HomeEssential Ethics / August 19, 2022

Essential Ethics

August 19, 2022

Latest Developments:

  • The Federal Elections Commission advised a tech giant with a ubiquitous email platform “that a proposed pilot program allowing political campaigns to evade automated spam detection would not violate federal campaign finance law.” The Washington Post reports that the 6-month trial was proposed after conservative groups complained that their campaign and fundraising emails were disproportionately being sent to Spam folders, according to one public university study. While one Democrat was joined by three Republicans on the Commission in approving the program, one Democrat abstained and another voted against the program, arguing “that such a program would represent a prohibited in-kind contribution.”
  • The Los Angeles Ethics Commission unanimously imposed an almost $80,000 fine on a former city councilman in yet another Southern California scandal. Some five years ago, according to the Los Angeles Times, then City Councilman Mitchell Englander attended a Las Vegas excursion with businessman and other council staffers, with paid accommodations, free alcohol, and a gratuity of $10,000 in cash. In 2020, Englander previously “agreed to plead guilty to a single felony count of scheming to falsify material facts,” after having been charged with other violations of federal law. Investigators for the committee argued that “[t]he violations are serious because the monetary value of the gifts received significantly exceeded the gift limit, because of the nature of the gifts, and the circumstances in which they were received.”
  • The Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics and Public Trust released a notice explaining its lobbyist reporting enforcement in the coming months. In 2021, the county approved changes to its lobbyist registration and reporting requirements that calls for significantly more disclosure for both lobbyists and lobbyist employers. While they simultaneously developed an electronic filing system, “the development of the technology has encountered some issues and has not caught up with the legislative changes.” In light of these technological shortcomings, the Commission’s notice informed the regulated community that it “will be exercising a significant amount of discretion and will be receptive to lobbyists appeals and deferring on enforcement actions”. According to the bulletin, grace periods will be extended and fines for late filing may be waived if appealed by September 1st.

In Case You Missed It:

  • Citizens United More than a Decade On:  The Wall Street Journal opines on predictions of the effects, more than ten years on, that the Citizens United vs. FEC SCOTUS decision would have on government policy and other areas of corporate interest. The Journal incorporates the outcomes derived from a study of three academics affiliated with the University of California and terms those predictions “a canard.” The study focused on the trajectory of state tax policy—recognized as an area of acute interest for the corporations making political contributions. It found that, in the 23 states which had their bans on contributions effectively nullified by the decision, “the study was not able to identify economically or statistically significant effects of corporate independent expenditures on state tax policy, including tax rates, discretionary tax breaks, and tax revenues.” The Journal concludes that “[i]f billionaires were able to buy elections to lower state taxes, you’d think they would have done it by now.”
  • What’s Going on in SoCal?: The Anaheim City Council voted unanimously (with one abstention) to contract “an outside firm… to investigate any questionable campaign contributions made to former…or current councilmembers in the wake of a federal corruption probe tied to the proposed sale of Angel Stadium.” The Los Angeles Times relates that the investigation, which will be handled by the JL Group and headed by a retired judge, takes place amidst the ongoing federal probe into ethical lapses by multiple officials and with municipal elections only a few months away. As reported, “it was the firm’s lack of ties to the city or officials that seemed to sway the City Council in choosing the JL Group over three other companies bidding to conduct the investigation…Councilmembers said they hoped the investigation would offer residents transparency.”
  • Age is Just a Number: Mercury News reports on a newly proposed rule change from the California Fair Political Practices Commission regarding the minimum age of campaign treasurers. The proposal stems from a fine the Commission imposed in May on San Jose City Councilman who “hired his teenage [14 year old!] cousin for his 2016 campaign committee…giv[ing] his cousin $43,000 in cash…[which] was later misreported on campaign disclosures.” The rule “would prohibit minors from serving in key positions if they are required by their position to sign campaign finance documents under penalty of perjury…It would apply to all political committees…[including] local councilmember races.” Critics contend that “it sends a chilling effect to young campaigns.”
  • Central Valley Campaign Crimes: Defeated U.S. Rep. T.J. Cox of California was arrested this week on a serious of federal charges, including campaign finance violations related to his Congressional campaigns. According to CNN, Cox “set up a plan to fund and reimburse donations to his 2018 congressional campaign from friends and family members, according to the indictment…[which]totaled more than $25,000.” He also “allegedly created off-the-book bank accounts and took funds from companies with which he was affiliated…obtain[ing] over $1.7 million.” Cox plead not guilty to “15 counts of wire fraud, 11 counts of money laundering, one count of financial institution fraud and one count of campaign contribution fraud.”