Transparency News 10/9/13


Wednesday, October 9, 2013
State and Local Stories


Changes appear afoot for Virginia’s gift disclosure laws, but what those reforms should look like depends on whom you ask. A lively discussion Tuesday night at the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s Public Square about the state’s disclosure laws and what changes should be made in the wake of a gifts scandal involving Gov. Bob McDonnell indicated that people favor greater transparency in gifts given to the officials they elected. Should a public official disclose, for example, a merit-based scholarship that one of their children receives from an out-of-state school? What about wine sent to a lawmaker’s spouse from an old family friend? They were two examples tossed out by state Sen. A. Donald McEachin, D-Henrico, who attended the event and was brought onto the panel along with Del. Jimmie Massie, R-Henrico, who also had come intending only to listen. They joined a panel with Megan H. Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government; Ginger Stanley, executive director of the Virginia Press Association; and Andrew Cain, politics editor for The Times-Dispatch.

A Newport News Circuit Court judge has reversed a lower court's order barring the Daily Press and other media outlets from publishing the names of witnesses who testified at a murder hearing last week. Judge Timothy S. Fisher vacated the order on Tuesday following a motion from the Daily Press asserting that the order was a violation of the newspaper's First Amendment rights to attend and report on court cases. Fisher's order said the prior court order was a form of "prior restraint" on the media, in violation of the Constitution.
Daily Press

The Democratic Party of Virginia is seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the State Board of Elections and the commonwealth’s 132 local registrars from purging names from their voter registration lists. In Chesterfield County, Registrar Lawrence C. Haake III said that in the list of the more than 2,200 active and inactive voters he was told to purge, a preliminary examinationrevealed more than 170 errors among about 1,000 active voters. Haake, a Republican who provided a statement included in the memorandum filed by the Democratic Party, said the purge list included voters whose out-of-state registration data were 10 years older than more recent, valid registration and voting history in Virginia.

Six weeks after the firing of Norfolk State University's president, Gov. Bob McDonnell is seeking the resignations of some members of the school's governing board. Two state delegates confirmed that the governor's office has asked members of NSU's Board of Visitors to step down. The governor's office wouldn't specifically discuss the requests for resignations, but Secretary of the Commonwealth Janet Kelly said the governor is "making efforts to make Norfolk State the best it can be."

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said Tuesday that he only recently learned of the legal advice a staff member offered to energy company lawyers throughout their federal court battle with Southwest Virginia landowners seeking natural gas royalties. He said it was shortly after the revelation that he ordered an end to the contact, which began slightly more than three years ago over a series of lawsuits revolving mainly around a state-mandated escrow account with $30 million in royalties from gas siphoned without the landowners’ permission. “It was in the last month or so … that we cut that communication off,” the Republican candidate for governor told the Bristol Herald Courier following a brief stump in Abingdon early Tuesday.
Herald Courier

National Stories

The Supreme Court on Tuesday seemed prepared to strike down a part of federal campaign finance law left intact by its decision in Citizens United in 2010: overall limits on direct contributions from individuals to candidates. The justices seemed to divide along familiar ideological lines, and they articulated starkly different understandings of the role of money and free speech in American politics.
New York Times

High-profile document leaks and shutdown-spawned worker shortages aren't the only problems plaguing the National Security Agency. A series of electrical explosions destroyed hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of equipment at the spy outfit's new data center and pushed back the facility's completion date by a year, says a report. The troubles have been at the NSA's Utah Data Center in Bluffdale -- said to be bigger than Google's largest data center -- with a data-storing capacity that will potentially be several thousand times the size of all the printed materials in the Library of Congress.

The ATF agent who blew the whistle on “Fast and Furious” said Tuesday that it’s “absurd” that the agency is blocking his book on the operation by claiming it would harm morale. Special Agent John Dodson appeared on CNN’s “New Day” to defend his book, the day after the American Civil Liberties Union wrote a letter to the ATF on his behalf urging it to reconsider their decision to bar its publication.

U.S. states and local governments are taking nearly a year to release annual financial statements, according to a report released on Tuesday as federal regulators crack the whip on giving municipal bond investors timely information. In the first half of 2013, issuers on average posted audited financial statements 339 days after the close of their fiscal years, according to the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board, the $3.7 trillion market's self-regulator.

The Connectciut Medical Examining Board held an illegal secret meeting in 2009 as it was being asked to decide whether it was ethical for doctors to take part in lethal injection executions, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled Monday. The court unanimously upheld decisions by a lower court and the state Freedom of Information Commission, which both ruled that the board’s executive session violated state law on public meetings and ordered the board to comply with the law in the future.
New Haven Register

When Tim Peterson finished planting his 900 acres of winter wheat last week, the usually market-savvy Kansas farmer unexpectedly found himself struggling to make critical marketing decisions without being able to access to vital agricultural reports, casualties of the federal government shutdown. “We have no clue what is going on in the market,” said Peterson, who farms near Monument in northwest Kansas. He typically protects his investment in seed and fertilizer by “locking in” the price his wheat crop will fetch next July with a futures contract that shields farmers from market fluctuations by guaranteeing a price while the crop is in the ground. Farmers and livestock producers use the reports put out by the National Agriculture Statistics Service to make decisions – such as how to price crops, which commodities to grow and when to sell them – as well as track cattle auction prices. Not only has the NASS stopped putting out new reports about demand and supply, exports and prices, but all websites with past information have been taken down.
Capital Journal


Kerry Dougherty, Virginian-Pilot: Writing notes, escorting funeral processions and using inmate labor to clean roads and fix houses for the elderly aren't duties you'll find in any Virginia sheriff's manual. But they're every bit as important to these retail politicians as their actual jobs. You know, serving papers, providing courthouse security and running the local jail. Virginia sheriffs answer directly to the voters and are free to build political fiefdoms from inside their jails. Which brings us - as you knew it would - to the sheriff of Portsmouth, Bill Watson, AKA Wild Bill. Ever since 2005, when he beat the scandal-scarred incumbent, Gary Waters, Watson has been building a loyal political base while generating headlines of his own. In the summer of 2006, Watson angered Portsmouth councilmen by secretly taping a meeting with them.