VT House Creates First-Ever Ethics Panel

Seven Days; “The panel will be charged with investigating complaints of ethical violations committed by House members and will be empowered to recommend disciplinary actions to the body as a whole. The five-member committee will also oversee the creation of a new, online database disclosing members’ employment and board service.”

“Ethical issues loomed large last year after retired Wall Street banker Bruce Lisman and the advocacy group he founded, Campaign for Vermont, proposed a far-reaching set of recommendations for increased disclosure within state government. In response, Smith appointed Sweaney, who chairs the House Committee on Government Operations, to lead a group studying the House’s policies.”

MN Prof, Bush Advisor Joins Conservative Reform Group

Minnesota Post: “A University of Minnesota law professor and a political consultant who’s worked on five Republican presidential campaigns – both alumni of the George W. Bush administration – launched a campaign finance reform group Wednesday tilted toward the conservative point of view.

“Richard Painter and Mark McKinnon lead the board of Take Back Our Republic, a fledgling group that does not so much decry the evil of big money as the evil of foreign money in campaigns.”

“A crackdown on accepting foreign money is the stick in the equation, but Take Back also offers a carrot. To encourage small donors, it suggests making contributions to federal campaigns up to $500 exempt from disclosure. Currently, any contribution over $200 must be disclosed.

“The group also supports a tax credit for small political donors, giving contributors a credit for donations up to $200 and a deduction for donations up to $600. Minnesota allows a tax refund — up to $100 — for contributions to state campaigns.”

RI to Consider Preventing Non-Filers of Disclosure Forms from Running

Providence Journal: “Its board is expected to vote — to approve, amend or reject — the staff recommendations for the legislative proposals at a 3 p.m. meeting today.

“Perhaps one of the most significant proposals would put an end to skyrocketing fines racked up by candidates who have failed to file campaign finance reports. But it would also attempt to compel them to pay up by not allowing them to run for office until they’ve settled their bills.

“The proposed change would, “cap total fines at $1,000 and prohibit non-filers and candidates and committees with outstanding fines from declaring for office or accepting contributions or making expenditures until the non-compliance is remedied.'”

Good Overview on Disclosure, Way Forward

Mint Press News: “But it’s not just disclosure exemptions and cleverly promoted television ads that have prompted public concern. Since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010, the unlimited contribution and outside spending amounts have prompted various advocacy groups and legislators to push for remodeling campaign finance and disclosure policies in their states.

“‘Most do not have great disclosure laws or conflict of interest laws,’ Mansur Gidfar, communications director for anti-corruption group Represent.Us, told MintPress. ‘In a lot of cases, every situation around the laws that govern how money interacts with the political process is actually a lot worse at the state level than it is at the federal level.'”

“‘Under current law, regardless of how biased the endless amounts of political ads are in support of or are against a specific candidate, the source of funding for an ad does not have to be disclosed if the ad does not explicitly use the phrases ‘vote for’ or ‘vote against.’

“‘You can spend an unlimited amount of money sending out mail in a legislator’s district saying that Legislator X … has done a terrible job for you,’ [Minnesota state Rep Ryan] Winkler told MintPress.

“But despite any insinuations, the nonprofit organizations can claim their ads are educating voters on an issue, not politicking, as long as they don’t employ those ‘magic’ words.”

NC Leaders Push Ethics Reforms, Disclosure

News Observer: “Senate Democratic Leader Dan Blue and House Democratic Leader Larry Hall of Durham said legislation would be introduced to ban outside earned income, including deferred compensation, for elected state officials, and require more detailed disclosure of financial interests, similar to federal reporting requirements.”

Proposed ME Clean Money Initiative to Address Weaknesses in System

Fosters: “Maine Citizens for Clean Elections is expected on Jan. 21 to submit a petition for a citizens’ initiative with well over the 61,123 signatures needed to put the measure on the ballot this fall. The initiative covers those running for the State House, the Senate and the Blaine House, and builds on Maine’s first-in-the-nation Clean Elections Act passed in 1996.

“Key is a mechanism to overcome a recent Supreme Court ruling that disallows state matching funds to be used in clean elections — a key component to any clean elections system. By requiring candidates to garner a series of $5 donations in order to trigger rounds of matching funds, MCCE legal experts believe the initiative will pass constitutional muster because it will show a candidate has continuing support. But that’s not the only provision in the initiative.

“The measure would force the Maine State Legislature to find the $3 million annually to adequately fund clean elections by closing corporate tax loopholes; require governors-elect to report money spent on inaugural and transition activities; and raise the penalties for violations.”

TX City Argues Against Own Campaign Finance Rule

Houston Chronicle: “Houston’s blackout period, passed in 1992, prohibits city candidates from raising money for 10 months before the February of an election year. The blackout, meant to limit corruption, effectively froze campaigning until Feb. 1, when a frenzy of renewed fund-raising ensued.

“But this fall, two lawsuits challenged Houston’s rules. Bell’s suit charged that the city is allowing mayoral candidate Rep. Sylvester Turner to transfer too much money from his legislative account. In the other lawsuit, a City Council candidate alleged the blackout infringed on his free speech rights.

“Now the cases are converging.

“On Friday. U.S. District Judge Sim Lake enjoined the city from enforcing the blackout. The city is not asking for a stay of the decision and on Monday confirmed it will not defend the law.

“Also on Monday, Bell and Feldman’s team quarreled in front of Judge Elizabeth Ray, who is presiding in the Bell case. Bell is challenging Turner’s strategy of raising money for his unopposed state legislative campaign during the blackout period and then transferring that money to a future mayoral account.”

“City officials said Friday’s decision made Bell’s lawsuit moot. If no blackout period is in effect, then Turner’s fundraising during that period is proper, the city argued, and there is no need to transfer any money.”