September 8, 2017 •
News You Can Use Digest – September 8, 2017
Software Glitch or Russian Hackers? Election Problems Draw Little Scrutiny
New York Times – Nicole Pearlroth, Michael Wines, and Matthew Rosenberg | Published: 9/1/2017
After a presidential campaign scarred by Russian meddling, local, state, and federal agencies have conducted little of the type of digital forensic investigation required to assess the impact, if any, on voting in at least 21 states whose election systems were targeted by Russian hackers. The assaults on the vast back-end election apparatus – voter-registration operations, state and local election databases, e-poll books, and other equipment – have received far less attention than other aspects of the Russian interference, such as the hacking of Democratic emails and spreading of false or damaging information about Hillary Clinton. Yet the hacking of electoral systems was more extensive than previously disclosed.
Statehouses, Not Congress, Hosting Biggest Political Money Fights
Center for Public Integrity – Ashley Balcerzak | Published: 8/31/2017
Lawmakers in at least 18 states have introduced legislation this year to change the amount of money people can give to politicians. Half of the bills aim to increase contribution limits in attempts to keep pace with the rising number of outside forces that can spend unlimited amounts of cash. The other half try to decrease the limits to blunt the amount of money in politics. Meanwhile, national coalitions have swarmed statehouses and city halls. They are targeting disclosure laws, pay-to-play and lobbying rules, and the role corporations, unions, and nonprofits may play in elections, in addition to fundraising limits.
A Two-Decade Crusade by Conservative Charities Fueled Trump’s Exit from Paris Climate Accord
Washington Post – Robert O’Harrow Jr. | Published: 9/5/2017
The story behind the Cooler Heads Coalition – an umbrella group in the vanguard of efforts to cast doubt on the gravity of climate change and thwart government efforts to address it – illuminates the influential, little-known role that tax-exempt public charities play in modern campaigns to sway lawmakers and shape policy while claiming to be nonpartisan educational organizations. It also offers insight into the forces behind a decision by President Trump that infuriated scientists and environmentalists, mystified U.S. allies, and went against the advice of some major corporations.
Democrats Say ‘Citizens United’ Should Die. Here’s Why That Won’t Happen.
Center for Public Integrity – Sarah Kleiner | Published: 8/31/2017
Seizing on the specter of Russian election influence, Democrats have ramped up their quixotic effort to blunt Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which unleashed a torrent of special interest spending on U.S. elections. They have introduced two dozen bills related to money in politics. Some are aimed at increasing donor transparency, others are targeting massive contributions from special interests. A couple are intent on reforming the FEC. None have had a single formal hearing, much less an up-or-down vote in either the House or Senate.
Trump Gets Millions from Golf Members. CEOs and Lobbyists Get Access to President
USA Today – Brad Heath, Fredreka Schouten, Steve Reilly, Nick Pezenstadler, and Aamer Madhani | Published: 9/6/2017
Members of clubs that Donald Trump owns and has visited most often as president include at least 50 executives whose companies hold federal contracts and 21 lobbyists and trade group officials. Two-thirds played on one of the 58 days Trump was there. A USA Today shows that for the first time in U.S. history, wealthy people with interests before the government have a chance for close and confidential access to the president as a result of payments that enrich him personally. The arrangement is legal, and members said they did not use the clubs to discuss government business. Nonetheless, ethics experts questioned whether it is appropriate for a sitting president to collect money from lobbyists and others who spend their days trying to shape federal policy or win government business.
From the States and Municipalities:
SF’s Political Watchdog Agency Proposes Sweeping Reforms, Nonprofits Cry Foul
San Francisco Examiner – Joshua Sabitini | Published: 9/4/2017
The San Francisco Ethics Commission is taking on the notorious “pay-to-play” culture at City Hall with proposed sweeping reforms. But some of the provisions have drawn the ire of nonprofits that warn it will deal a significant blow to their fundraising. One provision being discussed in the reform package would prohibit city commissioners from helping to raise money for candidates. Many nonprofit leaders blasted a portion of the sweeping reforms that would restrict so-called behested payments, which are contributions made to groups or causes at the request of elected officials.
Denver Proposal Aims to Force Disclosure of Independent Spending in Elections as ‘Dark Money’ Trickles Down
Denver Post – Jon Murray | Published: 9/4/2017
A Denver City Council proposal seeks to close transparency gaps that allow “dark money” to go unreported as long as the people behind it do not coordinate directly with a candidate’s campaign. The proposal would adopt the state definitions of “independent expenditure” and “electioneering communication.” The individual, company, or other group behind the independent spending would have to file public reports within two days after more than $1,000 is spent, including disclosing anyone who gives more than $25 to the effort. They also would have to make clear on any mailers, broadcast ads, or other advertising who paid for them and the independence from the candidate’s or issue’s official campaign. The proposal also would modify the city’s campaign finance ordinance in other ways.
