September 13, 2019 •
News You Can Use Digest – September 13, 2019
At the Bedraggled FEC, a Clean Slate of Leaders? The First African-American Commissioner?
Center for Public Integrity – Dave Levinthal | Published: 9/11/2019
The FEC no longer has enough members to conduct high-level business. The U.S. Senate and President Trump could easily appoint new commissioners and soon end the agency’s involuntary trip through limbo. Senate Democrats have recommended Shana Broussard, an attorney and executive assistant to longtime Commissioner Steven Walther, to Trump for nomination. Meanwhile, the Republican-controlled Senate could at any moment consider Trump’s lone FEC nominee to date, Trey Trainor, who has languished for nearly two years without even a confirmation hearing. But there is disagreement among Senate Republicans and Democrats, as well as the White House, on how to proceed. FEC Chairperson Ellen Weintraub said the agency’s more than 300 employees are attending to their work the best they can.
FEMA Officials Accused of Bribery, Fraud in Hurricane Maria Relief
MSN – Rick Jarvis (USA Today) | Published: 9/10/2019
Two former officials of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the former president of an energy contractor were arrested, accused of bribery and wire fraud while trying to restore electricity to Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Prosecutors said the president of Cobra Acquisitions, Donald Keith Ellison, gave FEMA’s deputy regional director airline flights, hotel accommodations, personal security services, and the use of a credit card. In return, Ahsha Nateef Tribble “used any opportunity she had to benefit Cobra,” said U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez, including accelerating payments to the company and pressuring power authority officials to award it contracts.
Harsh Spotlight on Trump Donors Raises Disclosure Questions
Danbury News Times – Michelle Ye Hee Lee (Washington Post) | Published: 9/10/2019
Critics of President Trump are taking aim at his campaign donors, who have become the subject of social media attacks from liberals when their identities become public. A large amount of information about donors is available publicly, a result of laws intended to serve as a check on corrupting influences on politicians. Campaigns and committees are required to turn over the name, address, job title, employer, and donation amount of anyone giving at least $200. The information is published on the FEC’s website. Some transparency advocates worry the increasing attacks on donors could spark a backlash against the disclosure of information. They fear the attacks will discourage voters from giving or steer them into contributing to political nonprofit groups that are not required to disclose their donors.
How Elizabeth Warren Raised Big Money Before She Denounced Big Money
MSN – Shane Goldmacher (New York Times) | Published: 9/9/2019
Early this year, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren vowed not to attend private fundraisers or call rich donors anymore. Admirers and activists praised her stand, but few noted the fact that she had built a financial cushion by pocketing big checks the years before. The open secret of Warren’s campaign is that her big-money fundraising through 2018 helped lay the foundation for her anti-big-money run for the presidency. Last winter and spring, she transferred $10.4 million in leftover funds from her 2018 Senate campaign to underwrite her 2020 run, a portion of which was raised from the same donor class she is now running against. As Warren has risen in the polls on her populist and anti-corruption message, some donors and, privately, opponents are chafing at her campaign’s purity claims of being “100 percent grassroots funded.”
IRS Issues Proposed Rules to Reduce Donor Disclosure Requirements Following Court Ruling
The Hill – Naomi Jagoda | Published: 9/6/2019
The Treasury Department and IRS issued proposed rules to reduce donor disclosure requirements for certain tax-exempt groups after a federal judge set aside guidance the agencies had previously released on the topic because it had not gone through a notice and comment period. Under the proposed rules, certain tax-exempt groups – including groups such as the National Rifle Association, as well as labor unions and business leagues – would no longer be required to provide the names and addresses of major donors on annual tax forms. Charities that have tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(3) of the tax code, as well as political organizations, would still be required to report the names and addresses of donors.
Mayors Are Harassed and Threatened, But Just How Often?
Governing – Mike Maciag | Published: 9/1/2019
Demeaning comments, harassment and, less commonly, threats of violence all come with the job of being a mayor. A new national survey assesses how frequently mayors experience various forms of abuse. The survey, the basis of a study published in the journal State and Local Government Review, finds most mayors contend with verbal hostility or physical intimidation at rates above those of the general workforce. Disrespectful comments or images on social media were by far the most frequent means of abuse. More serious acts of violence were far less common. About 11 percent of mayors reported property damage.
