September 1, 2017 •
News You Can Use Digest – September 1, 2017
Campaign Regulation Foes Targeting State-Level Restrictions
Center for Public Integrity – Ashley Balcerzak | Published: 8/31/2017
Having won significant battles at the federal level over campaign finance laws, political groups and libertarian nonprofits are now targeting state-level rules in district and appellate courts across the country. The effects could be wide-ranging. The most notable battles deal with when groups need to disclose their donors, and whether contribution limits trample on donors’ freedoms of speech and expression.
The New Front in the Gerrymandering Wars: Democracy vs. math
New York Times – Emily Bazelon | Published: 8/29/2017
Wisconsin Republicans tried hard to keep their legislative mapmaking process a secret, but they were not successful. In the first of two lawsuits brought by Democratic voters, three federal judges berated GOP leaders in 2012 for ‘‘flailing wildly in a desperate attempt to hide’’ their methods to assure Republican control of the state Legislature. A court ordered Republicans to turn over three computers. In 2016, a computer expert hired by the plaintiffs found spreadsheets that used a powerful new gerrymandering tool, based on sophisticated computer modeling.
How to Get Rich in Trump’s Washington
New York Times – Nicholas Confessore | Published: 8/30/2017
Interests that have spent millions of dollars lobbying in Washington, D.C. were surprised by Donald Trump’s victory last November. By the end of his first 100 days in office, it seemed, Trump had not so much “drained the swamp” as enshrouded it in a fog of uncertainty. No previous president had changed his mind more often, or contradicted his cabinet so frequently, or permitted such ideological combat in the White House. Big corporations and trade associations did not quite know what to expect. But mostly, they did not know whom to contact. All of this inadvertently created an entirely new business model for Trump’s friends and former employees.
Members of Congress Scoring Personal Loans from Political Supporters
Center for Public Integrity – Nicholas Jahr and Ellen McCreary Ionas | Published: 8/29/2017
A review of financial disclosure forms filed by current members of the U.S. House and Senate reveals at least 19 have accepted loans from organizations or wealthy individuals instead of a bank or traditional financial institution. Often, these organizations and individuals rank among the lawmakers’ key political supporters. In two of these cases, the loans were made to members’ spouses. The loans range in value from $15,000 to $5 million. There is nothing illegal about such loans, even when the lender is also a campaign donor. But watchdog groups say such arrangements raise concerns about possible conflicts-of-interest.
Washington Lobbying Firms Receive Subpoenas as Part of Russia Probe
Washington Post – Carol Leonnig and Tom Hamburger | Published: 8/25/2017
Special counsel Robert Mueller issued grand jury subpoenas asking public relations and lobbying firms to provide records regarding their interactions with the consulting firms led by Michael Flynn, a former national security adviser to President Trump, and Paul Manafort, former chairperson of the Trump presidential campaign. The requests suggest Mueller’s investigators are looking closely at Manafort and Flynn, both of whom face possible legal jeopardy for allegedly failing to disclose foreign governments or parties may have been the beneficiaries of their consulting and lobbying work, as they seek potential links between Trump’s campaign and Russia.
From the States and Municipalities:
3 of 4 Colonies Corruption Defendants Found Not Guilty on All Charges
San Bernardino Sun – Joe Nelson and Richard Deatley | Published: 8/28/2017
Developer Jeff Burum and two former San Bernardino County officials – former Supervisor Paul Biane, and Mark Kirk, former chief of staff for then-county Supervisor Gary Ovit – were found not guilty of bribery, conflict-of-interest, and improper influence in an alleged scheme to get county approval of a $102 million court settlement in favor of a developer. Prosecutors alleged Burum paid $400,000 in political contributions to the defendants and former Board of Supervisors Chairperson Bill Postmus, who later entered a plea bargain with prosecutors and testified at the trial. The money, investigators alleged, were actually bribes or payments for delivering the settlement.
FBI Arranged Outings for Gillum, Others During NYC Trip
Tallahassee Democrat – Jeff Burlew | Published: 8/25/2017
The FBI may have tried to entice Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum through one of his close friends to see a Broadway show, catch a Major League Baseball game, and stay at a New York City hotel as part of its investigation into alleged public corruption in Tallahassee. Gillum, who had room reservations elsewhere, will not say if he stayed at or visited the Millennium Hotel in Manhattan, where an FBI agent posing as a developer had arranged rooms for him and others. He also will not say if he attended “Hamilton” or went to the New York Mets game. Public officials such as Gillum are required to report gifts valued over $100, though there are exceptions.
