Transparency News 6/13/13

Thursday, June 13, 2013


State and Local Stories


Every time the Virginia Port Authority paid its $10,000-a-month federal lobbying bills, $1,500 charges went to a middleman. New details about the lobbying arrangement, including the monthly rate and a 15-percent surcharge, emerged in documents made public because of a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Daily Press, which was the first news outlet to report the port authority has a lobbyist. The VPA pays lobby shop Federal Advocates Inc. through its long-time engineering contractor, Moffatt & Nichol. From April 2009 to the end of 2012 Federal Advocates collected $450,000 for its services, according to a review of invoices submitted to the VPA. Over the same period, Moffatt & Nichol collected $67,500 from the agency. (The port authority no longer has invoices it received before April 2009, according to its spokesman, Joe Harris.)
Daily Press

The Hampton City Council will have more power over the handling of large gifts directed to the city, under the terms of an ordinance the body approved Wednesday evening. The City Council will now need to approve any gifts the city receives valued at $5,000 or more. If that money or property is for an undercover police operation, the city manager will omit information about the donor and specific information about the money's use. The change stems from the fallout from a police sting designed to crack down on illegal cigarette traffickers. More than $4 million flowed through the account of an undercover business run by police, but no arrests were made and no charges were filed as a result of the operation.
Daily Press

The defeat of two veteran Republican delegates in Tuesday’s primary opened more committee chairmanships in the House of Delegates and fanned debate about the impact of this year’s historic transportation funding vote.

A day after the former Amherst County treasurer was arrested and charged with embezzlement and money laundering, one county official said new safeguards are in place to prevent fraud. Amherst County’s current treasurer Garry Friend said his office has added safeguards to clean up the disorganization he said plagued the treasurer’s office in prior years. Friend said he worked with internal auditors to install processes of dual control in the office, such as having a bookkeeper balance the checking account with Friend acting as a second pair of eyes. He added he creates spreadsheets, so that “if anyone comes off the streets and says, ‘what is your balance for December? I can say, ‘Here it is.’
News & Advance

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s office has labeled a staffer’s emails to gas company lawyers fighting Southwest Virginia landowners in court as “overzealous,” but maintains that the relationship was ethical. “While the tone of the assistant attorney general’s emails may have come across as a bit overzealous, there was nothing wrong with her sharing the information she did in her emails with the gas companies,” spokesman Brian J. Gottstein said Wednesday.
Herald Courier

National Stories

While President Barack Obama pushed hard on Tuesday for support of his immigration agenda and the proposed legislation by the so-called "gang of eight" U.S. senators, an "Inside the Beltway" watchdog group announced it obtained documents that revealed the Obama administration'slawlessness in complying with current immigration enforcement laws and regulations. The well-respected, public-interest group Judicial Watch reported on Tuesday that documents it acquired recently through a Freedom of Information Act  request revealed that the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services "abandoned required background checks in late 2012."
The Examiner

The battle between Malibu beachfront homeowners and a less privileged public that wants to share the stunning coastline has been fought with padlocks, gates, menacing signs, security guards, lawsuits and bulldozers. There seems little question who is winning: 20 of the 27 miles of Malibu coastline are inaccessible to the public. Yet this month, the homeowners — including some of the wealthiest and most famous people in the country, but also a hearty colony of surfers, stoners and old-fashioned beach lovers — are confronting what may be the biggest threat to their privacy yet. The smartphone. Jenny Price, an environmental writer who has pressed the battle to open hidden beaches, has developed an iPhone app offering a beach-by-beach battle plan for anyone wishing to explore what are, by design, some of the most secluded beaches around. It has maps to often hidden entry gates, house-by-house descriptions showing public property boundaries and spine-stiffening advice on dealing with counterfeit no-parking signs (“feel free to enjoy and then ignore”) and threatening property owners (“they’re welcome to call the sheriff”).
New York Times

Lawyers for a Fox News reporter who is being asked to name her sources for a story on last year's Colorado theater shooting urged a New York appeals court Wednesday to quash a subpoena that requires her to appear at a hearing in the state. Lawyers for Jana Winter made the arguments in New York state's Appellate Division in Manhattan, saying the state's shield laws protect journalists' sources.
Fox News

Departing from a long line of local court rulings, a federal judge in the District of Columbia on Tuesdaystruck down the 64-year-old law that prohibits demonstrations and displays on the grounds of the U.S. Supreme Court.  "The absolute prohibition on expressive activity in the statute is unreasonable, substantially overbroad, and irreconcilable with the First Amendment," wrote U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell in a 68-page ruling issued late Tuesday in the case Hodge v. Talkin.
National Law Journal

Randy Travis has sued two state agencies in a dispute over records of his arrest for allegedly driving while intoxicated, including a video that Travis' lawyer says shows the country singer naked. But one defendant, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, denies the allegations and argues that some of Travis' claims are barred. He asks the court to declare the information "to be subject to disclosure," according to a May 30 Plea to the Jurisdiction and Original Answer. Travis' attorney, Larry Friedman, managing partner in Friedman & Feiger in Dallas, says, "The matters that are of public interest are of public record. The other matters — like what's on the videotape, to see Mr. Travis that evening without any clothes — is really not of public interest. He deserves his right of privacy as to that."
Texas Lawyer

The lawyer for a man on trial in a South Florida armored car robbery is seeking cellphone records possibly produced by a recently revealed National Security Agency surveillance program, according to federal court documents. Attorney Marshall Dore Louis said in the court papers that the Justice Department is required to turn over the phone records if they exist because they could be crucial to his client’s defense. Louis represents defendant Terrance Brown in the Broward County bank robbery case, which involved the killing of an armored car messenger in October 2010.

Well, it seems the U.S. Navy finally got the memo: DON'T USE ALL CAPS! IT'S RUDE! The Navy is switching to a new messaging system that's cheaper and more efficient. And oh yeah, one that does away with a century-old practice: communications using all uppercase letters. "Lowercase messages are here to stay; they provide a more readable format," a Navy news release said, citing James McCarty, the naval messaging program manager at U.S. Fleet Cyber Command.


Herald CourierA federal judge labeling something shocking attracts attention. When applied in a case with the potential to change the energy industry in Southwest Virginia , it’s time to focus the spotlight. That’s why Virginia Sen. Phil Puckett's call for an independent investigation is sensible.

Moxie Marlinspike, Wired: If the federal government had access to every email you’ve ever written and every phone call you’ve ever made, it’s almost certain that they could find something you’ve done which violates a provision in the 27,000 pages of federal statues or 10,000 administrative regulations.You probably do have something to hide, you just don’t know it yet.