Nevada, SC, Kansas GOP Drop Presidential Nomination Votes
AP News – Meg Kinnard | Published: 9/7/2019
Republican leaders in Nevada, South Carolina, and Kansas have voted to scrap their presidential nominating contests in 2020, erecting more hurdles for the long-shot candidates challenging President Trump. Primary challenges to incumbents are rarely successful, and Trump’s poll numbers among Republican voters have proved resilient. Nonetheless, Trump aides are looking to prevent a repeat of the convention discord that highlighted the electoral weaknesses of Presidents George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter in their failed reelection campaigns.
Redistricting Fights Rage with Future of Congress at Stake
The Hill – Reid Wilson | Published: 9/6/2019
Strategists and observers who track state legislative races say tensions are already running at election-year levels, a reflection of the unusually high stakes in contests that immediately precede the decennial redistricting cycle. The difference between just a handful of local elections across the country could mean a long-term shift in partisan control of Congress. If one party makes big gains in state Legislatures, they would have the power to use the decennial reapportionment and redistricting process to substantially alter the partisan makeup of Congress. The high stakes in states across the country are reminiscent of the 2010 election, which became a Republican wave that swept the GOP to power and handed them control of the redistricting process.
Retiring Lawmakers Will Face Tough Market on K Street
Roll Call – Kate Ackley | Published: 9/9/2019
K Street recruiters are poring over the list of 21, and counting, lawmakers planning to exit Congress, but the lobbying sector may offer a shrinking supply of big-money gigs heading into the 2020 elections. As more House members and senators consider making their escape from Capitol Hill, the realities of the K Street economy and the “revolving door” will be among their considerations, say insiders at lobbying firms and headhunters. Those who make hiring decisions on K Street say ex-lawmakers can sometimes struggle in the lobbying sector where they no longer receive the trappings that come with elective office, such as a team of staff members. Many former members also balk, at least initially, at the idea of registering as a federal lobbyist or foreign agent, setting out limitations that firms find increasingly frustrating. In most cases, it is the congressional staff members that K Street really clamors for.
Trump Had Deal with Scotland Airport That Sent Flight Crews to His Resort
MSN – Eric Lipton (New York Times) | Published: 9/9/2019
President Trump sought to tamp down a growing controversy over a stay at his golf resort in Scotland by U.S. military personnel who were traveling through the local airport in March. He said he was not involved in any decision to put an Air Force flight crew at the resort, known as Trump Turnberry. But documents obtained from Scottish government agencies show the Trump Organization, and Trump himself, played a direct role in setting up an arrangement between the Turnberry resort and officials at Glasgow Prestwick Airport. The government records show the Trump organization, starting in 2014, entered a partnership with the airport to try to increase private and commercial air traffic to the region.
From the States and Municipalities
Arizona – Some Push for Scottsdale to End Prayer at Council Meetings Amid Legal Showdown with Satanists
Arizona Republic – Lorraine Lonhi | Published: 9/10/2019
A Scottsdale resident and activists petitioned a city commission to recommend replacing invocations with moments of silence at city council meetings. The move comes as Scottsdale and Satanists are locked in a legal battle over the city’s decision three years ago to block Satanists from leading a council meeting invocation. The Satanic Temple, an international Satanist group, has been asking city councils across the country to lead their invocations for several years. Some cities, such as Pensacola, Florida, allowed Satanists to give the invocations, but faced public backlash. Scottsdale resident Sandy Schenkat said she has asked the Human Relations Commission three times this year to recommend that council adopt a moment of silence in place of invocations, but her requests have gone ignored.
California – Ex-Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet, Developers Due in Court After Grand Jury Indictment
Palm Springs Desert Sun – Christopher Damien | Published: 9/11/2019
Former Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet and developers John Wessman and Richard Meaney will be arraigned following their indictments in connection with a long-running corruption case. More than four years have passed since agents from the FBI, IRS, and the Riverside County district attorney’s office raided Palm Springs City Hall. In bringing charges against the three men in 2017, the district attorney alleged Pougnet accepted bribes in exchange for city council votes and contracts in favor of their projects. The three have previously pleaded not guilty. If found guilty, Pougnet could be sentenced to as much as 19 years in prison, while the developers, if convicted, could face up to 12 years in prison each.