White Lawmaker Warns Black Attorney She May ‘Go Missing’ If Confederate Statues Are Threatened
Washington Post – Cleve Wootson Jr. | Published: 8/30/2017
Georgia Rep. Jason Spencer said a former Democratic lawmaker might “go missing” if she continues to criticize Confederate statues. Spencer originally posted a photo with a memorial for Confederate President Jefferson Davis, saying the statue was Georgia’s history and used the hashtag #DealWithIt in a Facebook post. That prompted a response from former state Rep. LaDawn Jones, who told Spencer to “put your hoods and your tiki torches away. We are no longer afraid.” Spencer then said those who criticize the state’s Confederate history “will go missing in the Okefenokee” because people in South Georgia “will not put up with it like they do in Atlanta.”
Lawmakers: Idaho ‘uniquely poised’ to stiffen campaign, lobbying disclosure requirements
Spokane Spoesman-Review – Betsy Russell | Published: 8/28/2017
Idaho lawmakers are mulling several key changes to the state’s campaign finance and lobbying laws. A bipartisan working group met for a second time to hear possible recommendations from the state’s top lobbyists and Secretary of State Lawerence Denney. The goal is to have the panel submit suggestions to before the 2018 legislative session begins in January. Some of the proposals would place new reporting requirements on PACs, and require lobbyists to report their expenditures year-round, rather than just during the legislative session.
Special Interest Groups Spend Big at Iowa Capitol
Des Moines Register – Brianne Pfannenstiel | Published: 8/24/2017
A Des Moines Register analysis showed special interest groups in Iowa paid lobbyists about $20.4 million last year in an effort to sway policy on issues ranging from Medicaid to workers’ compensation to legalized fireworks. The data provide a broad look at who is vying for influence at the Capitol during a year in which Republicans took control of the House, Senate, and governor’s office for the first time in nearly 20 years. With the new power dynamic, many groups may choose to “lobby up,” either to capitalize on their new opportunity or to fight perceived threats, said lobbyist Jim Carney.
Ethics Group Wants to Know What Led Mnuchin to View Eclipse in Kentucky
Washington Post – Drew Harwell and Beth Reinhard | Published: 8/24/2017
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington is seeking records detailing the cost of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s recent trip to Kentucky in a government plane, saying it “seems to have been planned around the solar eclipse.” Mnuchin and his wife, Louise Linton, watched the eclipse from the lawn of Fort Knox in Kentucky, which was just outside the path of totality. It was Linton’s sharing of the expensive designer labels of her outfit as she stepped off the plane in Kentucky in an Instagram post and her subsequent rant against a commenter who criticized it that first raised eyebrows.
In Massachusetts, Lobbyists Outnumber Lawmakers Seven-to-One
WWLP – Steve LeBlanc (Associated Press) | Published: 8/27/2017
There are now more than seven lobbyists for each of the 200 state lawmakers in Massachusetts. From 2006 to 2016, the number of active lobbyists jumped by about 1,000. A big part of the increase is due to a law that took effect in 2009 aimed at sharpening the definition of a lobbyist. Before the new law, an individual was not considered to be a lobbyist if he or she spent less than 50 hours lobbying, or received less than $5,000 in lobbying fees, during each six-month reporting period. The new law tightened that to 25 hours, or $2,500.
Attorney: Michigan super PACs face ‘firestorm’ of fines
Detroit News – Jonathan Oosting | Published: 8/28/2017
Attorney Bob LaBrant asked Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson’s office to clarify state rules governing super PAC contributions in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2012 that opened the doors for unlimited but independent political spending as a form of free speech. Michigan has not updated its campaign finance laws to reflect the decision, and LaBrant argues a little-known state Bureau of Elections action in 2014 could lay the groundwork for a “firestorm” of complaints and fines that would cut across business, labor, conservative, and liberal donors.
Discounted Sale of US Interior Secretary’s Motor Home Raises Questions
ABC News – Bobcaina Calvin (Associated Press) | Published: 8/28/2017
U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s dormant congressional campaign committee recently sold a 2004 motor home at a steep discount to Montana Sen. Ed Buttrey. But a seemingly ordinary transaction between friends, when seen through the optics of stringent campaign finance laws, can raise a bevy of questions. After learning about the transaction, watchdogs are raising a $25,000 question: Why would Zinke’s campaign committee sell the Kountry Star Freightliner for half the price of its apparent $50,000 market value? The FEC prohibits political committees to sell assets, including campaign vehicles, below fair market value.
Is Olympia Lawyer the Democrats’ Champion in Complaint-Filing War?
Tacoma News Tribune – Melissa Santos | Published: 8/27/2017
A conservative activist has been taking aim at Democrats and liberal groups for the past year, filing at least 120 complaints saying they have broken Washington state’s campaign finance laws. Now, someone is turning the tables, saying conservative Glen Morgan and a group he leads have committed some of the same financial reporting violations. Walter Smith, an Olympia attorney, said he is concerned that the state’s campaign finance laws are being enforced unevenly due to the volume of complaints Morgan has filed against Democratic candidates in recent months.
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