HomeEssential Ethics / April 19, 2019

Essential Ethics

April 19, 2019

Latest Developments:

  • The Federal Election Commission staff has issued a draft opinion regarding the circumstances under which a political committee can receive contributions that consist of cryptocurrency mining operations.  The opinion is subject to public comment and review by the Commissioners.
  • The Arizona Attorney General issued a report this week regarding two contradictory laws that were passed in 2018 concerning disclosure of dark money in local elections.  AZCentral reports that the State of Arizona passed a state law in 2018 “that prohibits municipalities from requiring that political non-profits disclose their donors.” However, according to the article, voters in the City of Tempe approved a measure that requires the “disclosure of original and intermediary sources of major contributions used to influence city elections.”  The Attorney General’s report found that both laws are valid on their face.  The Attorney General clarified that the local law cannot be used to force non-profit organizations to reveal their donors.

In Case You Missed It:

  • FARA Earthquake Aftershocks:  Politico reminds that although the Mueller probe is over, investigations and prosecutions of violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act have lobbyists “on edge – again.”  The indictment of the former Obama White House Counsel last week continues to cause grief.  “A letter from the FARA enforcement unit now ‘has to be taken as seriously as a heart attack,’” according to one lawyer who provides advice on the law.
  • Contributors to be Unmasked:  The Federal Election Commission is about to release the source of a $1.7 million contribution to a super PAC.  After a lengthy fight that has raged since the contribution was made in 2012, a federal appeals court in Washington D.C. has ruled, in Doe 1 and Doe 2 v. FEC, that the First Amendment does not prohibit the FEC from releasing the identity of the contributors in this case.  According to Politico, the FEC will release the names of the source of the money as soon as the case is final and not subject to further appeal.
  • NYC Mayor violated Ethics Rules:  The City reports that Mayor Bill De Blasio violated city ethics rules in soliciting donations from interested persons seeking city favors, despite repeated warnings not to do so from the city’s Ethics Commission.  The two and a half year probe ended last October, but the conclusions were only disclosed and reported this week following a request under the Freedom of Information Law.
  • Contributions from Charity:  The Washington Post reports that executives of a Missouri (501(c)(3)) charity have been indicted for making political contributions to Missouri politicians.  The indictment alleges that the charity, which runs mental health and substance abuse programs, funneled the contributions through a lobby firm.  Three former lawmakers, who were not accused of wrongdoing, acknowledged receiving the contributions and participating in fundraisers organized by the charity and apparently did not realize that charitable funds were involved.
  • Disclosure Enforcement:  California politicians’ disclosure forms are “political works” that are protected speech under the anti-SLAPP provisions.  The San Jose Mercury News reports that a judge has thrown out a suit that was brought by private parties against the Mayor of Santa Clara a week before the election.  The opinion does not prohibit government agencies from going after filers.  But according to the article, Bob Stern, “one of the authors of the 1974 Political Reform Act that requires officials to disclose conflicts of interest, said the ruling is surprising. The law has a provision that allows private citizens with standing to sue to enforce it in the event law enforcement agencies fail to do so.”
  • Volunteer Lobbyist in Court:  A federal appeals court is hearing arguments about whether Missouri can compel unpaid individuals to register as lobbyists.  Louis Pubic Radio reports that while there is agreement that paid lobbyists should register and report their activity, the parties disagree as to volunteers.  A district court and a panel of the 8th circuit held that registration was required; this week, the whole 8th circuit, sitting en banc, will review the case.