News You Can Use Digest - September 23, 2016 - State and Federal Communications

September 23, 2016  •  

News You Can Use Digest – September 23, 2016

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National:

Gaming the Six-Week Election Day
Bloomberg.com – Sasha Issenberg and Steven Yaccino | Published: 9/19/2016

By the constitutionally mandated first Tuesday after a Monday in November, more than one-third of Americans will have already voted for president. There are still battleground states that make no provision for early voting, but in those that do it has created a new kind of electoral arms race. Early voting is a particular gift to well-organized, well-funded campaigns, which can extend their turnout operations as long as six weeks, locking down precise factions of the electorate in domino-like fashion, and sequence their persuasion efforts with a clear view of who has yet to vote.

Some Republicans Acknowledge Leveraging Voter ID Laws for Political Gain
New York Times – Michael Wines | Published: 9/16/2016

There has been a wave of voter ID laws enacted in the last six years, mostly by Republican-controlled Legislatures whose leaders claimed that cheating at the ballot box is a routine occurrence. Yet academic studies and election-law experts broadly agree that voter fraud is not a widespread problem in American elections. Rather, they say, it is a widespread political tactic used either to create doubt about an election’s validity or to keep one’s opponents – in most cases, Democratic voters – from casting ballots. In unguarded moments, some Republican supporters of the laws have been inclined to agree.

Federal:

Court Rules against FEC in Ad Case
The Hill – Jonathan Swan | Published: 9/19/2016

A federal judge ruled the FEC must revisit whether two nonprofits’ anti-Obamacare ads were meant to influence an election, which would require the groups to disclose their backers. The judge said the FEC misinterpreted the First Amendment when it dismissed a progressive group’s complaints. Federal law requires groups to register as political committees and reveal their donors when their “major purpose” is to nominate or elect candidates. But if their major purpose is to promote “social welfare” or to educate voters on issues, they are allowed to keep their donors’ identities hidden. “This should be of concern to organizations which have been very politically active while failing to report as a political committee, relying on the FEC’s refusal to enforce the law,” said former FEC general counsel Larry Noble.

Nonprofit Seeks to Crowdfund Lobbying
The Hill – Megan Wilson | Published: 9/15/2016

A new nonprofit aims to crowdfund lobbying campaigns in order to give people a voice on K Street. Lobbyists 4 Good founder Billy DeLancey, who has worked in public affairs in both government and the private sector, said he will primarily use small-dollar donations to retain high-powered lobbyists who work on public interest issues. The idea has been in development since earlier this year, and DeLancey has already developed a working relationship with well-known law and lobby firms such as K&L Gates.

Trump Used $258,000 from His Charity to Settle Legal Problems
Washington Post – David Fahrenthold | Published: 9/20/2016

Donald Trump reportedly used $258,000 from his charitable foundation to settle lawsuits involving his for-profit businesses, potentially violating laws against nonprofit leaders using charity dollars to benefit themselves or their companies. Trump also allegedly spent $5,000 from the foundation to buy advertisements for his hotel chain and $10,000 to purchase a portrait of himself at a charity fundraiser. He had previously used $20,000 in foundation dollars to buy a different portrait of himself. If the IRS were to find Trump violated self-dealing rules, it could require him to pay a penalty taxes or reimburse the foundation.

Why Campaign Finance Laws Probably Won’t Stop Hannity and Lewandowski from Helping Trump
Washington Post – Callum Borchers | Published: 9/21/2016

Sean Hannity is one of Donald Trump’s biggest media boosters, and his aid for Trump’s presidential bid does not end with promotional on-air commentary. Hannity acknowledged he is an informal adviser to the campaign, and he appeared in a recent Trump ad. Fox News said Hannity appeared without the network’s knowledge and will not do so again. After his advisory role was reported, an FEC complaint alleged that “Mr. Hannity may be using Fox News Channel resources to offer the Trump campaign ‘suggestions on strategy and messaging,’ which would be in violation of the federal prohibition on corporate campaign contributions.” It highlights a question raised repeatedly in the 2016 election by media observers: at what point do the activities of media professionals cross the line to become illegal, in-kind corporate contributions?

From the States and Municipalities:

California – Changes Coming to San Diego Ethics Commission
San Diego Union-Tribune – David Garrick | Published: 9/20/2016

San Diego will make some changes to the city’s Ethics Commission based on recent recommendations by a grand jury, but rejected some of the panel’s key suggestions. Changes approved by the city council include a new name – the City of San Diego Fair Political Practices Commission – to more accurately reflect the agency’s duties. The council also agreed to guarantee the commission’s ongoing existence by making it part of the City Charter, which will require a public vote probably in 2018.

