Transparency News 11/7/13

Thursday, November 7, 2013
State and Local Stories


First, they'll count. Then they'll likely recount – and the question of who'll be Virginia's next attorney general will remain up in the air for weeks to come. With the State Board of Elections reporting complete unofficial returns from all 2,558 precincts Wednesday afternoon, it appears that Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, edged out state Sen. Mark Herring by 1,072 votes, or 5/100ths of a percent of the 2.2 million cast.  Under Virginia law, it's up to the loser to ask for a recount – there are no automatic recounts in Virginia. The request can't be made until after the board certifies the results, which won't happen until Nov. 25. And it won't even be until the end of the week that either candidate will have much of a sense of whether he'll get to be the one who asks for the recount. There are still an unknown number of provisional votes to be reviewed, and the people who cast them have until Friday noon to show local electoral boards the ID needed to have their votes count.
Daily Press

A nonpartisan sign swiper who was stopped by Richmond police as he tried to clear political signs on Election Day from the Monument Avenue median has become a hero to some. “He had every right to do what he was trying to do, and the police were wrong,” said Steve Nuckolls, a Monument Avenue resident who has worked for years trying to keep the famous thoroughfare clear of illegal signs. Richmond police, meantime, acknowledged Wednesday evening that Carl Hudert was correct and that the officers did not have the authority to order him to replace the signs.

So just how many votes were cast for people who were not on the ballot? We know 11,022 write-in votes were cast in the governor’s race Tuesday, but we may never know who received them. A locality only has to itemize its write-in votes if the number cast is 5 percent or more of the votes cast in that locality, according to the state code. If the number doesn’t reach that threshold, the write-ins will not be tallied. “This means we may not have a statewide total for any person who receives write-in votes unless that person received at least 5 percent of the total votes cast in every locality in the commonwealth,” Nikki Sheridan, confidential policy adviser at the State Board of Elections, said in an email.

In the coming weeks, the Danville Sheriff’s Office will be unveiling a new website available to the public to access certain information about inmates housed in the jail. Sheriff Mike Mondul said he is hoping to have the website live in the next several weeks and hopes it will be a two-fold advantage for the residents and employees at the sheriff’s office. With the system in place, residents won’t have to call the records office to get inmate information, and employees at the sheriff’s office will have a substantial amount of time freed up to focus on other tasks.
Register & Bee

Critics of Shenandoah County government spending who won seats on the Board of Supervisors raised and spent more campaign money than their opponents. Independent candidates Cindy M. Bailey and Marsha E. Shruntz together took in more than $14,000 for their campaigns, according to information from the Virginia Public Access Project, a non-profit group that collects campaign finance and election data. The information was as of Oct. 23, the last day for candidates to file campaign finance reports before the election. Bailey and Shruntz, who often campaigned together, spoke out against government spending on costly projects such as the Edinburg School renovations and the regional jail in Warren County. In spite of running without the backing of a major, political party, both candidates raised and spent more money on their campaigns.
Northern Virginia Daily

The State Board of Elections has received complaints from Virginians who say the Democratic Party of Virginia, the left-leaning Voter Participation Center and the conservative Americans for Prosperity have sent mailings that could be seen as intrusive and intimidating efforts to get out the vote. “The chart below shows your household’s public voting record in past elections as well as an empty space which we will fill to indicate if you vote in this year’s election on Tuesday, November 5th,” reads one letter, identified as coming from the Democratic Party of Virginia. “We intend to mail you an updated chart after the election that will show whether or not you voted. We will leave the space blank if you do not vote.”   A letter from the Voter Participation Center compares a resident’s past voting history with “your community.” Your voting score is “BELOW AVERAGE,” reads one “voting report card” marked from the VPC and obtained by The Americans for Prosperity letter concludes with, “After the election, we will re-evaluate your voting record and hope to share it with your neighbors to see if there is improvement,” said Nikki Sheridan, confidential policy adviser for the State Board of Elections, quoting the letter. Virginia Bureau

Former Associated Press reporter Bob Lewis will start a new job in media relations with the law firm McGuireWoods on Nov. 11, Mike Allen reports. According to McGuireWoods’ press release, Lewis will “lead McGuireWoods’ communications team implementing internal and external media strategies in support of its more than 900 lawyers in 19 offices worldwide and its public affairs subsidiary, McGuireWoods Consulting.”

National Stories

Judicial Watch announced yesterday that on October 17, 2013, thanks to Judicial Watch litigation, the public gained access to more than 57,000 pages of previously withheld documents from the Clinton Presidential Library related to the National Taskforce on Health Care Reform, a "cabinet-level" taskforce chaired by former First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton during the first term of the Bill Clinton presidency.
Standard Newswire

A judge presiding over the military commission’s prosecution of five people accused in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks has ordered the government to show him confidential correspondence with the International Committee of the Red Cross about prison conditions at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, a defense lawyer said Wednesday. The judge, Col. James Pohl, also issued an order taking control of the team that reviews correspondence between defense lawyers and the defendants, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. The order also relaxes some limits on what defense lawyers can discuss with their clients, said James G. Connell III, a defense lawyer for Ali Abd al Aziz Ali. The case has been bogged down in pretrial hearings, with no actual trial in sight. The judge decided that he would review the Red Cross records before deciding whether to allow the lawyers to see them.
New York Times