California – Insider Lunch and a London Party: California Democrat cozied up to industry he regulates
MSN – Hannah Wiley (Sacramento Bee) | Published: 9/10/2019
Three months after taking office, California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara scheduled a lunch with insurance company executives with a pending matter before his department. A memo to Lara said the meeting had a specific purpose: “Relationship Building to benefit Ricardo Lara for Insurance Commissioner 2022.” He pledged not to take money from the insurance industry as he ran for the post but broke his promise this year by accepting more than $50,000 from insurance representatives and their spouses. Some of the money came from donors who ties to one of the companies scheduled to be represented at the lunch. Social media posts show Lara also counts insurance lobbyists among his friends. He partied with a Farmers Insurance lobbyist on New Year’s Eve a week before his inauguration.
California – Insurance Commissioner Charging Rent for Second Residence to Taxpayers
Politico – Carla Marinucci and Angela Hart | Published: 9/5/2019
California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara has stuck taxpayers with thousands of dollars in bills to cover the cost of renting an apartment in Sacramento while he maintains his primary residence in Los Angeles, a break from other statewide elected officials that is alarming ethics watchdogs. Lara is already under scrutiny for his campaign fundraising and perceived coziness with the insurance industry. Lara spokesperson Michael Soller said Department of Insurance legal counsel concluded Lara’s rental expenses comply with state law because he only bills taxpayers for days spent in Sacramento. Soller declined to provide the legal memo or the name of the lawyer.
Colorado – Chief Storytellers: Community engagement or PR?
Governing – Graham Vyse | Published: 8/29/2019
It looked like a conventional public meeting as a city employee in Denver stood before half a dozen people in a community center. Yet this was not a typical community forum, and Rowena Alegría was not a typical city employee. “I am the chief storyteller for the city and county of Denver,” she told the group, and she had come for one of her regular “storytelling labs.” They are a chance for residents to record personal stories about their city, using text, audio, and video to help local government preserve community history. Denver’s alternative paper Westword called into question how the chief storyteller “just happens to be a former Mayor Michael] Hancock aide,” raising concerns that she was running “a taxpayer-funded office designed to polish PR for Denver.” But Alegría is quick to say her storytelling is “community engagement, not PR.”
Connecticut – State Employee Fined for Hiring Daughter for Temporary Summer Job
Hartford Courant – Russell Blair | Published: 9/9/2019
A former Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) employee was fined $2,500 for using her position to hire her daughter for a temporary summer job and failing to disclose the conflict-of-interest. Andrea Lombard was an epidemiologist in the hepatitis C program at DPH. In the summer of 2018, DPH was looking to fill administrative assistant positions in the program and hired an outside vendor to help with process. Lombard’s daughter became a candidate for one of those positions and she personally selected her daughter to fill one of the positions. While her daughter was employed, Lombard directly supervised her, including assigning and evaluating her work, approving her timecards, and approving overtime.
Florida – Broward Lawmaker in Line to Lead Senate Democrats Is in Relationship with Lobbyist Paid to Influence Florida Legislature
South Florida Sun Sentinel – Anthony Man | Published: 9/9/2019
Florida Sen. Gary Farmer, chosen by his colleagues to be the Democratic Party leader after the 2020 elections, recently told them he has been involved with a woman who lobbies the state Legislature. Florida law and Senate rules do not ban such relationships. A senator cannot “vote on any matter that the officer knows would inure to his or her special private gain or loss.” Senate rules require disclosure of a conflict if the special private gain or loss applies to an immediate family member or business associate.
Florida – NRA’s Marion Hammer Got Illegal Loans from Nonprofit She Runs, Unified Sportsmen of Florida
Florida Bulldog – Dan Christensen | Published: 9/6/2019
National Rifle Association (NRA) lobbyist Marion Hammer obtained several apparently illegal loans over the years from Unified Sportsmen of Florida, the Tallahassee nonprofit she founded and runs. The most recent loan in 2017, for $200,000, was given to Hammer, who earns $110,000-a-year as the group’s executive director, so she could “refinance and purchase” real estate, according to Unified Sportsmen’s regulatory filings. Florida law prohibits not-for-profit corporations like Unified Sportsmen from loaning money to their directors or officers. And while Unified Sportsmen solicits contributions from the public, the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has not made it register, disclose certain information, or pay fees as the law requires of nonprofits.
