HomeEssential Ethics / DECEMBER 21, 2018

Essential Ethics

DECEMBER 21, 2018

Latest Developments:

  • The U.S. Congress passed the JACK Act (“Justice Against Corruption on K Street Act of 2018”; 2896).  That measure would require federal lobbyists to disclose convictions for certain financial crimes on their lobbyist registration and quarterly reports.  The bill now goes to the President for approval.  The Senate passed the measure in August; the House approved the bill on December 20.
  • The Philadelphia Board of Ethics updated its campaign finance regulation (Regulation 1).  According to the Board, the revisions include new guidance on in-kind contributions, disclosure of expenditures, and removing the aggregate limits on PAC contributions in nonelection years, in light of the McCutcheon
  • The Hawaii Ethics Commission has announced that its new electronic filing system for lobbyist registration and reporting will be available in January 2019.
  • The Oklahoma Ethics Commission met Friday, December 14. According to its agenda, the Commission held hearings on proposed amendments to campaign finance rules regarding coordinated activities and committee-to-committee contributions and lobbyist rules that would require disclosure of grassroots lobbying expenses.
  • The New York Joint Commission on Public Ethics: The Commission’s agenda includes a report from commission staff regarding the ongoing process to revise and update the lobbying application.  Staff used their report opportunity to tout their new filing portal (opened on December 17) and to publicize their online materials that explain the lobby registration and reporting system.  The staff is very solicitous about providing help; they promise there will be “no gotcha” as customers learn to use the new system.
  • The day after JCOPE’s hearing, it settled a lawsuit that challenged its new lobby regulations, according to the Albany Times Union.  “The Times Union has learned that under the terms of the settlement, the 92 pages of regulations passed in April by the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics are defined simply as a ‘statement’ for how the ethics watchdog agency plans to administer and enforce state lobbying law.”  The article indicates that they will be guidelines, although the parties appear to disagree as to whether violations would be subject to fines.

COGEL Bluebook:

  • The Council on Governmental Ethics Laws (COGEL) met December 9 to 12.  The conference is designed for government ethics administrators from around North America.  Jason Kaune of Nielsen Merksamer moderated a panel discussion entitled, “Campaign Finance Update: The ‘Must Know’ Litigation Developments,” with FEC Assistant General Counsel Charles Kitcher and Megan McAllen from the Campaign Legal Center.  Nielsen Merksamer edits an annual bluebook, compiled from government ethics administrators’ contributions and was distributed at the conference.  The bluebook includes a synopsis of all major campaign finance litigation in the United States and Canada in the past year.  Nielsen Merksamer clients may obtain a free PDF of that publication by requesting a copy through their political attorney.

In case you missed it:

  • The Devil is in the Details: Voters in New Mexico approved a constitutional amendment last month that established an independent State Ethics Commission.  However, as reported by the Las Cruces Sun News, legislators are wrestling with how much transparency to require in the enabling legislation that sets up the actual commission.  Some legislators fear that frivolous complaints may be used as weapons.  However, the Albuquerque Journal has editorialized in favor of an open and transparent commission, citing several recent examples of corruption that resulted in convictions.
  • Lobbying Receptions Cancelled:  Following adoption of a comprehensive ethics measure in North Dakota by the voters, the Dickenson Press reports that a number of lobbying groups have cancelled plans for legislative receptions.  The constitutional amendment, which took effect immediately, bans most lobbyist gifts, but does provide several exceptions including for “social settings.”  However, rules detailing how those exceptions work are not required to be in place for two years, thus leaving lobbyists in a gray area.
  • Turkey Lobbyists:  Two former associates of ex-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn were indicted on charges of secretly lobbying for the Republic of Turkey in violation of federal lobby laws, according to the New York Times.   The charges are reportedly part of a crack-down on unregistered foreign lobbing as a result of the Muller investigation.
  • Foreign Money Woes:  The Washington Post reports that the incoming Chair of the House Intelligence Committee plans to investigate foreign funding of or involvement in the President’s inauguration.  The Inaugural Committee stated that it “was in full compliance will all applicable laws.”
  • The “F” Stops Here:  The Federal Election Commission doesn’t find any humor in vulgar or threatening names.  According to Politico, the FEC has noticed an uptick in PAC registrations that include vulgar language or threats directed at specific public officials.  The FEC reportedly removed some of the offensive names from its website and referred the matters to the U.S. Secret Service.
  • Watch the Invite List:  Roll Call reports that the House Ethics Committee is reminding incoming lawmakers that, while they may use campaign funds to host receptions marking their swearing-in, their events can’t be campaign or political events.  Further, they can’t use office funds for the purely social events.  The ethics panel advises that a “workaround” is using a third party to sponsor an honorific event.  But the panel also advises that its advice might change if the rules change at the outset, with new leadership in the House.

Meeting Notices:

  • The San Francisco Ethics Commission meets Friday, December 21.  The Commission’s agenda includes a staff presentation on recommended amendments to campaign finance and conflict-of-interest regulations.
  • The California Fair Political Practices Commission met Thursday, December 20.  Items on the agenda, include an enforcement against the SF Bay Area Rapid Transit District which spent money to promote its $3.5 billion bond measure.  In response to public comments, including from a legislator’s staff member, FPPC counsel explained that state statutes regarding misuse of public funds for campaign purposes are within the jurisdiction of the Attorney General and local district attorneys.  However, whether expenditures of public monies are legal or illegal, public entities must still disclose campaign expenditures; they are subject to the same requirements as anyone else.