News You Can Use Digest - September 11, 2015 - State and Federal Communications

September 11, 2015  •  

News You Can Use Digest – September 11, 2015

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National:

Data Scientists Create a Tool That Tracks the Influence of Lobbying Groups on Legislation
Chicago Inno – Karis Hustad | Published: 9/8/2015

Though it is common practice, it is hard to track how often the language used in laws – particularly controversial ones – can come from lobbying groups, given the vast amounts of information that would need to be analyzed across 50 states. Now, the University of Chicago’s Data Science For Social Good created a tool that will launch later this year that can match legislation across state lines, offering journalists, researchers, and watchdogs an efficient way to track lobbyists’ influence. “I don’t think people are aware of when [lawmakers] do this and why,” said Matt Burgess, a doctoral student and one of the fellows on the project. “No one has been able to study at large scale how this copying happens. Legislators … know the process but no one from the outside can look in at how this diffusion happens in states over time.”

Food Industry Enlisted Academics in G.M.O. Lobbying War, Emails Show
New York Times – Eric Lipton | Published: 9/5/2015

Monsanto executives were worried about attacks on the safety of their genetically modified seeds. So Monsanto and its industry partners retooled their lobbying and public relations strategy to spotlight a rarefied group of advocates: academics, brought in for the gloss of impartiality and weight of authority that come with a professor’s pedigree. Emails obtained by The New York Times provide a rare view into the strategy and tactics of a lobbying campaign that has transformed ivory tower elites into powerful players. The use of third-party scientists, and their supposedly unbiased research, helps explain why the American public is often confused as it processes the conflicting information over genetically modified food.

Federal:

17 Democrats Ran for President in 1976. Can Today’s GOP Learn Anything from What Happened?
Politico – Julian Zelizer | Published: 9/7/2015

Conservatives worry the unruly competition for the Republican presidential nomination will undermine the capacity of any person to unite the party and win the general election. “What we’ve got is a confederation of a lot of candidates who aren’t standing out,” said one GOP establishment figure. Yet Republicans can find solace in the history the 1976 election, when approximately 17 Democrats, most current and former elected officials, competed to succeed President Gerald Ford. Despite a fractious and crowded primary battle filled with unexpected twists and turns, one candidate was eventually able to unite the party, and the Democrats took the White House in November.

Hillary Clinton Announces Campaign Finance Overhaul Plan
New York Times – Amy Chozick and Nicholas Confessore | Published: 9/8/2015

Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign unveiled its campaign finance reform plan, pledging to push for more significant disclosure of political contributions, establish a small-donor matching system for congressional and presidential candidates, and support a Securities and Exchange Commission rule requiring publicly traded companies to disclose political spending to shareholders. Clinton also said she would sign an executive order requiring federal contractors to fully disclose all political spending. The announcement was hailed by supporters of tighter financial rules for candidates, who have struggled to make political money a burning campaign issue despite surveys showing widespread disgust with current rules. But each proposal has run into resistance from Republicans and business groups.

Talk in G.O.P. Turns to a Stop Donald Trump Campaign
New York Times – Nicholas Confessore | Published: 9/4/2015

Although there is acute anxiety in the GOP about Donald Trump’s rise, no organized effort to undercut him has emerged. Republican strategists and donors have assembled focus groups to test negative messages about Trump. They have amassed dossiers on his previous support for universal health care and higher taxes. They have even discussed the creation of a super PAC to convince conservatives that Trump is not one of them. But the mammoth big-money network assembled by Republicans in recent years is torn about how best to defuse the threat Trump holds for their party, and haunted by the worry that any concerted attack will backfire.

From the States and Municipalities:

California – San Jose Commission Will Investigate Nearly the Entire City Council
San Jose Mercury News – Ramona Giwargis | Published: 9/9/2015

The San Jose Ethics Commission will investigate nearly 40 city council members and candidates who violated the law by failing to properly report late campaign contributions. Council members blamed City Clerk Toni Taber for doling out bad advice that led to confusion about filing deadlines. The commission determined the unprecedented broad investigation was the only way to stop people from filing individual complaints against each violator.

Hawaii – Lawsuit Exposes Blind Spot in Hawaii Lobbyist Law
Honolulu Civil Beat – Ian Lind | Published: 9/9/2015

Hawaii has filed suit against Ciber, accusing it of misrepresenting its capabilities when competing for a contract to design and implement a new accounting system for the Department of Transportation (DOT), and then fraudulently billing the state even as the new system failed test after test, and fell behind schedule. The state is seeking to recover the $8 million it paid Ciber, plus millions more in damages. The lawsuit alleges Ciber hired Capital Consultants and one of its principals, John Radcliffe, to lobby within Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s administration. The state alleges Ciber’s lobbying succeeded in getting the governor’s office to intervene and insulate the company from DOT’s increasing demands. Hawaii law does not regulate the kind of lobbying alleged in the lawsuit, because it was aimed at influencing the governor’s office and the state administration rather than members of the Legislature.