CIA is said to pay AT&T for call data. The disclosure shows that agencies beyond the N.S.A. exploit call metadata with programs regulated by an inconsistent patchwork of legal standards, procedures and oversight.
New York Times

Two weeks after his arrest, the Alabama blogger found to have violated a judge’s order not to publish certain stories remains in jail and without an opportunity to challenge the contempt order. Roger Shuler, who runs the blog Legal Schnauzer, was charged on Oct. 23 with two counts of contempt of court for allegedly violating a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. The Circuit Court of Shelby County, Ala., had ordered Shuler to take down stories that alleged that Robert Riley, Jr., the son of a former Alabama governor, had an affair with and impregnated lobbyist Liberty Duke. Riley and Duke have filed defamation suits against Shuler and his wife Carol Shuler in the Circuit Court of Shelby County, Ala. The court has sealed all of the records in the case, although a handful of them are available on Legal Schnauzer and other websites.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

The justices engaged in a lively give-and-take Wednesday that highlighted the sensitive nature of offering religious invocations in public proceedings that don't appeal to everyone and of governments' efforts to police the practice. The court is weighing a federal appeals court ruling that said the Rochester suburb of Greece, N.Y., violated the Constitution because nearly every prayer in an 11-year span was overtly Christian. The tenor of the argument indicated the justices would not agree with the appellate ruling. But it was not clear what decision they might come to instead.
Fox News

A local publicist has dropped her defamation lawsuit against FishbowlDC, a website that covers media news and gossip in Washington. Lawyers for publicist Wendy Gordon and FishbowlDC filed a notice in D.C. Superior Court on Nov. 5 saying they agreed to dismiss the case. In early October, the attorneys reached a settlement and were working out an agreement, according to the case docket. Gordon sued FishbowlDC's parent company, WebMediaBrands Inc., along with former FishbowlDC editor Betsy Rothstein and a contributor, in January. Gordon accused the site of engaging in an "unprovoked, online smear campaign" against her. Starting in late 2011, Gordon became the subject of a weekly feature called "Wendy Wednesday," in which FishbowlDC would post a photo of Gordon and, Gordon alleged, "provide a false and humiliating description."
Blog of LegalTimes

As tax-exempt organizations become a vehicle of choice for big political donors, one powerful appeal is the anonymity. Federal laws allow tax-exempt groups — unlike political committees — to withhold their donor lists from disclosure. And some groups take the low profile a step further. An investigation by NPR and the Center for Responsive Politics found a tier of social welfare groups that operate behind the scenes, raising money and doling it out to other, more public groups, while reporting those grants to the IRS only annually.


Daily Press: The city of Hampton now has a mayor who was never elected mayor, and a vice mayor who was never even elected to the city council. The vice mayor cast the deciding vote to give herself that title. Almost all of the maneuvers that elevated these two people to their current positions were handled behind closed doors. This is how things get done in Hampton. Understand, we are not questioning the qualifications of Mr. Wallace or Ms. Curtis for their new positions.  But we do question the way these positions were filled. No public input. Little or no open discussion. As with so many other decisions that are made in Hampton, there seems to be an implied message to citizens: "Don't question us. We know what's best for you."

Times-Dispatch: Virginia’s elections prompt various reflections: • The only certainty in the race for attorney general is that the winner will be named Mark. • Chesterfield’s crown is secure. The county not only ranks as the first of Virginia’s populous jurisdictions to report its vote — its registrar’s officealso operates the metro area’s most accessible election website. The sites for Chesterfield’s neighbors are jokes.

Free Lance-Star: REDISTRICTING has a long and predictable history of political abuse, such that it might as well be referred to exclusively by its other name—gerrymandering. No state can claim a monopoly on felonious district tinkering, but Virginia provides excellent examples of the partisan childishness that rules the system, and the disturbing impact on the electoral process that results. One of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s campaign promises was redistricting reform. Once elected, he appointed a special bipartisan panel. The panel eventually presented a list of sound recommendations, which the governor promptly rejected.

Roanoke Times: The Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday on the role of prayer in government meetings, the mere fact of which raises expectations that a conservative-leaning court is looking for an opportunity to loosen the standard for what is constitutionally permissible. In recent years, county boards of supervisors have been pushed from both sides on the issue: to abandon what is almost uniformly Christian prayer or be sued under the establishment clause; and to stand for Judeo-Christian beliefs against such challenges or risk political backlash from people who feel their religious freedom is under assault. The issue is ripe for political exploitation and demagoguery. Roanoke County is fortunate that a complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation last year challenging the invocation at the start of supervisors’ board meetings was met with a carefully crafted policy for nonsectarian prayers designed to meet the 4th Circuit’s strict standards.

Dan Casey, Roanoke Times: Some weeks ago a young woman knocked on Nancy Meacham’s door in Salem. She identified herself as a worker with Americans For Prosperity and said she was a Liberty University grad. Imagine Meacham’s surprise when a couple of weeks later in the mail she received a “Virginia Voter Audit” from the Americans For Prosperity Foundation. The letter began: “According to public records, you are one of the few individuals in your neighborhood that is not a regular voter. We’re contacting you and your neighbors today to let folks know who does and who doesn’t vote. “As you can see below, your neighbors who have voted in every election are concerned about our community’s well-being. Are you?” The letter ends with, “PS: After the election, we will re-evaluate your voting record and hope to share it with your neighbors to see if there is improvement.”