Facing Minor Fine, Hogan Campaign Lawyer Threatens Attorney General Frosh
Washington Post – Fenit Nirappil | Published: 8/31/2017
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s re-election campaign could be hit with a $250 fine for a minor violation of state election law, an inconvenience that has erupted into a partisan brawl. Hogan’s campaign attorney, Dirk Haire, who also chairs the Maryland Republican Party, will ask the state prosecutor’s office to launch an official misconduct investigation if state Attorney General Brian Frosh does not act to block the fine, which was proposed by staffers at the Board of Elections in response to a complaint from Maryland Democratic Party Chairperson Kathleen Matthews. Haire is also threatening to file a complaint alleging Frosh’s campaign illegally charged children for ice cream at a fundraiser.
Councilwoman Repays Lobbyist, Concerned over Gifting
St. Joseph News-Press – Brendan Welch | Published: 9/6/2017
St. Joseph City Council Member Joyce Starr presented a check to a local lobbyist during a council meeting to avoid taking what she considered to be an unethical gift. Starr said council members often go out in a group after meetings to HiHo Bar and Grill, and Kenneth Reeder, a local political activist and lobbyist, is usually in attendance. She said after the August 11 council meeting, she discovered Reeder was being repaid for purchasing them dinner and drinks, and was not comfortable with it. Starr said the check was only for four dollars, “but it’s just the principle of the thing.”
Rep. Jim Merrill Pleads Guilty to Misconduct, Agrees to Assist Investigators in Statehouse Corruption Probe
Charleston Post and Courier – Glenn Smith and Andrew Brown | Published: 9/1/2017
South Carolina Rep. Jim Merrill pleaded guilty to using his office for personal profit, resigned his seat in the Legislature, and was sentenced to one year of probation. The plea agreement requires him to cooperate with state investigators and the FBI as they continue to probe corruption at the statehouse. Merrill was accused of using his office and his consulting firm to garner more than $1 million from trade groups and companies at a time when he was both a lawmaker and a consultant. He failed to report money he received from companies and groups that lobby legislators, did not file reports of campaign-related spending from the House Republican Caucus, and overcharged for his work.
Court: Texas Can Enforce New Voter ID Law in November
Governing – Allie Morris | Published: 9/6/2017
A federal appeals court panel ruled Texas can use its revised voter ID measure for the upcoming November elections, the latest in a series of winding legal battles on whether the state has intentionally discriminated against black and Latino voters through its original law passed in 2011 In August, U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos threw out Senate Bill 5, which the state Legislature passed earlier this year and in some ways softened the previous requirements that Texans present one of seven forms of photo ID at the polls in order to cast a ballot. Ramos said the state’s new voter ID law failed to fix the intentional discrimination against minority voters found in a 2011 law. The stay suspends that order until the appeals court can hear the merits for and against the state’s appeal.
Fred Lewis Appointment Stirs Controversy
Austin Monitor – Jo Clifton | Published: 9/1/2017
Fred Lewis, an attorney who served as the main architect of Austin’s new lobbying ordinance, surprisingly became the center of a controversy when the city council appointed him to serve on the Charter Review Commission. Lewis worked for many months on an ordinance specifically aimed at preventing lobbyists from serving on city commissions.
Charge Dropped Against Reporter Who Questioned Tom Price
New York Times – Matt Stevens | Published: 9/6/2017
West Virginia prosecutors dropped charges against a reporter who was arrested after peppering U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price with healthcare policy questions while following him down a hallway at the Capitol. Prosecutors said the reporter, Dan Heyman, broke no laws. Heyman was arrested and jailed for willful disruption of state government processes. The arrest drew condemnation from civil rights and journalists’ rights groups, who said Heyman was merely performing his constitutionally protected duties.
Report: New Ethics Commission has conducted just 1 investigation, says compliance is up
Wisconsin State Journal – Mark Sommerhauser | Published: 9/3/2017
A new report shows Wisconsin’s Ethics Commission investigated just one alleged violation in its first year of operation. That is a far less active pace than its predecessor, the Government Accountability Board (GAB). Republican lawmakers and Gov. Scott Walker created the Ethics Commission, saying the GAB was too partisan. Much of the new commission’s workings are shrouded by law. Hidden from public view are complaints alleging violations of ethics, campaign finance, or lobbying laws, as well as deliberations by the commission on whether to investigate complaints.
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