HomeEssential Ethics / April 5, 2019

Essential Ethics

April 5, 2019

Latest Developments:

  •  The Governor of New Mexico signed the State Ethics Commission Act, S.B. 668.  The measure gives the new commission authority over the regulation of campaign finance and lobbyists, among other things.  The bill takes effect on July 1, 2019, with the operation of certain provisions, including enforcement powers, delayed until January 1, 2020.  According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, the Governor indicated that “for a long time, New Mexico has been waiting for an ethics watchdog with teeth.”  The article points out that “seventy-five percent of New Mexico voters in last year’s election backed a constitutional amendment to create an ethics commission.”
  • Utah’s Governor approved HB 64, which extends provisions of the Lobby Disclosure and Registration Act to require registration and reporting in connection with influencing local officials and state and local school boards.  The bill takes effect 60 days after adjournment of the legislature.
  • The United States Government Accountability Office issued its 2018 Lobbying Disclosure According to the GAO’s report, 33% of LD-203 reports were missing reportable contributions and 19% of LD-2 reports failed to disclose one or more previous positions required to be disclosed.  The report is based on random samples of reports filed in the last half of 2017 and the first half of 2018.
  • The Governor of Idaho signed lobby and campaign finance bills this week.  SB 1153 revises lobby registration requirements to include email addresses, and requires reporting only from lobbyists; lobbyist employers would receive an email notice when their lobbyist has filed a report.  The bill also splits the concept of the person who uses a lobbyist into two different definitions:  a lobbyist’s employer (for in-house lobbyists) and a lobbyist’s client (for contract lobbyists).  SB 1113 makes changes to campaign finance provisions by increasing the threshold that requires a committee to register, broadens application of the law to local offices, and requires monthly reporting by candidates and ballot measures monthly during an election year and annually otherwise.
  •  The Colorado Secretary of State issued temporary rules, effective immediately, which increase campaign contribution limits.  The amount that may be contributed to the Governor, Secretary of State, State Treasurer, or Attorney General is increased from $575 to $625 per election.  The limit on contributions to a political party is increased from $3,650 to $4,025 per year.  Legislative, State Board of Education, University of Colorado Regent, and District Attorney contribution limits were not adjusted.


Panel on Foreign Political Activities:  What will be the regulatory aftershock of the Mueller Report?  American Bar Association (ABA) members attending the 2019 Annual Conference of the Section of International Law interested in the impact on lobby filings, the latest developments in enforcement of FARA and FCPA, H.R. 1 and state litigation over social media legislation, and the FEC’s pursuit of foreign money should attend a panel called “International Political Influence and Corruption: Will Recent Scandals Lead to Stricter U.S. Regulations” on April 10, 2019 featuring FEC Chair Ellen Weintraub, David Laufman, formerly Chief of the DOJ Counterintelligence and Export Control Section, Severin Wirz, Senior Director of Anti-Corruption at TIAA, and Mike Columbo and Jason Kaune (moderator) of Nielsen Merksamer.

In Case You Missed It:

  •  FARA, the Mueller Legacy: As reported by com, the Mueller investigation had a greater impact on the lobbyist community than on the White House.  The investigation “sparked a flurry of foreign agent filings by the city’s well-heeled power brokers. It has also prompted a stepped-up effort at the Justice Department to enforce the Foreign Agents Registration Act.”  According to a Justice Department official, “prosecutors are transitioning ‘from treating FARA as an administrative obligation and regulatory obligation to one that is increasingly an enforcement priority.’”
  • “No Watchdog for the Watchdogs”:  The Center for Public Integrity reports on the intrigue in trying to fill the Inspector General post at the Federal Election Commission.  The position has been vacant since March 2017, and efforts to fill it have resulted in the resignation of a senior human resources specialist, apparently after the staff was directed to reinstate candidates who had been found not to meet the minimum qualifications.
  • Feds Probe St. Louis Pay-to-Play:  The S. Attorney in St. Louis has delivered “wide-ranging subpoenas to St. Louis County,” and “plunged the county — and the future of the region’s government — into chaos,” according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.  The inquiry appears to be aimed at linkage between campaign contributions and county contracts.
  • Pay-to-Play by the Book:  The Mayor of Baltimore has taken a health leave of absence, according to MSN,  following the disclosure that the University of Maryland Medical System paid her $100,000 per year for five years for copies of her self-published children’s book, under a no-bid contract, while she sat on that system’s board.  The article also notes that Associated Black Charities acknowledged it spent $80,000 to buy 10,000 books from the Mayor.
  • Lobbyists Head Back to the Lobby:  Pennsylvania officials have closed the special, ornate “lobbyist room” adjacent to the state’s House of Representatives’ chamber.  According to the Associated Press, the room was a “vestige of the past” and an “anachronism,” where lobbyists could watch the proceedings, print out bills, and send messages to legislators using a special state-paid page.  However, the article points out that “lawmakers allow themselves to accept gifts of any value from lobbyists, whether dinners, trips or tickets to golf courses, sporting events or concerts.”
  • Koch Zero for Donor List:  The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals turned down a Koch-brothers aligned group’s request for an en banc review of their challenge to California’s request for donor information.  Politico reports that the effort to reverse a decision of a 9th circuit panel last September, which allowed California to ask for information on donors to the brothers’ Americans for Prosperity Foundation, was denied despite a vigorous dissent.  The group had challenged the California Attorney General’s requirement that nonprofit organizations submit a copy of their Federal Schedule B, which lists major donors to the group.
  •  Kentucky Lobbyist Contribution Ban – the Workaround:  The Louisville Courier-Journal tells us that, notwithstanding a state ban on contributions from lobbyists to state legislators, state lobbyists gave nearly $320,000 last year to state political parties.  “A relatively small group of lobbyists provide a significant and steady cash flow,” according to the article.  Party money is used to support legislative candidates.
  • Congressman Ensnared:  A North Carolina Congressman has been caught up in a corruption probe.  Politico reports that a PAC controlled by Congressman Mark Warner, referred to as “Public Official A” in court filings, received $150,000 at the same time the donor was asking for the congressman’s help with the State Insurance Commissioner.  According to WRAL, the state’s largest political donor and the chair of the state GOP have been indicted.
  •  Gambling on Disclosure:  According to the Indianapolis Star, the Governor of Indiana received gifts of travel, at least one of which was not reported.  An “Indiana casino magnate” paid for private jet travel for the Governor apparently made the gifts to the Republican Governors Association, but earmarked the trips for Governor Holcomb. The Star reports that “experts found the flights particularly concerning because one was never disclosed to the Internal Revenue Service, as required by law.”