California – State Agency Under Fire for Pressuring Open-Government Groups It Regulates to Change Position on Legislation
Los Angeles Times – Patrick McGreevy | Published: 9/20/2016

Backers of legislation that would have increased transparency on the funding of political ads criticized the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) for heavy-handed tactics they said included pushing groups the agency has the power to investigate to drop their support for the bill. Assembly Bill 700, which died near the end of the legislative session, would have required political committees that pay for print, radio, and television ads on candidates and ballot measures to clearly identify the top financial contributors to the campaigns. The FPPC objected to late amendments it felt affected its ability to prevent donors from secretly funneling money to a campaign in amounts higher than legal limits.

Florida – Campaign-Finance Rules Won’t Be on Miami-Dade Ballot
Miami Herald – Douglas Hanks | Published: 9/20/2016

The petition drive to get new campaign finance rules before Miami-Dade voters in November officially ended when an appeals court formally overruled a judge who had ordered the package on the ballot. In reality, the legal fight ended a few days earlier when the Third District Court of Appeal declined to lift a freeze on the judge’s order, allowing Miami-Dade’s deadline for printing the ballots to pass without including the item. County commissioners had already voted against sending the measure to voters, saying the union-backed proposal had too many legal flaws to be considered. The initiative would have banned county vendors, their lobbyists, and relatives from giving to candidates for county office and lowered the contribution limit from $1,000 to $250.

Iowa – Ron Paul Aides Avoid Jail Time in Endorsement Scheme
Des Moines Register – Grant Rodgers | Published: 9/20/2016

Two top aides to former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential bid were sentenced to probation and home confinement rather than prison for their roles in a scheme to cover up campaign payments to a former Iowa senator who agreed to endorse Paul. Although prosecutors were seeking more than two years in federal prison, Jesse Benton and John Tate were sentenced to two years’ probation and six months of home confinement, along with community service and a $10,000 fine. They were accused of conspiring to cause false campaign contribution reports to be filed with the FEC. The men have argued they broke no laws when they paid a video production company, which passed on $73,000 to former state Sen. Kent Sorenson. He dropped support for Michele Bachmann and endorsed Paul six days before the 2012 Iowa caucuses.

Missouri – Campaign Contributions Limit Amendment to Appear on Missouri Ballot
Kansas City Star – Jason Hancock | Published: 9/19/2016

A Missouri initiative to reinstate campaign contribution limits cleared its final legal hurdle to appear on the November ballot. The state Supreme Court turned down a request to hear a challenge of the proposed constitutional amendment. The proposal known as Constitutional Amendment 2 would limit contributions to candidates to $2,600 per election and cap donations to political parties at $25,000. Missouri’s previous limits were repealed in 2008. Since then, some donors routinely have given five- and six-figure checks.

New Jersey – U.S. Says for First Time That Christie Knew of Bridge Plot
Bloomberg.com – David Voreacos and Elise Young | Published: 9/19/2016

A federal prosecutor told jurors a witness will testify that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was told about a plan to close traffic lanes near the George Washington Bridge as the shutdown was happening, a claim he has contested for years. The trial comes three years after gridlock paralyzed a town next to the busy bridge connecting New Jersey to New York City for four days. Prosecutors said Bill Baroni and Bridget Kelly had sought political revenge against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich. Baroni was a top Christie appointee to Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Kelly was Christie’s former chief of staff. They face counts of wire fraud, conspiracy, deprivation of civil rights, and misusing an organization receiving federal funds. Christie has denied knowing about the scheme and was not charged in the federal investigation.

Texas – Texas Ag Commissioner Sid Miller Admits to Getting ‘Jesus Shot’ but Avoids Criminal Charges
Dallas Morning News – Lauren McGaughy | Published: 9/20/2016

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller will not face criminal charges for using taxpayer money on trips in which he competed in a rodeo and got a medical injection known as “The Jesus Shot.” The Travis County district attorney’s office decided not to prosecute Miller for abuse of power after he agreed to refund an additional $498 to the state. The decision frees him from legal trouble over the trips to Oklahoma and Mississippi in February 2015. On at least two occasions, Miller’s office withheld records about the Oklahoma trip. State law prohibits officeholders from withholding public records and from using state money or campaign funds for travel that primarily is personal in nature.

Wisconsin – An Inside Look at How Politicians Beg for Big Checks
Washington Post – Matea Gold | Published: 9/20/2016

Documents produced as part of a now-halted probe into suspected illegal campaign coordination in Wisconsin reveal in stark terms how the chase for big money by politicians has largely become a frantic pursuit of billionaires and corporate executives. Emails written in 2011 and 2012, when Gov. Scott Walker was raising funds to combat his attempted recall and that of a group of Republican state senators, expose how Walker played a leading role in securing big checks, making personal pleas to rich conservatives across the country. Among the donors Walker personally hit up was Donald Trump, who signed a check for $15,000 the day the governor visited him in April 2012.

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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