Illinois – Watchdog Accuses County Clerk Karen Yarbrough of Running ‘Illegal Patronage’ Operation, Wants Court Oversight
Chicago Tribune – Ray Long | Published: 9/11/2019
Less than a year into office, Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough faces potential federal court oversight of hiring amid a watchdog’s accusations that she is “running an illegal patronage employment system.” Veteran anti-patronage attorney Michael Shakman said in a new legal filing that Yarbrough has put the politically connected into jobs that are supposed to be free from such influence, asked her employees for campaign contributions on their private cellphones and transferred certain supervisors to far-flung offices in hopes they would quit. Yarbrough, who was under federal court oversight in her previous job as recorder of deeds, called Shakman’s latest allegations “preposterous.”
Iowa – A Family Affair: As their parents campaign in Iowa, kids of 2020 candidates get a taste of the trail
Des Moines Register – Ian Richardson | Published: 9/5/2019
As 2020 presidential hopefuls traversed Iowa this summer to woo voters, their families have often tagged along for the ride. Candidates say bringing their families along helps them spend more time with them during their grueling campaign schedules. It also gives Iowans a more up-close look at the candidates’ personal lives, which can make them more relatable in a process that puts a high value on person-to-person interaction. Even when their kids are not around, the children of candidates make frequent appearances in their speeches, with candidates sharing the impact they have made on their policies like health care and childcare.
Kentucky – Gov. Bevin Asks Kentucky Supreme Court to Remove Judge from Case over Facebook ‘Like’
Louisville Courier-Journal – Phillip Bailey | Published: 9/11/2019
Gov. Matt Bevin wants the Kentucky Supreme Court to remove Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd from hearing the teacher “sickout” lawsuit, saying he is too biased to preside over the case. The governor’s legal team says the integrity of the state’s judicial branch is on the line and requests Chief Justice John Minton appoint a special judge. The Bevin administration points to an August Facebook post Shepherd “liked” that praises campaign volunteers for Andy Beshear, who is running against Bevin in the fall election. Bevin used Twitter to slam Shepherd for “his blatant partisan support for Democrats.” Shepherd declined to remove himself from the case, saying he had liked posts from Republicans and was supporting the political process in general.
Massachusetts – Mayor Charged with Taking Bribes to Help Pot Businesses
AP News – Philip Marcelo | Published: 9/6/2019
Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia was arrested on charges he conspired to extort hundreds of thousands of dollars from companies seeking to operate marijuana businesses. Correia brazenly accepted cash bribes in exchange for issuing official letters needed to obtain a license to set up a pot business, authorities alleged. They said at least four business owners paid a total of $600,000 in bribes to the mayor, and he used the money to support a lavish lifestyle and cover mounting legal bills. Correia was already facing charges on accusations he stole investor funds. He has pleaded not guilty. The latest investigation, which also involved agents from the FBI and IRS, highlighted the potential for abuse in Massachusetts’ nascent retail marijuana industry, authorities said.
Minnesota – DFL Lawmaker Resigns from University of Minnesota Post After Questions About Hiring
Minneapolis Star Tribune – Torey Van Oot | Published: 9/11/2019
State Rep. Jamie Long announced he is resigning from a paid fellowship at the University of Minnesota after Republicans raised questions about preferential treatment in filling the post. Long accepted a seven-month research fellowship at the Institute on the Environment’s Energy Transition Lab in July. The $50,000 temporary role was set to end just after the Legislature returns to work in February. In a statement announcing his resignation, Long, an attorney, said he was “honored” to accept the job after “a competitive public hiring process.” He cited his long history of working on environmental and climate issues. But e-mails and internal documents show Long and Ellen Anderson, a former state senator now at the helm of the Energy Transition Lab, discussed creating the position months before it was publicly posted.
