HomeEssential Ethics / February 3, 2023

Essential Ethics

February 3, 2023

Latest Developments:

  • The Federal Election Commission posted new contribution limits for 2023-2024 federal elections. Among the changes, individuals may now contribute $3,300 per election to a federal candidate (up from $2,900 for 2021-2022).
  • The California Supreme Court, in Travis v. Brand, ruled that the standard for awarding attorney’s fees and costs to a prevailing defendant in an action under the California Political Reform Act is different from that of a prevailing plaintiff. Discretionary fees and costs should not be awarded to a defendant “‘unless the court finds the action was objectively without foundation when brought or the plaintiff continued to litigate after it clearly became so. … [P]revailing defendants may recover only when ‘the plaintiff’s action was frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation, even though not brought in subjective bad faith.’” The case involved a suit to compel supporters of a ballot measure to file certain disclosure reports required by the Political Reform Act. But the trial court ruled the supporters formed a general-purpose committee, not a committee primarily formed for the ballot measure.


  • California Pay-to-Play Briefing, February 9th: Join Nielsen Merksamer attorneys for a webinar on Thursday, February 9 at 11:00 am to discuss the implementation of SB 1439 and its impact on contributions to local elected officials. Contributors and recipients now face an even more complicated landscape when determining whether a contribution to a local official is permissible and whether an official may be disqualified from participating in a proceeding involving a donor, a participant, or their agents. Please RSVP to Donna Flannagan at dflanagan@nmgovlaw.com to attend.
  • The Practising Law Institute presents “Corporate Social Responsibility: Evaluating Political Activity Compliance in the Current Crossfire on February 13, at 3 p.m. Eastern, Noon Pacific. Register here for the one-hour program with Evann Whitelam and Jason Kaune of Nielsen Merksamer. The session will explore current topics, including social responsibility and “woke capitalism,” as they pertain to corporate political activity compliance and discuss ways to minimize reputational and legal risks while protecting shareholder value in the current crossfire.

In Case You Missed It:

  • Texas Revolving Door Law Tested: According to the Dallas Morning News (via MSN), a Texas legislator who left office in March 2022 “is now officially lobbying on behalf of his clients. His activities come despite a law that bans state legislators from becoming lobbyists within two years of using their own campaign cash to donate to other politicians… His last expenditure from his campaign account was less than a year ago…” The article points out that ultimately it is up to the Texas Ethics Commission to enforce the law, although questions about the law’s constitutionality have been raised.
  • California, Florida, & Pennsylvania Burden NonprofitsPhilanthropy Roundtable analyzed the state government regulatory burden on nonprofit organizations, from start-up to oversight and identified the states with the greatest regulatory burden, including California. Among the conclusions, “While there is a need for regulations on the charitable sector to foster accountability and trust in charities, excessive levels of regulation impose a burden on charities that outweighs the benefit of the regulation.” In addition, New York, California, and Virginia lead the nation in highest filing fees for annual reports. The recent decision in Americans for Prosperity v. Bonta provided some regulatory relief by limiting collection of donor information for 501(c)(4) organizations.
  • Iowa Campaign Fines Payable Whenever: Cedar Rapids’ com investigated the inability of the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Board to collect fines for submitting late disclosure reports. The Executive Director said, “there is no deadline on when an advocacy group or campaign must pay a fine, which means a delinquent group can pay a fine whenever they’d like with no punishment.” Some groups or campaigns never received a notice of a fine and some don’t have any idea what the fine amount is because “staff members must manually enter the amount in the [computer] system.
  • Ethics Fight in the Sunflower State: The Kansas City Star reports that “Kansas Senate President Ty Masterson wants to reopen discussions about the scope and management of the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission as the commission’s director pursues an investigation into campaign finance violations involving Republican officials…. Though full details of the commission’s investigation are not public it is believed the probe involved a broad scope of elected officials in the statehouse. The Kansas Chamber of Commerce confirmed last year it received a subpoena and accused the commission of undertaking a ‘fishing expedition aimed at silencing political speech.’”
  • FARA Investigation Closed: The New York Times disclosed that the U.S. Department of Justice told retired General John Allen “that federal prosecutors have closed an investigation into whether he secretly lobbied for the government of Qatar and that no criminal charges will be brought against him in the case…” The General’s spokesman said he traveled with the approval of President Trump’s national security advisor; the FBI alleged that the general received travel expenses and a $20,000 “speaker’s fee” from a businessman with middle eastern ties.