September 2, 2016 •
News You Can Use Digest – September 2, 2016
Addicted to Making Campaign Contributions?
The Atlantic – Russell Berman | Published: 8/30/2016
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders raised $231 million from more than 2.7 million donors in his campaign for president, depending on grassroots support rather than on wealthy bundlers. A benefit of relying on small donations from a large number of backers is that a campaign can go back to them repeatedly before they hit the $2,700 limit for individual contributions. And the Sanders campaign, like most campaigns in the modern era, did so, sending a barrage of urgent pleas for donations in email blasts. The excessive donations point to flaws in how the Sanders campaign managed and communicated with his most passionate supporters. Many of his donors were simply unaware of the federal limits, or if they were aware, they assumed the campaign would prevent them from contributing too much. It did not.
Breitbart Rises from Outlier to Potent Voice in Campaign
New York Times – Michael Grynbaum and John Herrman | Published: 8/28/2016
Breitbart News, once a curiosity of the fringe right wing, is now an increasingly powerful voice, and virtual rallying spot, for millions of disaffected conservatives who propelled Donald Trump to the Republican nomination. Known for bashing the GOP establishment, Breitbart now finds itself at the center of the party’s presidential campaign. Its longtime chairperson, Stephen Bannon, was named campaign chief by Trump, whose nationalist, conspiracy-minded message routinely mirrors the Breitbart worldview. The site received its biggest billing yet in the form of a scathing condemnation. In a nationally televised speech, Hillary Clinton identified Breitbart as the Democratic Party’s leading media enemy, warning about a “de facto merger” between the Trump campaign and a news outlet that she described as racist, radical, and offensive.
Experts Poke Holes in Clinton Foundation’s Promised Donor Ban
The Hill – Jonathan Swan | Published: 9/1/2016
Ethics experts question the Clinton Foundation’s plan to avoid conflicts-of-interest during a Hillary Clinton presidency. The charity pledged not to accept foreign or corporate donations if she is elected. But watchdogs say it would be relatively easy for foreign governments or individuals to funnel cash to the foundation without the public being aware. It is not clear whether Chelsea Clinton would still raise money for the charity if her mother were to win the election. Bill Clinton has promised to step down from its board and stop fundraising if that happens. Assertions that donors to the charity got special access to Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state have dogged her campaign.
How One Donor Is Profiting Off the Trump and Sanders Campaigns
The Atlantic – Russell Berman | Published: 8/28/2016
Entrepreneur Randy Treibel has contributed about $25,000 in total to Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, more than any other person has given to both campaigns combined. But Treibel is not donating all this money out of devotion to these unlikely political insurgents – he is just trying to make a profit. He has been buying Trump and Sanders campaign merchandise in bulk and reselling it through his retail company on Amazon at a considerable markup. A Trump sign that costs $10 on his campaign website, for example, will sell for $35 on Amazon, Treibel said. And it is all completely legal under campaign rules. When asked why he did not bother to buy up Hillary Clinton stickers and signs, Treibel responded, “That stuff just doesn’t sell; nobody buys it.”
From the States and Municipalities:
Alabama – More Lawmakers (and Two Ethics Commissioners) Who Got Free Trips on Alabama Lenders’ Dime
AL.com – Kyle Whitmire (Alabama Media Group) | Published: 8/31/2016
The Alabama Lenders Association has amended its last two years’ of lobbying activity reports to include two trips where the organization paid for lodging, meals, and entertainment for numerous state lawmakers and other public officials. Records show the association hosted similar events in earlier years. But it did not disclose those earlier trips because it had not registered as a principal. Because the association had not registered and did not submit lobbying reports, it is impossible to tell which lawmakers it invited on those trips and how much it spent on them.
Alabama – Pro-Marijuana Group Challenges Alabama Lobbying Law
AL.com – Mike Cason | Published: 9/1/2016
The Institute for Justice filed a federal lawsuit challenging the Alabama law that requires all registered lobbyists to attend an ethics training class in Montgomery. The suit was filed on behalf of Maggie Ellinger-Locke and the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). It contends that the requirement unduly burdens Ellinger-Locke because she lives in Arlington, Virginia and works at the MPP headquarters in Washington, DC. The Alabama Ethics Commission denied Ellinger-Locke’s request to take the class remotely. “If a person wants to talk to an elected official about a matter of public policy, they shouldn’t have to take a government-mandated class; instead, the only thing they should need is an opinion,” said Paul Sherman, a lawyer for the institute.
Connecticut – Inside the Political Fundraising Game
CT Post – Ken Dixon, Angela Carella, and Neil Vigdor | Published: 8/28/2016
A dozen contractors barred from contributing to state political candidates in Connecticut gave almost $1 million to the Democratic Governors Association, which in turn funneled $3.9 million to a PAC supporting Gov. Dannel Malloy’s 2014 re-election campaign. The transfer of money, though apparently legal, effectively circumvented Connecticut’s clean election laws, which are intended to limit the influence of wealthy special interests on state government. Michael Brandi, executive director of the State Elections Enforcement Commission, said it is hard to ferret out the source of campaign cash if donors want to remain anonymous.
