September 7, 2018 •
News You Can Use – September 7, 2018
Cities Take Aim at the Spiraling Costs of Local Elections
CityLab – Sarah Holder | Published: 9/4/2018
Several of the nation’s largest cities – including Portland, Denver, and Baltimore – are attempting to overhaul their campaign finance systems by reducing contribution limits or establishing public financing projects that make each donated dollar go further, or both. Candidates, especially those running for the first time against incumbents, are hopeful the measures will level the playing field. Jo Ann Hardesty, who is running for the Portland City Council this November, said the reforms would help her and others focus on running, not campaigning: “It will force me not to spend so much time on the phone trying to raise money, and it means that regular people can run and serve.”
Twitter Will Begin Labeling Political Ads About Issues Such as Immigration
Chicago Tribune – Tony Romm (Washington Post) | Published: 8/30/2018
Twitter announced it would begin labeling political advertisements as part of a new effort to increase transparency on its platform. The company said it will move to identify electioneering ads, which the FEC defines as ads promoting a specific candidate or a party within 30 days of a primary election and 60 days of a general election. Such labeling would include some kind of signifier, like a purple dot noting the tweet is prompted by a political account, according to a potential mockup the company included in a post announcing the changes.
Company Using Foreign Workers Botches U.S. Senate Campaign Finance Records
Center for Public Integrity – Rosa Cima | Published: 9/5/2018
Unlike those running for the presidency and House, U.S. Senate candidates do not file campaign finance reports electronically. They file on paper, which must then be converted to electronic documents in a process that involves two government agencies, three private companies, and countless low-paid workers, many of them overseas, and some who may be hostile toward American interests. This document conversion process often spits out bogus, yet official public records that mislead the public and obscure who is funding Senate campaigns. An investigation found errors in more than 5,900 candidate disclosures representing over $70 million, all of them traceable to the U.S. government’s conversion of paper into electronic data.
Former Manafort Associate Reveals Illegal Foreign Payment to Trump’s Inauguration
Politico – Kyle Cheney and John Meyer | Published: 9/1/2018
W. Samuel Patten pleaded guilty to failing to register as a foreign agent for a Ukrainian political party. He also admitted to lying to the U.S. Senate intelligence committee during its investigation into Russian election interference and of participating in a scheme to circumvent the ban on foreign donations to President Trump’s inaugural committee by lining up a straw purchaser to pay $50,000 for tickets to the inauguration. This is the first time the Justice Department has publicly charged a person for helping a foreigner secretly funnel money into a Trump political event. The case was referred by special counsel Robert Mueller to the U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C. Patten’s plea agreement requires him to cooperate with the special counsel’s probe.
From the States and Municipalities:
Arkansas: Former Sen. Woods Sentenced to More Than 18 Years in Prison
talkbusiness.net – Jeff Della Rosa | Published: 9/5/2018
Former Arkansas Sen. Jon Woods was sentenced to more than 18 years in federal prison forhis involvement in a widespread kickback and bribery scheme. He also was ordered to pay $1.6 million in restitution. Woods was convicted in schemes involving Ecclesia College and AmeriWorks, a nonprofit company. He received kickbacks on $350,000 in state General Improvement Fund grants he directed to Ecclesia and $275,000 in grants he sent to AmeriWorks. Prosecutors did not specify how much money Woods received in kickbacks because all but a $40,000 wire transfer was paid in cash.
California: As the Legislative Year Ends, the #MeToo Movement Shows Its Influence
Los Angeles Times – Melanie Mason | Published: 9/3/2018
The #MeToo campaign launched a discussion about a culture of fear and retaliation at the Capitol in Sacramento, which women said had discouraged them from reporting pervasive harassment and allowed it to go unpunished. When the Legislature reconvened in January, two members had already resigned amid accusations of sexual misconduct and complaints had been lodged against three others. Lawmakers passed more than a dozen bills addressing workplace sexual harassment by the close of the two-year session. Experts said these measures could make California a national leader on the issue. The Legislature also spent months developing a new process for handling its own investigations of inappropriate behavior.
Illinois: State Farm Pays $250 Million, Ducks Trial Over Allegations It Tried to Rig Illinois Justice System
Chicago Tribune – Tim Bross, Margaret Cronin Fisk, and Jef Feeley (Bloomberg) | Published: 9/5/2018
State Farm reached a $250 million preliminary settlement in a class-action lawsuit claiming the insurance company funneled money to the campaign of Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier in 2004. In the 2005 case of Avery v. State Farm, Karmeier cast the deciding vote to reverse a $1 billion judgment against State Farm for its use of aftermarket car parts in repairs. The class-action lawsuit sought nearly $10 billion from State Farm. The plaintiffs alleged the company covertly supported Karmeier’s campaign to secure his win and reversal of the Avery decision. The suit claimed millions of dollars were funneled through donations to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which then sent the money to a PAC and the Illinois Republican Party for use in Karmeier’s campaign.