Missouri – Parson’s Longtime Friend Is a Lobbyist, and Their Money Ties Could Cloud Governor’s Bid
Kansas City Star – Jason Hancock and Crystal Thomas | Published: 9/8/2019
As Missouri Gov. Mike Parson kicks off his quest to win a full term as governor, his long-standing friendship and political partnership with lawmaker-turned-lobbyist Steve Tilley is once again under the microscope. So far this year, a quarter of every dollar raised to elect Parson governor in 2020 is connected to Tilley. A large part of that money has come from lobbying clients engaged in industries regulated by the state agencies Parson oversees, ranging from gaming to medical marijuana to low-income housing tax credits. Before Parson took over as governor in June 2018, Tilley had 25 lobbying clients. In the year since Parson took the oath of office, that number has ballooned to more than 70.
Missouri – Stenger’s Former Right-Hand Man Gets 15 Months in Prison for His Role in Pay-To-Play Scheme
St. Louis Public Radio – Rachel Lippmann | Published: 9/6/2019
William Miller, the chief of staff to disgraced former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, was sentenced to 15 months in prison for working to make sure a campaign donor to Stenger got a lobbying contract. Miller had pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting bribery. The prosecution’s sentencing memo outlines several instances in which Miller used his clout as chief of staff to bully and threaten lower-level employees into doing Stenger’s bidding. By contrast, Miller’s attorney, Larry Hale, portrayed Miller as someone who was simply following the orders of Stenger, a “vindictive person known to threaten to terminate or otherwise punish those who did not follow his directives.”
Montana – Court Strikes Down Montana Law Barring Political Robocalls
AP News – Matt Volz | Published: 9/10/2019
A three-judge panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Montana cannot ban political robocalls based on their content alone, marking the latest in a string of court decisions against states that attempt to restrict automated phone calls promoting political campaigns. The judges said Montana’s law is a violation of the First Amendment’s free-speech protections. The court has previously upheld other state laws that regulate robocalls, such as those that aim to protect consumers from scams, but those laws were based on how robocalls are made and not on what they say, the judges said.
Montana – Montana Ethics Chief Recommends Bringing Lobbying Code ‘Into the 21st Century’
Bozeman Daily Chronicle – Eric Dietrich (Montana Free Press) | Published: 9/5/2019
Montana Commissioner of Political Practices Jeff Mangan told a legislative committee that lawmakers should consider updating state lobbying rules to bring them “into the 21st century” by, for instance, requiring electronic filing for lobbying reports and clarifying whether regulations apply to grassroots lobbying like social media campaigns. “You will find the word ‘telegraph’ in the current code as far as what lobbyists should be reporting, telephone and telegraph expenses; you won’t find the word ‘internet’ in there,” Mangan said. Lawmakers on the State Administration and Veterans’ Affairs Committee voiced concern about the cost of administering new lobbying regulations but voted to study the issue and potentially draft bills for consideration in the 2021 Legislature.
New Jersey – ACLU Files Suit in Favor of ‘Dark Money,’ Says Donors Should Be Able to Give Money Anonymously
Newark Star Ledger – Ted Sherman (NJ Advance Media) | Published: 9/10/2019
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) went to federal court seeking to overturn a law that would require political organizations that accept so-called dark money in New Jersey to disclose their donors. The ACLU said the law violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments and called for an order to restrain the state from enforcing the act. Gov. Phil Murphy signed the bill into law despite his reservations over its constitutionality. The law requires independent expenditure commissioners to publicly disclose donors contributing more than $10,000 to the organization and bar any person who chairs a political party committee or a legislative leadership committee from serving as that committee’s chairperson or treasurer. The ACLU argued it would fall under the restrictions, and said because it often works on controversial issues of public interest, many of its donors avail themselves of anonymity.
New York – Alleged Rape Victim’s Case Shakes Up JCOPE
Albany Times Union – Chris Bragg | Published: 9/10/2019
The normally staid monthly meeting of the New York Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) featured a first: two women dressed in red cloaks and white wimples stationed outside the agency’s offices, reading a satiric children’s book detailing the panel’s alleged failings. The protest, with costumes inspired by the novel “The Handmaid’s Tale,” was organized by Kat Sullivan, an alleged rape survivor who has been targeted for possible lobbying violations while advocating for passage of the Child Victim’s Act. Sullivan took out ads on billboards criticizing the state’s molestation laws. JCOPE determined the billboards amounted to lobbying and threatened Sullivan with fines if she refused to pay the registration fee. Sullivan’s attorney went before JCOPE to demand that it drop the case against Sullivan since she did not spend enough on the billboards to qualify as a lobbyist under state law.