Illinois – Chicago Insider Who Took $2 Million in Bribes in Red Light Camera Scandal Gets 10 Years in Prison
Los Angeles Times – David Kidwell (Chicago Tribune) | Published: 8/29/2016
A former Chicago transportation official embroiled in a corruption scandal over the award of a lucrative contract for red-light cameras was sentenced to 10 years in prison. John Bills, who served as assistant commissioner at the Department of Transportation, was convicted on 20 counts, including fraud, bribery, conspiracy, and tax fraud for taking up to $2 million in bribes and gifts in return for awarding $100 million in red lights camera contracts. The contracts went to Redflex Traffic Systems in 2003. Bills was also ordered to pay the city $2 million in restitution.
Maine – Paul LePage, Maine Governor, Now Says He’s Not Quitting
New York Times – Jess Bidgood | Published: 8/31/2016
Facing pressure to resign after comments many called racist and a profanity-laced voicemail left for state Rep. Drew Gattine, Maine Gov. Paul LePage told reporters he will not be stepping down and will seek spiritual guidance. LePage had hinted that he would not finish his current term after facing intense criticism for his latest actions. His six years in office have been marked by controversy. Even as he fueled outrage among Democrats and angst among many moderate Republicans, his well of support, fed by voters who are drawn to his unfiltered political style, never seemed to run dry. But the events of the past week have led to a rupture in his own Republican Party.
Missouri – Audit Finds Senate Slush Fund for Lobbyist-Financed Meals
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Kurt Erickson | Published: 8/29/2016
Missouri lawmakers overall do a good job managing taxpayer funds, but are too generous with time off for staff and too willing to accept lobbyist money for meals, according to a pair of audits that also criticize legislators for secrecy. State Auditor Nicole Galloway said the Senate should close a bank account used to solicit lobbyist donations to buy meals for lawmakers. The audit says a House interim committee asked lobbyists for contributions to pay for a tour bus. The Senate says it will look for other ways to pay for meals, but it does not see a solution that will work. The House noted representatives failed this year to ban lobbyist-financed travel for lawmakers.
Nebraska – Panel Tells Embattled Nebraska Senator to Resign by Friday
ABC News – Grant Schulte (Associated Press) | Published: 8/29/2016
State Sen. Bill Kintner, who is ensnared in a cybersex scandal, was given another opportunity to resign before the Nebraska Legislature’s Executive Board determines possible action against him. Kintner was fined $1,000 by the state Accountability and Disclosure Commission after admitting to the online sexual encounter on a state-owned laptop with a woman. The woman, who is believed to have ties to an Ivory Coast crime syndicate, later threatened to expose the encounter unless Kintner paid her $4,500.
New York – Judge: Citizens United must disclose donor information to NY
ABC News – Larry Neumeister (Associated Press) | Published: 8/29/2016
A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit in which Citizens United sought to block New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman from enforcing rules requiring the conservative group to disclose more information about its donors. U.S. District Court Judge Sidney Stein said the attorney general did not violate Citizens United’s First Amendment rights by requiring registered charitable organizations to disclose names, addresses, and contributions of big donors before soliciting funds in the state. Citizens United is best known as the plaintiff in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that allowed unlimited independent spending by corporations and labor unions in election campaigns.
North Carolina – North Carolina Republicans Accused of Dodging Order to Fix Election Rules
New York Times – Michael Wines | Published: 8/30/2016
When a federal appeals court overturned much of North Carolina’s 2013 election law in July, saying it had been deliberately intended to discourage African-Americans from voting, it also tossed out the ground rules for this year’s elections in a critical swing state. In each of the state’s 100 counties, local elections boards filed new election rules with the state. Now, critics are accusing some of the boards, all of which are controlled by Republicans, of staging an end run around a court ruling they are supposed to carry out. Like the law that was struck down, say voting rights advocacy groups and some Democrats who are contesting the rewritten election plans, many election plans have been intentionally written to suppress the black vote.
Pennsylvania – State Not Tracking Lobbying by Marijuana Companies
Allentown Morning Call – Scott Kraus | Published: 8/25/2016
It is very difficult find out how much has been spent trying to tilt the playing field for a potentially lucrative but also controversial medical marijuana industry that is in its infancy in Pennsylvania. That is because there is no category for lobbyists or the principals they represent to report marijuana lobbying, and state officials have no immediate plans to add one. The lobbying detected in the state’s search for The Allentown Morning Call was reported under the “other” category, where filers wrote in medical marijuana. Many states’ lobbying disclosure laws are weak and fail to track lobbying by subject at all, according to the Center for Public Integrity.
Virginia – The Money Floods in When the General Assembly Gathers
The Daily Press – Dave Ress | Published: 8/28/2016
Virginia lawmakers received more than $227,000 in campaign contributions over the past five years during the days they were actively considering bills, many of which affected donors, a review of more than 100,000 contributions found. State law bans legislators and statewide officials from accepting political donations “on and after the first day of a regular session of the General Assembly through adjournment.” Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw accepted $5,000 from Anderson Financial on the first day of the 2016 session. Saslaw said he believes it is legal to receive donations on the morning of the first day of the session, since the Legislature formally convenes at noon.
State and Federal Communications produces a weekly summary of national news, offering more than 60 articles per week focused on ethics, lobbying, and campaign finance.