December 26, 2014 •
News You Can Use Digest – December 26, 2014
Here’s Where Campaign Finance Reform May Move Ahead As Congress Dithers
Huffington Post – Paul Blumenthal | Published: 12/21/2014
While campaign finance reform is unlikely in Congress, it is possible in some states, where extreme polarization on the issue of money in politics is less evident than in Washington, D.C. Many states and municipalities have already enacted new disclosure laws and rules governing candidates’ coordination with independent groups. Still others have pushed for small-donor matching fund systems to dilute the power of big money, or have passed conflict-of-interest restrictions on gifts from lobbyists and contractors.
Lawyers Create Big Paydays by Coaxing Attorneys General to Sue
New York Times – Eric Lipton | Published: 12/18/2014
There is a flourishing industry that pairs plaintiffs’ lawyers with state attorneys general to sue companies, a collaboration that has set off a furious competition between trial lawyers and corporate lobbyists to influence these officials. While prospecting for contracts, the private lawyers have also donated tens of thousands of dollars to campaigns of individual attorneys general, as well as party-backed organizations that they run. The donations often come in large chunks just before or after the firms sign contracts to represent the state, show campaign finance records and more than 240 contracts examined by The New York Times.
National Parties, Donors Embrace Higher Campaign Limits
USA Today – Fredreka Schouten | Published: 12/22/2014
The national political parties and some of their biggest donors are embracing a new law that dramatically increases contribution limits, saying it could help the parties stage a financial comeback in an era of unlimited spending by super PACs. Some third-party groups on the left and the right of the political spectrum, however, are not as pleased, warning the national parties will have more power to drown out upstart politicians challenging the establishment’s favored candidates., Everyone agrees on one point: more campaign money will start to slosh through federal elections, just as the 2016 presidential campaign heats up.
Rep. Michael Grimm Pleads Guilty in Tax Case, Refuses to Resign
Los Angeles Times – Christine Mai-Duc | Published: 12/23/2014
U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm will not resign despite pleading guilty to one felony charge of filing false tax returns for a restaurant he owned, raising a challenge for Republican leaders if they seek to force him from office. He could be expelled from following a vote by the full House, but those proceedings could take weeks or even months. Grimm, a former FBI agent, was hit with 20-count indictment in April. Initially, federal investigators looked into allegations of campaign finance violations, but no charges were ever filed as part of that probe. Prosecutors accused Grimm of under-reporting his employees’ wages to the IRS, paying them in envelopes full of cash, and said he had lied under oath when he claimed he was not responsible for handling payroll.
Waning Influence? Part 3: Ups and Downs, by Industry
Center for Responsive Politics – Dan Auble | Published: 12/22/2014
Overall spending on lobbying has been on a downward trajectory since 2010 and the number of active lobbyists has seen an even longer-term and more drastic drop. The Center for Responsive Politics attempted to identify whether particular industries have contributed more than their fair share to the decrease. Lobbying spending may have dropped by 15 percent since 2009, but not all industries have cut their spending. Fifty-six industries outperformed the overall trend, and 24 actually increased spending since 2009. About 33 fell at a more drastic rate than the average, suggesting they may have contributed more to the overall decline than could be made up by those on the rise.
From the States and Municipalities:
Maine – Maine Public in the Dark on Local-Issue Lobbying
Portland Press Herald – Steve Mistler | Published: 12/22/2014
Advocates for transparency in government say the failure to require lobbying disclosures at the local level makes it hard for citizens to know who is trying to influence elected officials, at a time when well-funded national groups are pouring millions of dollars into state and local politics. No Maine community has a lobbying disclosure rule, and the only time the state imposes a reporting requirement on cities and towns is when a community with more than 15,000 residents takes up a local referendum question.
Massachusetts – Boston-to-D.C. Flights Showcase Region’s Power Players
Boston Globe – Matt Viser | Published: 12/23/2014
The hourly shuttle flights between Boston and Reagan National Airport are a vital connection between the nation’s capital and The Hub in more ways than one. The shuttle provides an airborne showcase of the region’s power players as they travel to private dinners, fundraisers, and congressional hearings. For members of Congress, it can be like office hours, where they are forced to confront constituents who happen to be seat mates. Gate agents report passengers frequently request a new seat assignment so they can be next to a person with whom they are hoping to conduct business.
