News You Can Use Digest - September 25, 2015 - State and Federal Communications

September 25, 2015  •  

News You Can Use Digest – September 25, 2015

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Federal:

‘Lobbying’ Firm Raises More Questions than Answers The Hill – Megan Wilson | Published: 9/24/2015

The DG Group appears to have all the trappings of a Washington lobby firm. Featuring images of the Capitol dome and promises of inside access, its website advertises a “scalable lobbying and global advocacy consultancy firm” with a track record of success. But much of the site is phony. It uses text lifted from the BGR Group, the lobbying firm founded by former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour. The DG Group origin statement includes a paragraph from the website of Mercury, a global public relations firm with a Washington office. Photographs of DG Group lobbyists appear to be taken from PR websites and stock-photo archives. One of the people pictured as part of the firm’s leadership is a professor at Duke University’s Divinity School. Another is a comedian based in San Diego.

Political Parties Go after Million-Dollar Donors in Wake of Looser Rules
Washington Post – Matea Gold and Tom Hamburger | Published: 9/19/2015

The Republican National Committee is asking donors for $1.34 million per couple this election cycle. Democratic contributors, meanwhile, are being hit up for even more, about $1.6 million per couple, to support the party’s convention and a separate joint fundraising effort between the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign. In return, elite donors are being promised perks such as exclusive retreats with top party leaders and VIP treatment at the nominating conventions. Just four years ago, the most a donor could give a national political party was $30,800. The dramatic rise has been driven by the U.S. Supreme Court’s McCutcheon decision that did away with a cap on how much a political donor could give in an election cycle, and an expansion of party fundraising tucked into a recent appropriations bill.

Scott Walker’s Demise Shows Limits of ‘Super PAC’ Money Model
New York Times – Nicholas Confessore | Published: 9/22/2015

The super PAC backing Scott Walker was on pace to raise as much as $40 million by the end of the year, but Walker abruptly ended his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination largely because he was out of cash. His withdrawal from the GOP primary, like that of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, highlights the limitations of the new fundraising model. Super PACs cannot pay rent, phone bills, salaries, or ballot access fees. They are not entitled to the preferential rates on advertising that federal law grants candidates, forcing them to pay far more money than candidates must for the same television and radio time. The fates of Walker and Perry hint at the systemic dangers of the super PAC-driven financial model on which virtually the entire Republican field has staked its chances.

From the States and Municipalities:

California – State Panel Outlaws ‘Dark Money’ in California Political Campaigns
Los Angeles Times – Patrick McGreevy | Published: 9/17/2015

The California Fair Political Practices Commission will now require out-of-state nonprofits to disclose their donors when they oppose or support a ballot measure or candidate through a federal PAC. The move came in the wake of fines levied against two Arizona nonprofits after they refused to reveal their donors behind two campaigns. The commission also voted to improve its program that identifies the top ten contributors to ballot measures on the its website. If one of the top ten donors is a group with a generic name that does not indicate who is behind it, the new rules would require it to disclose its top two contributors.

Colorado – Denver Gives Red light to Inspectors Consulting for Marijuana Industry
Denver Post – Jon Murray | Published: 9/23/2015

City inspectors for marijuana licensing in Denver asked the Board of Ethics for its blessing to work as paid consultants to the cannabis industry elsewhere. The board’s answer was a resounding no. Its advisory opinion cites concerns about potential conflicts-of-interest and bad appearances, saying such work would violate the city’s ethics code. Legislation passed this year soon will bar any work or consulting for the marijuana industry until six months after an employee has left his or her state job. The inspectors’ request reflects some remaining uncertainty as Denver and Colorado traverse the new landscape of legal recreational marijuana.

Florida – Corcoran Lobbies for Lobbyist Rules
Lakeland Ledger – Lloyd Dunkelberger | Published: 9/20/2015

Republicans elected Rep. Richard Corcoran as the next speaker of the Florida House, and he immediately laid out the most ambitious set of lobbying reforms that the state capital has seen in a decade. Corcoran, whose brother, Michael, is a prominent Capitol lobbyist, said the public is fed up with how money and political backscratching is controlling the agenda from Washington to Tallahassee. “The enemy is not the special interests; the enemy is not the press; the enemy is not any of that stuff. The enemy has always been and will always be us,” Corcoran told House members.

Kentucky – GOP State Senator Suing to Overturn Kentucky Laws Limiting Campaign Donations
Lexington Herald-Leader – John Cheves | Published: 9/23/2015

Kentucky Sen. John Schickel and two Libertarian candidates are suing to overturn state laws limiting campaign donations to $1,000 and prohibiting gifts to legislators from lobbyists. They also want the court to strike down rules prohibiting lobbyists from donating money to legislators or legislative candidates and that bar the employers of lobbyists from contributing while the General Assembly is in session. They say the laws violate their constitutional rights to free speech and equal protection by restricting their access to people who want to help them. But state regulators say the laws are meant to prevent bribery at the Capitol. Most were enacted after Operation BOPTROT, an FBI investigation in 1992 that exposed 15 current or former legislators who sold their votes.

Michigan – Kilpatrick Pal Gets 11 Years in City Pension Scandal
Detroit News – Robert Snell | Published: 9/21/2015

Former Detroit Treasurer Jeffrey Beasley was sentenced to 11 years in prison for taking bribes and kickbacks in a scheme that cost the city’s pension funds $97 million in losses. Beasley, who was Kwame Kilpatrick’s fraternity brother and a pension trustee while his friend was mayor, received the third-longest sentence of anyone targeted in the FBI’s decade-long corruption probe that netted 38 convictions. Beasley and Kilpatrick were both trustees to the pension funds. The federal government says the pair accepted lavish gifts – including private jet travel, trips and golf outings – from an investment adviser to the city’s pension funds in exchange for favoritism before the pension board.