New York – Marijuana Legalization Opponent Directed to Identify Donors
Albany Times Union – David Lombardo | Published: 9/10/2019
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) denied a request from the New York chapter of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM-NY) to keep its donors private. SAM-NY contended it should be exempt from the state’s semi-annual disclosure because its supporters would be subject to harassment and economic reprisal if they were identified. New York law has a blanket disclosure exemption for charitable organizations engaged in lobbying, including the pro-legalization Drug Policy Alliance. JCOPE has denied disclosure exemption requests in the past from the New York Civil Liberties Union, New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, and Family Planning Advocates of New York, only to have those decisions overturned by a judicial hearing officer, who described the rulings as “clearly erroneous.”
North Carolina – Dan Bishop, North Carolina Republican, Wins Special Election
MSN – Richard Fausset and Jonathan Martin (New York Times) | Published: 9/10/2019
Dan Bishop, a Republican state senator, scored a narrow victory in a special U.S. House election in North Carolina that demonstrated President Trump’s appeal with his political base but also highlighted his party’s deepening unpopularity with suburban voters. Bishop defeated Dan McCready, a moderate Democrat, by two percentage points in a district Trump carried by nearly 12 points in 2016. The fight for the Ninth Congressional District also brought to an end a tortured political drama: The 2018 midterm race for the seat, in which McCready barely lost against a different Republican, was in question for months because of evidence of election fraud on the GOP side. The election was finally thrown out, an embarrassing conclusion for state Republicans who had carved the lines of the deeply red district.
North Carolina – House Overrides Budget Veto in Surprise Vote with Almost Half of Lawmakers Absent
Raleigh News and Observer – Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan, Loren Horsch, and Paul Specht | Published: 9/11/2019
Republican lawmakers in North Carolina abruptly voted to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the state budget, sparking chaos in the chamber by bypassing Democratic lawmakers. Democrats said they did not expect a voting session that morning. Only 12 Democrats were present, and only nine voted, with several not even at their seats, party leader said. Cooper accused Republicans of pulling “their most deceptive stunt yet” at a time when many North Carolinians were focused on honoring those killed in the September 11 attacks, though it was not clear how many lawmakers may have been attending memorials. The override is not complete as the Senate still must hold a vote on the issue, but Republicans there need only one Democrat to join them to secure victory.
North Dakota – Little to No Business for North Dakota State Ethics Boards in Recent Years
Bismarck Tribune – Jack Dura | Published: 9/11/2019
North Dakota’s new Ethics Commission is preparing to meet for the first time. Other state ethics have taken up little to no business in recent years. State lawmakers have an ethics committee, but there is no indication it has ever met. The new five-member commission is tasked with investigating ethics complaints against elected state officials, candidates for office, and lobbyists, and is expected to write its own administrative rules. Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner said the lack of ethics meetings and complaints indicates nothing has risen to the level of a perceived violation. “I think overall most legislators pull a pretty fine line and stay away from stuff like that, and so I appreciate that as leader,” Wardner said.
Oregon – Campaign Money Limits in 2020? Oregon Supreme Court Leaves Possibility Open
Portland Oregonian – Rob Davis | Published: 9/5/2019
The Oregon Supreme Court rejected a request to delay arguments in a major campaign finance case, a decision that leaves open the possibility that political donations could be capped in statewide races next year, even though lawmakers have stumbled in their own attempts to set them. Business groups wanted the court to postpone hearing a case to decide the legality of limits adopted by Multnomah County voters in 2016. The groups argued it was inappropriate for the court to rule on limits with voters set to do the same thing next November. Supporters of limits characterized the request as an attempt to allow unlimited contributions to dominate another election cycle. Chief Justice Martha Walters denied the industry groups’ request without specifying why.