North Carolina – NC Supreme Court Upholds GOP-Drawn Legislative and Congressional Districts
Raleigh News & Observer – Ann Blythe | Published: 12/19/2014
The North Carolina Supreme Court upheld the Republican-led redrawing of congressional and legislative districts in 2011. Democratic voters and others challenging the boundaries argue that 30 legislative and congressional districts were designed to weaken the overall influence of black voters in North Carolina. The challengers contend the shepherds of the redistricting packed black voters into districts where they had already been successful in electing their candidates of choice despite being in the minority. Republicans have argued they followed the law when creating districts.
Pennsylvania – Kane’s Account of Sting Draws Increasing Fire
Philadelphia Inquirer – Craig McCoy and Angela Couloumbis | Published: 12/21/2014
Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane has said an undercover sting investigation that implicated five Philadelphia officials was marred by possible racial targeting, among many other flaws. At a news conference where Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams announced the arrests of two state representatives who he said took cash from a lobbyist who was working with law enforcement officials in the sting, Williams used the subpoena power of an investigative grand jury to dig into Kane’s statements on why she shuttered the sting and test them for accuracy. He ended up launching a broadside against Kane, saying she had made repeated false statements to justify her decision to end the probe, cited documents that did not exist, and irresponsibly jettisoned a strong criminal case.
Pennsylvania – Pennsylvania Lawmakers Will Be Challenged to Ban Themselves from Taking Lobbyists’ Gifts
Columbus Republic – Marc Levy (Associated Press) | Published: 12/18/2014
Sen. Lloyd Smucker said he will introduce a sweeping bill to ban nearly all gifts to public officials and employees in Pennsylvania, including state and local government employees. Such bills have been introduced before, and seen no action, and Smucker said he has no commitment to pass it by House or Senate leadership. But this measure has the added weight of testimony collected by Smucker’s State Government Committee, a pledge by Gov.-elect Tom Wolf to ban gifts to executive branch employees and officials, and a fresh corruption scandal that produced bribery charges against two lawmakers.
Pennsylvania – Who’s Minding the Store for Legislative Ethics?
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – Joe Smydo | Published: 12/22/2014
In the past 15 years, more than a dozen legislators in Pennsylvania have been convicted of, or pleaded guilty to, crimes ranging from misusing taxpayer resources to hiding income from a second job to leaving the scene of a fatal accident. Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams recently announced bribery and other charges against Reps. Ronald Waters and Vanessa Lowery Brown. Policing lawmakers is a task the state Ethics Commission shares with committees in the House and Senate. Commission Executive Director Robert Caruso said his agency’s work has been challenged in recent years by staffing shortages, budget cuts, and weaknesses in the state ethics law.
Rhode Island – Mollis Concludes Former R.I. Attorney General Lynch Did Not Violate Lobbying Rules
Providence Journal – Katie Mulvaney | Published: 12/18/2014
Secretary of State A. Ralph Mollis concluded former Attorney General Patrick Lynch did not violate Rhode Island’s lobbying law in his interactions with his successor’s office about federal regulation of Internet gambling and other topics. Lynch has claimed his interactions with Attorney General Peter Kilmartin’s office were as a lawyer representing clients and, thus, he was exempt from registering as a lobbyist.
Utah – Tea Partier Braces for Primary Challenge from the Establishment
Politico – Manu Raju | Published: 12/22/2014
What is happening in Utah marks a new chapter in the tea-party-vs.-establishment wars that have defined Republican politics since 2010. At that time, U.S. Sen. Mike Lee seized on conservatives’ frustration with a veteran GOP senator, Bob Bennett, to win the party’s nomination and emerge as one of the country’s most prominent tea party senators. But after four years in Washington, where he has aligned himself with the most conservative wing of the party, some Republicans are weighing whether there is an opening to challenge Lee.
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