September 5, 2014 •
News You Can Use Digest – September 5, 2014
New York Times – John Harwood | Published: 9/3/2014
After decades of expansion in American voting methods, an estimated one-third of all ballots this year will be cast before the traditional Election Day on November 4. Yet this year, the trend collides with a Republican-led pushback in some states – for reasons of cost-cutting and election integrity or, as the Obama administration and civil rights groups suggest, crimping turnout by Democrats. Various new restrictions on voting, which range from more stringent identification requirements to fewer registration opportunities to curbs on early voting, have been put in place. A critical election variable is whether the new limits will tilt close races.
Washington Post – Matea Gold | Published: 9/2/2014
Wealthy political donors have more access than ever to candidates since the ruling in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, which did away with the aggregate contribution limit for congressional candidates. More than 300 donors have seized the opportunity, writing checks at such a furious pace that they have exceeded the old limit of $123,200 for this election cycle, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. Together, 310 donors gave a combined $11.6 million more by this summer than would have been allowed before the ruling.
From the States and Municipalities:
Montgomery Advertiser – Brian Lyman | Published: 9/2/2014
John Carroll, a retired federal judge and former law school dean, will serve as acting director of the Alabama Ethics Commission beginning October 1, succeeding Jim Sumner. The commission is still seeking a permanent director for the position, and plans to accept applications until September 30. Any individual selected for the position will have to be confirmed by the state Senate, which is not expected to reconvene until next March.
Los Angeles Times – Patrick McGreevy | Published: 8/29/2014
California lawmakers gave final approval to a bill that reduces to $200 from $440 the value of gifts officials can receive from a single source each year. Senate Bill 1443, which was sent to Gov. Jerry Brown, also bans all gifts from lobbyists. The legislation prohibits officials from accepting certain kinds of gifts from anyone, including tickets to concerts, sports events, and amusement parks; spa services and rounds of golf; and cash and gift cards.
Columbus Republic – Fenit Nirappel (Associated Press) | Published: 8/30/2014
California lawmakers approved two bills aimed at addressing a string of recent scandals. Senate Bill 1442 would increase the frequency of detailed campaign spending reports from twice a year to quarterly. Senate Bill 831 would ban elected officials from requesting payments on their behalf to nonprofit organizations run by family members, a tactic sometimes used in place of campaign contributions. It would also require nonprofit groups that pay for politicians to go on trips to disclose the donors who fund the travel. Both bills now head to the governor’s desk.
Legal Newsline – David Yates | Published: 9/4/2014
The Center for Competitive Politics filed two lawsuits on behalf of a Colorado think tank, asserting that similar state and federal campaign finance disclosure laws are unconstitutional. The Independence Institute wants to run two ads, one asking U.S. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennett to support a federal sentencing reform bill, and one asking citizens to urge Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper to initiate an audit of the state Health Benefit Exchange. But the institute claims the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, along with a similar Colorado law, effectively prevents the group from raising money for the ads.
Tallahassee Democrat – Jeff Burlew | Published: 9/3/2014
Tallahassee voters will get to decide whether to add an ethics code to the city’s charter in November. The city commission approved the ballot measure after a judge ruled the amendment complied with state law. If approved by voters, the charter amendment would create an ethics and anti-corruption policy, require enactment of an ethics code, establish an ethics board, lower the cap on campaign donations, and allow for limited public financing of campaigns.
Greenfield Daily Reporter – Christina Cassidy (Associated Press) | Published: 9/3/2014
A judge fined the Georgia attorney general’s office and the executive secretary of the state ethics commission for neglecting to hand over key documents in a whistleblower lawsuit against the commission. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Ural Glanville ordered Holly LaBerge and the attorney general’s office to each pay $10,000 to cover the litigation expenses of the plaintiff, former ethics commission Executive Secretary Stacy Kalberman. “The court is extremely troubled by the behavior of … LaBerge, who has been dishonest and non-transparent throughout these proceedings,” wrote Glanville.
Chicago Tribune – John Byrne | Published: 9/3/2014
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel signed an executive order that requires city contractors and subcontractors to pay employees a $13-an-hour minimum wage. It will apply to city contractors advertised after October 1 and will affect about 1,000 contracted employees, typically landscapers, maintenance workers, security officers, concessionaires, and custodians.
Mississippi – Appeal May Revive Campaign-Spending Law
Courthouse News Service – Sabrina Canfield | Published: 9/4/2014
The state of Mississippi is asking the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse a lower court ruling that found part of a campaign finance law unconstitutional. Under the state law, groups seeking to support or oppose statewide ballot measures must register as a political committee if they receive contributions of more than $200 or spend more than $200 during a calendar year. Opponents argue the $200 threshold is so low it would be impossible for a group of people to run a quarter-page ad in their local newspaper without having to become a political committee.
Providence Journal – Katie Mulvaney | Published: 9/3/2014
Robert Urciuoli, a former executive at Roger Williams Medical Center who was convicted on corruption charges, is seeking nearly $3.6 million in severance pay and legal costs from the Providence hospital. Urciuoli says in federal court papers he could only be terminated for “cause” under his contract as the hospital’s chief executive. He also said evidence shows his lawyers told him a deal to promote the hospital and a nursing home with former state Sen. John Celona was legal. Urciuoli served a three-year prison sentence for buying Celona’s influence. Celona pleaded guilty and also served prison time.
New York Times – Trip Gabriel | Published: 9/4/2014
A federal jury found former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, guilty of public corruption. Robert McDonnell was convicted of 11 corruption-related counts, though acquitted of lying on loan documents. The former first lady was convicted of eight corruption-related charges, along with obstruction of justice. Maureen McDonnell was acquitted of lying on a loan document. The jury found the McDonnells lent the prestige of the governor’s office to businessperson Jonnie Williams Sr. in exchange for $177,000 in gifts and loans. The five-week trial at times resembled a soap opera, as the McDonnells endured an embarrassing dissection of their relationship.
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