Post – Mike DeBonis | Published: 10/8/2015
U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy abruptly took himself out of the race to succeed John Boehner as speaker, apparently undone by the same forces that drove Boehner to resign. McCarthy’s candidacy was damaged when he suggested in an interview that the House committee investigating Benghazi had the political aim of damaging Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. He acknowledged his remarks about Benghazi had factored into his decision. McCarthy’s hopes of uniting Republicans took a blow when a close-knit group of roughly 40 hardline conservatives, the House Freedom Caucus, said it would back U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster.
Pithy, Mean and Powerful: How Donald Trump mastered Twitter for 2016
New York Times – Michael Barbaro | Published: 10/5/2015
Donald Trump has mastered Twitter in a way no candidate for president ever has, redefining its power as a tool of political promotion, distraction, and attack – and turning a 140-character task that other candidates farm out to staff members into a centerpiece of his campaign. In the process, he has managed to fulfill a vision sketched out a decade ago by a handful of digital campaign strategists: a White House candidacy that forgoes costly, conventional methods of communication and relies instead on the free and visceral platforms of social media. As Trump enters an uncertain period, even rival campaigns acknowledge Twitter is providing a bulwark against a slide in his poll numbers by allowing millions of supporters to make his case for him and deflect the controversies he touches off.
From the States and Municipalities:
California – More Transparency Coming for Referendums
San Diego Union-Tribune – David Garrick | Published: 10/6/2015
The San Diego City Council approved stricter reporting rules for groups supporting or opposing referendum campaigns. The changes make disclosures regarding referendums and initiatives the same as the city now requires of candidates seeking elective office. The rules will require committees formed to support or oppose an initiative or referendum to file disclosures within 10 days of receiving $100 contributions and within 24 hours of receiving $1,000 contributions. In addition, committees that make independent expenditures to support or oppose an initiative or referendum must file disclosures of all expenditures and funding sources within 24 hours during the signature gathering phase.
Kansas – Lobbyists Spend $500,000 on Food, Drink for Kansas Lawmakers
Wichita Eagle – Bryan Lowry | Published: 10/2/2015
Lobbyists in 2015 spent more than $500,000 entertaining Kansas lawmakers during the longest legislative session in the state’s history. State law prohibits lobbyists from making campaign donations during the session and limits them to spending $100 on gifts for a lawmaker. But unlike some other states, Kansas has no cap on the amount of food and drink a lobbyist can buy a legislator. Data from the state ethics commission give a partial picture of which organizations were most active in lobbying and which lawmakers they focused on during the session. But more than half the spending is not itemized, meaning it is not linked to a specific lawmaker.
Kentucky – Kentucky Lawmakers, Lobbyists May Already Be Violating New State Ethics Laws
Insider Louisville – Jonathan Meador | Published: 10/6/2015
An advisory from the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission expressed concern that lawmakers may be directly soliciting campaign contributions from lobbyists, potentially violating new laws specifically prohibiting them from doing so. Commission Executive Director John Schaaf says legislators might be sending fundraising appeals to lobbyists – including dollar amounts required for attendance at fundraisers, and to whom the payment should be made – which may then be passed on to the lobbyists’ employers. This, Schaaf said, likely would constitute a direct solicitation of a contribution.
New Mexico – New Corruption Fine Could Be Applied to Duran Case
Albuquerque Journal – Deborah Baker | Published: 10/5/2015
New Mexico Secretary of State Dianna Duran is facing 65 criminal charges including fraud, embezzlement, and money laundering for allegedly misusing campaign contributions to cover personal spending, including at casinos. Twenty-six of the charges are felonies. Under a 2012 law, if Duran were convicted of a felony, a judge could increase her sentence by imposing a fine “not to exceed the value of the salary and fringe benefits paid to the offender” since the commission of the first felony for which she was convicted. It would be the first time the law has been used against a statewide official, and it is not clear how it would work. It does not use the word “pension,” and it does not technically provide for pension forfeiture. But losing pensions is precisely what legislators had in mind when they passed it.
North Carolina – Advisory Letter Could Permit Bigger Role for Outside Groups in NC Elections
WRAL – Mark Binker | Published: 10/3/2015
An advisory letter from State Board of Elections Director Kim Strach says her agency has no ability to regulate organizations that mail, publish, or broadcast issue ads, which often look like, and for all practical purposes are, campaign ads. Groups that avoid “express advocacy” and do not trip certain thresholds on the election calendar may remain unregulated and are free to exchange certain types of information with candidates. Strach’s letter lays out how policy organizations or groups formed to bolster a particular candidate for governor, such as the Renew North Carolina Foundation that has aired ads featuring Gov. Pat McCrory, may communicate with their favored candidates.
North Carolina – Legislature’s Last-Minute Rush Prompts Criticism
Raleigh News & Observer – Colin Campbell | Published: 10/3/2015
Lack of transparency and time for public input was a common theme in the General Assembly’s final days in Raleigh, with lawmakers using a variety of maneuvers to move proposals that had not previously been made public. Longtime observers of the legislature say unexamined proposals tend to surface in the final days of every session, regardless of which party is in charge. Also drawing criticism was the decision to extend the final session to four a.m., rather than adjourning and finishing the year’s business in daylight hours later. As dawn approached, some lawmakers fell asleep in their seats. Others played music or passed a football to stay awake. And 37 House members and seven Senate members were already gone before the final vote.
Ohio – Redlight Camera Lobbyist Agrees to Plead to Extortion, Releases Statement
Columbus Dispatch – Lucas Sullivan | Published: 10/2/2015
Lobbyist John Raphael agreed to plead guilty extortion for pressuring a traffic-camera company to make more than $70,000 in campaign contributions to officials in Columbus and Cincinnati. He told federal officials he warned Redflex Traffic Systems that it would lose out on contracts with the cities if it did not make the donations. Raphael then made the contributions to the unnamed officials through himself, family members, friends, and business associates. Former Redflex Chief Executive Officer Karen Finley has pleaded guilty to funneling campaign contributions to officials in the two cities between 2005 and 2013. Finley’s plea agreement said contributions intended for Columbus officials were given to the Franklin County Democratic Party and Ohio Democratic Party.
Pennsylvania – House Passes Legislation to Increase Lobbying Fines
Pennsylvania Business Daily; Staff – | Published: 10/7/2015
The Pennsylvania House passed legislation to increase fines for lobbying violations. House Bill 1348 would increase the maximum penalty from $2,000 to $4,000. It also increases the maximum penalty under current law for negligent failure to report, in varying increments over time. The bill also would require all disclosure filings to be posted on the Department of State’s website within seven days of receipt. It now goes to the state Senate.
Wisconsin – GOP Bills Would Hike Contribution Limits, Split GAB into Two Agencies
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – Patrick Marley | Published: 10/7/2015
Republican lawmakers formally unveiled a plan to disband the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB), calling it a well-intentioned experiment that failed. The bill would split the GAB into two separate commissions, one regulating ethics laws and the other covering elections. It would be similar to the system the GAB replaced in 2007. Members would be partisan appointees, evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. GOP lawmakers also introduced a campaign finance bill that would double how much donors can give to candidates. It would also rewrite laws that are out of step with a host of state and federal court rulings that have loosened campaign finance restrictions.
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