News You Can Use Digest - September 18, 2015 - State and Federal Communications

September 18, 2015  •  

News You Can Use Digest – September 18, 2015



Statehouse Sex Scandals Carry Public Costs, Consequences
Charlotte Observer – David Lieb (Associated Press) | Published: 9/14/2015

Two Michigan lawmakers lost their seats after an extramarital affair between them became public. At the same time, two state legislators in Minnesota, also married to other people, were forced to step down from an ethics committee after a ranger cited them for making out in a public park. These episodes follow scandals earlier in the year involving male lawmakers and their young interns in Missouri. Changing the environment inside Capitols can be a difficult task, potentially complicated by the reality that statehouses remain a largely male-dominated workplace. “This is something that goes on in any large institution, [especially when you] add a lot of power, money, and prestige, all of which are aphrodisiacs,” said Wally Siewert, director of the Center for Ethics in Public Life at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. “These are deep, kind of human psychological traits that you’re probably not going to change.”


Democrats Seek to Expand Use of ‘Super PACs’
New York Times – Nicholas Confessore | Published: 9/14/2015

An emergency request filed with the FEC by the Democratic Party would pave the way for the creation of a host of new super PACs tailored to individual U.S. House and Senate candidates. The filing also indicates Democrats would, if allowed, seek to use tactics pioneered by Republican presidential candidates this cycle, helping prospective candidates establish and raise money for super PACs before they officially declare their intent to run. Most strikingly, the lawyers are asking the FEC to clarify how declared candidates, their campaign staff, and their volunteers can help court donors for independent super PACs.

Lobbyist Finds a Quiet Place to Work, as a Six-Figure U.S. Government Contractor
New York Times – Eric Lipton | Published: 9/14/2015

While earning more than $100,000 a year serving as executive director of the Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, Jeffrey Farrow has simultaneously helped collect as much as $750,000 a year in lobbying fees, representing clients that include the governments of Puerto Rico and the Republic of Palau. At times, one agency staff member has alleged, Farrow handled some of his lobbying work while at the offices of the federal agency. Experts in government ethics and lobbying law said the different hats that Farrow has simultaneously worn – as a lobbyist, foreign agent, and executive director of a federal agency – is at minimum highly unusual.

Vet Group Hosting Trump Lost Nonprofit Status
Miami Herald – Jeff Horwitz (Associated Press) | Published: 9/16/2015

The IRS revoked the nonprofit status of the veterans benefit organization that hosted and sold tickets to a speech by Donald Trump aboard a retired U.S. battleship. Veterans for a Strong America’s endorsement of Trump at the event also could raise legal problems under campaign finance laws. The IRS cited the group’s failure to file any tax returns for three consecutive years. Under federal law, corporations are restricted to donating $2,700 either in cash or in-kind contributions to a campaign. But the event, which Veterans for a Strong America paid for, involved 850 attendees, putting the cost at roughly $11,000. The law also generally prohibits candidates from coordinating their campaign activities with outside groups, and prohibits corporations from spending more than a minimal amount announcing their endorsements.

From the States and Municipalities:

Alabama – Legal Defense Bill Draws Alabama Ethics Commission Fire
Montgomery Advertiser – Brian Lyman | Published: 9/11/2015

Alabama Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Albritton criticized a bill that would let public officials solicit money from lobbyists and others for criminal defense funds. The legislation addresses a broad range of topics, from the definition of a widely attended event to clarifying the two-year ban on lobbying for former members of the Legislature. The bill would allow state officials to create legal defense funds within 10 days of receiving their first contributions. It also allows lobbyists and principals to contribute to legal defense funds without violating the state’s ban on giving a “thing of value” to a public employee or official. The bill does not set any limits on who can contribute to the legal defense funds, or how much.

Alabama – Mike Hubbard Says Alabama Ethics Law He Fought For Is Unconstitutionally Vague; Associated Press –   | Published: 9/12/2015

Indicted House Speaker Mike Hubbard asked a judge to dismiss the case against him, arguing the Alabama’s ethics law he once championed is unconstitutional, and prosecutors and a grand jury stretched the bounds of the law when they charged him with 23 corruption counts. Hubbard is accused of using his offices as speaker and former position as state Republican Party chairperson to benefit his businesses by soliciting investments and clients and lobbying the governor’s office. His defense lawyers argued some of the activities and payments were constitutionally protected free speech and portions of the ethics law were unclear.

California – California Initiative Would Require More Campaign Finance Disclosure
Sacramento Bee – Christopher Cadelago | Published: 9/16/2015

A proposed ballot measure in California would close “dark money” loopholes for nonprofit donors by requiring disclosure of anyone who contributes $10,000 or more when the money ends up in a political effort. It also would update the state’s electronic filing system, make disclosure of contributors more apparent on television ads, and strengthen some penalties for violators. The measure would ban lobbyists and those who employ them from giving gifts of any value to public officials and cut from $460 to $200 the maximum value of gifts an individual can give to an official each year.