Maine – Maine Voters Hope To Restore Their Revolutionary Election System
Huffington Post – Paul Blumenthal | Published: 9/4/2015

Maine was the first state to enact a public financing system for statewide elections. This year, it hopes to become the first state to fix the damage inflicted on clean elections by multiple U.S. Supreme Court decisions. Deb Simpson, who served in the state Legislature from 2000 to 2010, was a single mother working as a waitress when she first ran for office using public funds. She said the system gave her “the resources without having to figure out how to ask for money from donors when I really didn’t live in that world.” But after the Supreme Court expanded the ability of corporations and unions to influence elections, participation in Maine’s system dropped as the state was inundated with spending by outside groups and public funding participants were left with no backstop of matching funds.

Missouri – Report: Lobbyist goodies for Missouri lawmakers topped $10M over past decade
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Kevin McDermott | Published: 9/9/2015

Progress Missouri analyzed lobbyist-disclosure reports of the state Ethics Commission going back to 2004 and found lawmakers accepted an average of nearly $1 million a year in gifts from lobbyists. The bulk of that spending fell under a provision in the law that allows lobbyists to report their expenditures as going to groups, such as certain committees or caucuses, without specifying which lawmakers were the actual recipients. Among the top recipients was former Sen. Paul LeVota, who recently resigned following sexual harassment allegations from two of his legislative interns.

Missouri – When It Comes to Behavior, Legislators Aren’t Expected to Change When They Return to Jeff City
St. Louis Public Radio – Jo Mannies and Marshall Griffin | Published: 9/8/2015

When legislators return to the Missouri capital for their annual veto session, they will also be gathering for the first time since the furor over sexual misconduct allegations involving interns sent two top lawmakers packing. The alcohol will be flowing at J. Pfenny’s sports bar as several lawmakers, or hopefuls, hold simultaneous fundraisers at the popular bar situated just a couple blocks from the Capitol. Sean Nicholson, executive director of watchdog group Progress Missouri recalls someone else’s description of the General Assembly’s ambience that he says rings true: “It’s like freshman year in college: lots of free booze, lots of 19-year-old girls, and nobody’s done their homework.”

New Jersey – United C.E.O. Is Out Amid Inquiry at Port Authority
New York Times – Kate Zernike and Jad Mouawad | Published: 9/8/2015

United ousted Chief Executive Officer Jeff Smisek and two of his lieutenants while federal investigators probe the airline’s ties to David Samson, the former chairperson of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Smisek’s abrupt exit added a new element to the inquiry into whether Samson got United to restart a money-losing route to his weekend home in South Carolina in exchange for political favors. A longtime ally of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Samson resigned in the wake of “Bridgegate,” a scandal in which Christie staffers and appointees appeared to collude to create traffic jams, allegedly to hurt the mayor of Fort Lee, who had not endorsed Christie in that year’s gubernatorial campaign. The probe initially centered on the lane closures, but it has expanded into other behavior at the authority.

New York – LLC Loophole Penalty Could Hinder NY Donors
Albany Times Union – Chris Bragg | Published: 9/8/2015

A settlement agreement was reached in a lawsuit filed by the state Board of Elections’ independent enforcement counsel Risa Sugarman targeting the “LLC loophole.” Sugarman filed the suit against former New York Assembly candidate Shirley Patterson and her campaign treasurer. It challenged the idea that coordinated donations to Patterson’s campaign made through various limited liability companies allegedly controlled by the same person count separately under contribution limits. The suit contended several donors exceeded the $4,100 cap for an individual in the race. Patterson’s campaign committee will pay $10,000 to end the lawsuit. Legal experts said the payment and the precedent of the settlement could act as a near-term deterrent to LLC giving.

New York – Serpico, Seeking Seat on Town Board, Sees Corruption and Pledges to Fight It
New York Times – Corey Kilgannon | Published: 9/5/2015

Frank Serpico is running for a seat on the five-member town board in Stuyvesant, New York, a town of about 2,200 people. Serpico’s whistle-blowing as a New York City police officer made him a household name, led to the formation of the Knapp Commission to investigate corruption, and resulted in a best-selling book and critically acclaimed film starring Al Pacino. For Serpico, who is constantly complaining about a lack of integrity among politicians, it is the first time he has stepped into the political arena.

Jim SedorState 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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