News You Can Use Digest - September 4, 2015 - State and Federal Communications

September 4, 2015  •  

News You Can Use Digest – September 4, 2015



Lobbying Firm Fined for Disclosure Violations
Center for Public Integrity – Dave Levinthal | Published: 8/28/2015

The Carmen Group will pay a $125,000 fine to settle allegations that it repeatedly violated the Lobbying Disclosure Act by failing to disclose some of its lobbying activities and political contributions. The Center for Public Integrity had cited vague disclosure by the Carmen Group of its work securing $45 million in Hurricane Katrina relief loan forgiveness for client Xavier University of Louisiana as a leading example of toothless federal lobbying laws in need of reform. The settlement did not specifically mention the Xavier case. Both the House and Senate referred the firm to prosecutors for failing to file some quarterly reports, and individual lobbyists registered to work on behalf of its clients were accused of failing to file semi-annual reports of campaign donations.

From the States and Municipalities:

California – FBI Raids Palm Springs City Hall in Corruption Probe
USA Today – Jesse Marx and Kia Farhang (Palm Springs Desert Sun) | Published: 9/1/2015

The FBI and local agents raided Palm Springs City Hall and went to the mayor’s home as part of a corruption probe. The Palm Springs Desert Sun has published articles detailing the more than $200,000 in consulting work that Mayor Steve Pougnet did for a company owned by a developer, Richard Meaney, at a time when the firm’s business license had been suspended. Pougnet voted to sell city-owned land to Meaney and his partner for under $200,000, not long after purchasing an adjacent lot from a private owner for $1 million. The city council later voted to rescind the deal, and the California Fair Political Practices Commission is investigating Pougnet’s vote.

California – ‘Power Search’ Offers New Tool to Follow California Campaign Money
Sacramento Bee – Jim Miller | Published: 9/2/2015

Californians will have an easier time determining who is giving money to candidates and causes when a new tool becomes available on the secretary of state’s website. The antiquated CalAccess system, which shows political donations and lobbying information on the site, is clunky and difficult to use, especially for searching and sorting the data. A new search engine has been added to help users see more fully and easily, for example, the money received by candidates and ballot-measure campaigns. It will also be easier to see where industries and other special interests are concentrating their money.

California – San Jose City Clerk Given Second Chance Following Closed-Session Review
San Jose Mercury News – Ramona Giwargis | Published: 9/1/2015

The San Jose City Council decided to give City Clerk Toni Taber a second chance after a closed-session review of her job performance. Tabor had faced dismissal after her office told council members and candidates to follow the state law on reporting late campaign contributions, even though it was contrary to the city’s election law. The misinformation led to hundreds of violations for Mayor Sam Liccardo and the majority of council members, resulting in thousands of dollars of political donations being improperly reported in the past two years.

Colorado – Denver Ethics Board Floats Reforms Aimed at Boosting Public Confidence
Denver Post – Jon Murray | Published: 8/27/2015

The Denver Board of Ethics is considering a series of reforms. The changes would set a maximum annual value of $250 per donor or business for gifts of meals and event tickets to an official or employee who is in a position to take direct official action that benefits the donor. Currently, the limit is four meals or tickets, without a maximum dollar value. The proposals also would expand the definition of family members who cannot benefit from contracts or official action that are directed by an official or employee.

Illinois – Chicago Sues Red Light Camera Firm for $300 Million
Chicago Tribune – David Kidwell | Published: 8/31/2015

Chicago has brought a $300 million lawsuit against Redlex Traffic Systems based on the company’s bribery scandal involving the city’s red-light camera contract. Specifically, the city has joined a whistleblower lawsuit filed against Reflex last year by the company’s former executive vice president who was allegedly involved with the scandal. The suit alleges that John Bills, a now-retired city official who was previously responsible for managing Chicago’s red-light camera system, steered $124 million in city contracts to Redflex in exchange for cash and other personal benefits. The suit notes Redflex officials had stated the firm was following the law and the city’s ethics rules while operating the cameras.

Iowa – Iowa’s Medicaid Management: A game of pay to play?
Des Moines Register – Jason Clayworth | Published: 8/30/2015

Lobbyists and PACs representing the four companies whose proposals were selected to manage Iowa’s Medicaid program donated nearly $68,000 to the campaigns of state officials since 2010. At least another $57,000 flowed in from companies that submitted bids but failed to win the contracts. The Iowa amounts pale in comparison to $4.6 million that the four winning companies and their PACs have contributed to other governors, legislative leaders, and PACs across the country over the past five years. Critics contend such donations are part of widespread private sector efforts to shape public policy.