Kentucky: Father of Alison Lundergan Grimes Indicted in Campaign Finance Conspiracy
McClatchy DC – Daniel Desrochers and Bill Estep (Lexington Herald-Leader) | Published: 8/31/2018
The father of Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes was indicted for illegally funneling nearly $200,000 to his daughter’s 2014 U.S. Senate campaign to pay for various services. Gerald Lundergan used funds from his own company to pay for “audio-video production, lighting, recorded telephone calls, and campaign consulting between July 2013 and December 2015,” the Justice Department said in a press release. Lundergan and the campaign vendor to whom he made the payments, who was also indicted, concealed their arrangement from officials on the campaign, causing it to file financial records to the FEC, according to the indictment.
Massachusetts: SJC Upholds Massachusetts’ Ban on Corporate Campaign Contributions
MassLive.com – Shira Schoenberg | Published: 9/6/2018
The Supreme Judicial Court upheld Massachusetts’ ban on corporate campaign donations, finding the prohibition does not violate First Amendment rights and can help prevent actual and perceived corruption. The law bans corporations from giving directly to candidates or establishing PACs but allows them to make unlimited independent expenditures, with certain disclosure requirements. The plaintiffs argued the law violates their right to free speech and unfairly applies to corporations but not to other entities like unions and nonprofits. Chief Justice Ralph Gants wrote it would be “unrealistic for a court to require the Legislature to wait for evidence of widespread quid pro quo corruption resulting from corporate contributions before taking steps to prevent such corruption.”
New York: Mayoral Charter Revision Commission Puts Three Questions on November Ballot
Gotham Gazette – Samar Khurshid | Published: 9/5/2018
The charter revision commission created by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio voted to put three questions on the ballot in November. If approved by voters, the proposals would significantly reduce campaign contribution limits in city elections, create a new agency to civically engage the public, and apply term limits and appointment reforms to community boards. One proposal would reduce contribution limits for public financing participants as well for those who do not join the program. It would also increase the matching ratio to eight-to-one for the first $250 raised by a citywide candidate and for the first $175 raised for all other seats.
North Carolina: Court Won’t Force North Carolina Redistricting This Year
Politico – Josh Gerstein | Published: 9/4/2018
A panel of three federal judges ruled North Carolina’s current congressional map can be used in the 2018 midterms, despite previously ruling the map is a partisan gerrymander. The judges said there was “insufficient time” for the court to approve a new map in time for the elections that are two months away. Both the plaintiffs and the defendants in the case had asked that a new map not be imposed on the state for the current election cycle.
North Carolina: Justice Dept. Demands Millions of North Carolina Voter Records, Confounding Elections Officials
New York Times – Richard Fausset and Michael Wines | Published: 9/5/2018
Federal prosecutors issued subpoenas demanding that millions of North Carolina voter records be turned over to immigration authorities by September 25. The subpoenas threatened to sow chaos in the state’s election machinery, while renewing the Trump administration’s discredited claims of widespread voting by illegal immigrants. The subpoenas were issued a week after federal officials announced that 19 noncitizens in North Carolina had been charged with casting illegal votes in the 2016 election. Critics say those arrests hardly constitute a wave of voter fraud worthy of such a broad demand for documents. And they raised concerns about privacy: among the prosecutors’ demands are millions of secret ballots cast by absentee and early voters whose identities could be easily traced.
Pennsylvania: Ex-Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer Guilty on All Counts
Allentown Morning Call – Peter Hall | Published: 8/30/2018
A jury convicted former Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer on 11 counts related to a “pay-to-play” scheme in which federal prosecutors said he traded public works contracts for campaign contributions and bribed the city council president to repeal a law limiting how much campaign money he could accept. The jury heard witnesses testify that Spencer and his campaign staff tied the award of public works contracts to donations from engineering firm executives to Spencer’s re-election campaign. His former chief of staff and campaign fundraiser also testified about Spencer’s role in making a “forgivable loan” to the wife of council President Francisco Acosta to ensure he followed through on legislation to repeal or suspend the city’s campaign reporting law.
Texas: Beto O’Rourke Dreams of One Texas. Ted Cruz Sees Another Clearly.
WRAL – Matt Flegenheimer (New York Times) | Published: 8/31/2018
A blue Texas has seemed both inevitable and impossible, the central political contradiction in a state defined by them. Any breakthrough, Democrats have long believed, would be borne of demographics and triangulation: focus on the cities, with their surging Hispanic populations and creeping cosmopolitanism. Edge to the middle a bit to bring in wary moderates. And impress upon voters just how extreme the incumbents had become. U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke has resolved to ignore basically all of this in his campaign to unseat U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. O’Rourke has defined the philosophy with a line borrowed from Jim Hightower, a prominent activist who was once Texas agriculture commissioner: “The only thing you’ll find in the middle of the road are yellow lines and dead armadillos,” O’Rourke said.
Virginia: Citing Fraud, Judge Orders Candidate Off the Ballot in Virginia Congressional Race
Danbury News Times – Gregory Schneider (Washington Post) | Published: 9/5/2018
A judge ordered an independent candidate in a key congressional contest in Virginia removed from November’s ballot, citing invalid signatures gathered with assistance from staffers for the incumbent Republican. The effort to put Shaun Brown on the ballot as an independent candidate, which could have siphoned votes from the Democratic nominee, Elaine Luria, was boosted by U.S. Rep. Scott Taylor’s campaign staffers. Taylor had said he knew staff members were collecting signatures for Brown, but he did not direct the effort.
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