California – Sacramento City Council Approves Ethics Package
Sacramento Bee – Cathy Locke | Published: 9/16/2015

The Sacramento City Council approved an ethics reform plan, including the creation of an ethics commission and an independent redistricting commission. The council also accepted the city auditor’s finding that the city’s sexual harassment policy needs to be updated. The ethics commission is to focus on complaints involving campaign finance, lobbying, conflicts-of-interest and other issues involving city ordinances or policies. The panel would receive findings from an independent, third-party investigator and determine the appropriate action, such as administrative penalties or fines. The council directed the city clerk to work with the city attorney to draft an ethics code for review and approval by late December or early next year.

California – San Diego Lobbyist Fee Nearly Quadruples
San Diego Union-Tribune – David Garrick | Published: 9/15/2015

The San Diego City Council voted to raise the annual lobbyist registration fee from $40 to $150. Annual registration fees paid by clients who hire lobbyists will double to $30. The hikes take effect in January. City Clerk Elizabeth Maland said the increases are warranted based on the time and effort her office spends tracking and analyzing the work of lobbyists, which includes traditional lobbying, campaign activity, and fundraising efforts. Maland has said she plans to begin increasing the fees every three years.

Connecticut – Former Bridgeport Mayor, Out of Prison, Declares Victory in Primary
New York Times; Associated Press –   | Published: 9/16/2015

A former mayor of Connecticut’s largest city who spent seven years in prison for corruption narrowly won the Democratic primary, making him the likely favorite to win back the office in the November election. Joseph Ganim was confirmed as the victor over current Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Finch in a close election. Ganim was sentenced to prison in 2003 for steering city contracts in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars in expensive wine, custom clothes, cash, and home improvements.

Florida – Lobbyist Miscues Laid Out in Legislative Report
Sarasota Herald-Tribune – Brandon Larrabee (News Service of Florida) | Published: 9/11/2015

To try to gauge whether lobbying firms were leveling on reports they are required to file with the state about who is paying them to work the Florida Capitol, the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee decided to look over those statements from 2014. The panel picked 26 lobbying firms to undergo random audits. In that first batch, 16 had “findings,” meaning they got something wrong. Of the dozen firms whose lobbying of the executive branch was examined, a newly released report from the committee found that six made mistakes. And 10 of the 14 influence businesses whose legislative reports were looked over were found to have misstatements. The vast majority of the mistakes were in misreporting how much money firms made from certain clients.

Michigan – House Expels Gamrat; Courser Resigns Before Vote
Detroit News – Chad Livengood | Published: 9/11/2015

Rep. Cindy Gamrat was expelled from office and Rep. Todd Courser resigned after they rocked the Michigan Legislature with an extramarital affair and a botched attempt to conceal it with a fictional, sexually explicit email. Courser admitted sending a phony email to GOP activists and others claiming he had been caught with a male prostitute. The email was intended to make his affair with Gamrat appear less believable if it was exposed by an anonymous blackmailer who Courser said had demanded his resignation. Gamrat said she discussed the plot with Courser but did not know the email’s graphic content before it was sent. The lawmakers had based legislation on their Christian beliefs and clashed with GOP leadership even before the controversy broke.

Missouri – Man Fined for Not Registering as Lobbyist
Waynesville Daily Guide – Summer Ballentine (Associated Press) | Published: 9/13/2015

The Missouri Ethics Commission fined a man who describes himself as a “citizen lobbyist” and ordered him to officially register as a lobbyist, a move he said could discourage activists from speaking for or against legislation. The commission claims there is probable cause to believe Ron Calzone, a director of Missouri First, improperly acted as a lobbyist without registering and filing paperwork. The ethics panel fined Calzone $1,000 and ordered him to stop trying to influence potential state legislation until he registers and files expenditure reports. Calzone said he does not meet the definition of a legislative lobbyist because Missouri First never specifically designated him as its lobbyist.

Rhode Island
R.I. Elections Board Issues Warning to Director
Providence Journal – Jennifer Bogdan | Published: 9/16/2015

The Rhode Island Board of Elections will fire its executive director in January unless it agrees before then that Robert Kando’s performance has drastically improved. Some areas that Kando has been told he must improve reflect recent gaffes. He was told he must give proper notification of board matters to be heard in executive session, and he must adhere to conflict-of-interest laws, both of which appear to be in response to a decision to allow former state Sen. John Celona to appeal $178,000 in campaign finance fines behind closed doors in violation of the Open Meetings Act. He has also been told he must consult with the board’s legal counsel on legal matters. Last year, without consulting counsel or the board, Kando told a Parent Teacher Organization that holding a bake sale at a polling place on Election Day could be treated as a felony.

Wisconsin – Knudson on GAB: ‘We need to take this thing apart’
Wisconsin Watchdog – M.D. Kittle | Published: 9/15/2015

State Rep. Dean Knudson laid out his plan to dismantle the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB). Republican leaders want to break down the GAB, separating it into two entities, a campaign finance/ethics commission and an elections panel. In that way the decentralized GAB would be much like its predecessor agencies. But Knudson argues that a partisan board composed of residents and administrators with limited terms is better than a so-called nonpartisan agency that has appeared to have acted in a partisan fashion. While Knudson and others have pushed for reform since late last year, their efforts have been stalled by the state budget battle and resistance from those afraid of the bad press they might receive for supporting change. Democrats have rallied around the GAB.

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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