Maryland – Maryland Receives ‘B’ Grade on Lobbying Disclosure
Carroll County Times – Wiley Hayes | Published: 8/31/2015

The Sunlight Foundation analyzed lobbyist disclosure laws for all the states and gave Maryland a grade of “B.” Only seven states received higher scores. “Maryland is doing reasonably well in a number of categories,” said Emily Shaw, the deputy policy director for the foundation. “One of the things it does … is requiring lobbyists to provide very detailed lists of expenditures. They also do well at document accessibility. They allow people to see the documents that lobbyists fill out and how much lobbyist are paid for their work.”

Missouri – Ethics Commission Rules Dinner Violated Law, Issues No Fines
Columbia Tribune – Rudi Keller | Published: 8/31/2015

The Missouri Ethics Commission found seven lobbyists likely broke state laws requiring them to name lawmakers they buy meals for. The lobbyists were among 15 who split a nearly $5,700 dinner bill for about 40 people, including five Missouri lawmakers, during last year’s American Legislative Exchange Council meeting. The commission says the Missouri lobbyists improperly reported the meal as being bought for the General Assembly but not all lawmakers were invited. The ethics panel said the lobbyists believed all legislators had been invited and later corrected their reports to list the expenses as going toward individual lawmakers.

New Mexico – Complaint: A story of casinos, campaign money and crime
Santa Fe New Mexican – Milan Simonich, Steve Terrell, and Staci Matlock | Published: 8/29/2015

New Mexico’s attorney general filed a 64-count criminal case against Secretary of State Dianna Duran, accusing her of embezzlement, money-laundering, campaign finance violations, and other offenses. The complaint said Duran misused campaign contributions for personal expenses, adding that the investigation was sparked by a tip that she deposited large amounts of money into her personal bank account that did not line up with her known income streams. The complaint said funds were then transferred between her personal and campaign-affiliated accounts, culminating in “large debits for cash expenditures occurring at casinos throughout the state of New Mexico.”

North Carolina – Influence of Lobbyists Makes Them Practically a ‘Third House’ of Legislature
WRAL – Mark Binker | Published: 8/19/2015

Although their roles are not described in many civics textbooks, and many would rather stay out of the news altogether, very little public policy makes it through the North Carolina Legislature without input from lobbyists. Two decades ago, public policy professor Alan Rosenthal described lobbyists who plied their trade around the nation’s state House and Senate chambers as the “third house” of any particular lawmaking body. Rosenthal’s observation that “legislators, like the rest of us, are more apt to do things for individuals they like and trust,” is at once an observation about human nature, a truism of the profession, and at the root of public suspicions about lobbyists.

Oregon – Lobbying Spending Is Up. Where does the money go?
Salem Statesman Journal – Gordon Freidman | Published: 8/31/2015

Lobbyist spending has increased by more than 94 percent since 2010. “Everybody has representation in Salem for almost any conceivable interest or business,” said Paul Cosgrove, head of government relations at Lindsay Hart, a Portland law firm. Gary Conkling, a lobbyist and co-founder of CFM Communications, said as time has gone on and there are more lobbyists, one thing has been central to his work: integrity. “I can tell you when I first started, things were a little more slippery than they are today,” Conkling said.

Pennsylvania – Ex-Liquor Board Official Was Living Top-Shelf Life
Philadelphia Inquirer; Associated Press –   | Published: 8/31/2015

James Short, a former top Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (LCB) executive, will plead guilty to federal charges that he solicited and concealed kickbacks from vendors doing business with the agency overseeing the state’s 500 liquor stores. The federal probe that began last year revealed a culture in which Short and other LCB officials were entertained and handed trips and gifts from vendors seeking to do business with the state agency, one of the world’s largest buyers of alcohol.

Wisconsin – Elections Board Sends Questions about Lobbyists’ Presidential Contributions to Legislature
Minneapolis Star Tribune – Todd Richmond (Associated Press) | Published: 9/1/2015

The Wisconsin Government Accountability Board voted to ask state lawmakers to decide if and when lobbyists should be permitted to donate to Gov. Scott Walker’s presidential campaign. “When the law is silent on an issue and there is nothing to interpret, it is up to the Legislature to decide,” said board spokesperson Reid Magney. Wisconsin law allows lobbyists to give to state candidates between the day they circulate nomination papers and Election Day. But major party presidential candidates do not have to file nomination papers, creating confusion about whether lobbyists can give to them at all and over what period of time.

Wisconsin – GAB Head Told Former Employee to Tone down Comments
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – Patrick Marley | Published: 9/1/2015

Wisconsin Government Accountability (GAB) Board Director Kevin Kennedy said his agency’s employees have personal political views but they do not make any decisions, as he tries to stave off Republican lawmakers’ plans to restructure the board. Conservatives’ calls to overhaul the GAB have grown louder following a newspaper story detailing a former staff attorney’s emails. The messages offered encouragement to an investigator looking into whether Gov. Scott Walker’s recall campaign illegally coordinated with outside conservative groups.

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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