Missouri – Missouri Legislators Serve Hors d’Oeuvres, Lobbyists Pass the Envelopes
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Kevin McDermott | Published: 9/20/2015

On the eve of the one-day veto session of the Missouri Legislature, and for a few hours on the morning of the session, about 60 of lawmakers hosted or co-hosted 18 separate campaign fundraising events in Jefferson City. The attendees are not charged admission or a per-plate fee. Rather, they hand over checks at their own discretion as they enter. Most are lobbyists representing special interests whose fates the lawmakers can decide with their votes. “At the end of the day, checks are going to come in either way; this is a just a chance that they get to hand it to us instead of putting it in a P.O. Box. Everybody does it,” said Rep. Caleb Rowden.

New York – William Boyland Jr., Ex-New York Assemblyman, Gets 14-Year Sentence for Corruption
New York Times – Nicholas Casey | Published: 9/17/2015

Former New York Assemblyperson William Boyland, Jr. was sentenced to 14 years in prison and ordered to pay more than $325,000 for using his public post for personal gain. He was arrested in 2011, weeks after being acquitted in an unrelated bribery case, and charged with accepting bribes in exchange for political favors during a five-year period starting in 2007. In one instance, the authorities said at trial, Boyland funneled $200,000 of public money for the elderly to a nonprofit organization that he controlled and used the money to pay for events promoting his campaign, such as a boat cruise and “Team Boyland” T-shirts. He was also convicted of seeking reimbursement for more than $70,000 in false travel expenses.

Ohio – Disclosure Rules for Gifts Vague for Ohio’s Local Politicians
Columbus Dispatch – Lucas Sullivan | Published: 9/21/2015

Ethics has become a top issue in the races for Columbus City Council and mayor. The FBI is investigating the city’s red-light-camera contracts, and Councilperson Michelle Mills stepped down unexpectedly after questions were raised about the trip she and three other council members took with lobbyist John Raphael last year to the Big Ten championship football game. A Columbus Dispatch review found the disclosure rules for Ohio’s elected officials at the municipal level are vague and do not require complete disclosure. For example, unlike at the state level, lobbyists do not have to disclose their financial activity at the municipal level.

Ohio – Ohio Judge Loses Fundraising Challenge
Courthouse News Service – Lorraine Bailey | Published: 9/21/2015

An appeals court ruled the strict limitations that state judges in Ohio face on campaign fundraising do not violate the First Amendment. Colleen O’Toole is a candidate in the 2016 Ohio Supreme Court election. Her campaign claimed the state Code of Judicial Conduct was doing its best to keep her campaign grounded by prohibiting judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign contributions unless they are speaking to a general audience of at least 20 people, and by making candidates legally responsible for the actions of their campaign committees, along with other restrictions. Sitting Ohio Supreme Court judges may have campaign funds left over from a prior judicial race that they can use to support their candidacy at any time, O’Toole said. But the appeals court affirmed the code of conduct, and held the rules are not the cause of the disparity that O’Toole’s campaign committee complains of.

Pennsylvania – Donations by Philly Sheriff’s Top OT Earners Raise Eyebrows
Philadelphia Inquirer – Claudia Vargas | Published: 9/20/2015

Nearly all the top recent earners of overtime in Philadelphia Sheriff Jewell Williams’ office had donated to his campaign fund. Williams said the contributions, typically $100 or $125 a year, reflected employees’ satisfaction with his work. In the fiscal year that ended June 30, records show 21 deputies with salaries anywhere from $58,000 to $76,000 earned enough overtime to boost their pay well into six figures. Most deputies who received little or no overtime in the most recent fiscal year did not donate to the campaign fund. Williams’ chief finance officer, Benjamin Hayllar, said: “There’s no quid pro quo here.”

Pennsylvania – Pa. Supreme Court Suspends Kane’s License
Philadelphia Inquirer – Angela Couloumbis and Craig McCoy | Published: 9/21/2015

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered the suspension of the law license of state Attorney General Kathleen Kane, a step that could set up a Senate vote to remove her as she faces criminal charges. The unanimous order by the court could also prompt a legal challenge from Kane. In the meantime, the order has created the complication of leaving the state’s top law enforcement official, who is in charge of a 750-employee office and a $93 million budget, without the ability to act as a lawyer, at least temporarily. The order came after Montgomery County authorities arrested Kane on accusations she had leaked secret investigative information to a newspaper reporter and then lied about it under oath. She was charged with perjury, obstruction, and other counts.

Washington – State’s Disclosure Commission Names Tacoma Lawyer as New Director
Everett Herald – Jerry Cornfield | Published: 9/23/2015

Evelyn Lopez was chosen as the new executive director of the Washington Public Disclosure Commission. Lopez, a former assistant state attorney general, will take the helm as the commission looks to upgrade its technology to make it easier for the public to track the flow of money in campaigns through the agency’s online database. Lopez did not reveal any initiatives she wants to launch immediately but said there are a lot of issues out there related to the financing of campaigns. “If you’re a politician and you’re asking people to give you their hard earned money, you’ve got to be honest about how it is used; I am absolutely committed to open government and an informed electorate,” Lopez said.

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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