Oregon – Oregon Open Records Bill Dies After Governor’s Staff Privately Contradicts Her Transparency Pledge, Documents Show
Portland Oregonian – Molly Young | Published: 9/11/2019
Top staffers for Gov. Kate Brown privately worked against a pro-transparency bill that ultimately failed in June, according to records released by Oregon’s public records advocate in the wake of her resignation. Brown has pledged to increase transparency under her watch since she was sworn in as governor in 2015. Yet memos and emails show staffers and lobbyists working on her behalf opposed a proposal to make state agencies track and disclose information about records requests they receive from the public. The documents say Brown’s staffers told public records advocate Ginger McCall her work to support the bill contradicted the governor’s interests and was a bad idea. Then, by action or inaction, Brown’s office got in the way of the bill’s progress while publicly maintaining its support for transparency and the concept of government accountability.
Pennsylvania – Deal to End Ex-Philly Deputy Mayor’s Bribery Case with One-Year Sentence Crumbles in Court
Philadelphia Inquirer – Jeremy Roebuck | Published: 9/5/2019
After his conviction for bribing then-U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah was overturned, former Philadelphia Deputy Mayor Herbert Vederman made a deal with the Justice Department that would send him to prison for only one year – half of what he originally had received – instead of risking a second trial. But U.S. District Court Judge Harvey Bartle III had other ideas. Calling the agreement “far too lenient” and “not just,” the judge rejected the proposal and ordered Vederman, whom prosecutors once described as Fattah’s “human ATM machine,” to spend two years in prison. The turn of events capped what already had been an unusual proceeding that brought into the open rarely seen discord between Justice Department officials in Washington, D.C. and their local counterparts.
Rhode Island – Rhode Island House Employee Has Sexual Assault Conviction, Records Show
Boston Globe – Edward Fitzpatrick | Published: 9/9/2019
A former police sergeant who was convicted of committing sexual assault while in uniform in the 1980s has been employed by the Rhode Island Legislature for more than a decade. Michael Burke, a former North Kingstown police officer who served prison time on two counts of first-degree sexual assault, has worked as “manager of House operations” since 2007 but is now out on workers’ compensation. The House speaker when Burke was hired, William Murphy, said Burke was recommended to him by a former state representative, whom he declined to identify, and he interviewed Burke. “I gave him a second chance,” Murphy said. “When I was speaker, he always comported himself as a gentleman in the statehouse. I never received any complaint about him. … I am glad I gave Mr. Burke a second chance.”
Tennessee – Rep. Andrew Farmer Changes Billboards Over Concerns He Used His Elected Office to Promote Private Business
Knoxville News Sentinel – Joel Ebert (The Tennessean) | Published: 9/9/2019
Earlier this year, Rep. Andrew Farmer changed billboards for his personal business over concerns from residents he was using his elected office to benefit his law firm. Farmer has several billboards in East Tennessee for his law firm, which provides criminal defense and personal injury services. One of the billboards read, “Who better to argue the law than an actual lawmaker?” Paying for the billboards for his personal business out of campaign money would be illegal. Farmer said he does not use his position as a lawmaker to help attract more clients or influence the outcome of cases.
Tennessee – Tennessee Campaign Finance Officials Urge Revamp of Website, More Auditors to Scrutinize Lawmaker Spending
The Tennessean – Joel Ebert | Published: 9/11/2019
State watchdogs want to revamp Tennessee’s campaign finance reporting website and hire additional auditors. The Registry of Election Finance approved a plan to start talks with the secretary of state’s office about updating its website, which provides the public and the media a view into the activities of candidates. After discovering the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance had more than $1 million available in reserves, registry board member Tom Lawless suggested an update to the state’s website is necessary. Registry Auditor Jay Moeck said he is currently unable to fulfill 18 outstanding audits before the end of the year. He was tasked with coming up with hiring recommendations prior to the panel’s November meeting.
Texas – New Disclosures Show Texas Sen. Royce West Making Big Bucks from Government Contracts
Texas Tribune – Jay Root | Published: 9/5/2019
For years, Texas Sen. Royce West raked in millions of dollars in legal fees representing governmental entities such as the Dallas and Houston independent school districts, metropolitan transportation agencies, and major Texas cities, sparking criticism he is using his influence as a state lawmaker to score business deals average citizens cannot get. Until now, it was nearly impossible for voters to quantify the number of governmental contracting deals or estimate how much he has been personally making from his private business interests. But because West running for the U.S. Senate, which requires more robust disclosure than Texas, he is finally pulling back the curtain on his considerable wealth.
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