HomeEssential Ethics / MARCH 23, 2018

Essential Ethics

MARCH 23, 2018

Latest Developments:

Federal Budget:  House Bill 1625 has been approved by Congress signed by the President.  Buried within the bill are a few provisions that pertain to political activity:

  • Section 125 (page 468) prohibits the IRS from finalizing a regulation that would spell out candidate-related political activity that would not be considered to promote social welfare (thus disqualifying a 501(c)(4) organization).
  • Section 631 (page 568) prohibits the SEC from issuing any regulations requiring “disclosure of political contributions, contributions by tax exempt organizations, or dues paid to trade associations.”
  • Section 735 (page 588) prohibits requiring any federal contractor to disclose any contribution, independent expenditure, or payment for an electioneering communication for a candidate for federal office

Additionally, The Hill reports that, in a separate report attached to HB 1625, Congress has asked the “Federal Election Commission to issue a report about illegal foreign political contributions in elections, its enforcement measures, and how it works to combat them.”  The required report is due 180 days after passage of HB 1625.

California Fair Political Practices Commission met Thursday, March 22, 2018.  The commission took the following actions, among others:

  • Adopted amendments to Regulation 18401(recordkeeping requirements for mass mailing and earmarked funds)
  • Debated three versions of amendments to Regulation 18450.1 (definition of “advertisement” for disclosure purposes).  The Commission adopted “Option 3.”
  • Commissioner Audero asked that all procedures and training materials for the Enforcement Division to follow, be placed on a public website.  The Commission reached consensus that staff should proceed to have an Interested Persons meeting on the subject.
  • Commissioner Hayward reported on behalf of the Ad Hoc Governance Committee which recommended establishment of four standing committees, each composed of two Commissioners though which certain policy matters would be filtered.  Commissioner Hayward asked for feedback and welcomed input from the public, with a view to revisiting the issue next month, and presenting the recommendations in the form of a regulation.
  • Commissioner Audero discussed procedures for setting the Commission’s agenda.  She would like to have permission for each Commissioner to add their own items to the monthly agenda.  She clearly feels that the Chair controls the agenda and filters submissions.  The Commission voted 3 to 2 to change the procedure.
  • Commissioner Hayward objected to the advice letter issued regarding Senator Mendoza that permitted use of a legal defense fund to pay expenses associated with claims of sexual harassment.  The Commission voted to withdraw the letter.

San Francisco Ethics Commission met last Friday, March 16, 2018.

  • The Commission put off election of a new Chair until the April Meeting.  One member was absent and the Commission has one vacancy; hence the Commission postponed the decision.
  • In addition, Commissioner Kopp continued to press for an independent counsel for the commission.  He indicated that on a regular basis, almost monthly, the City Attorney, who represents the Commission, also represents respondents to an ethics complaint.  The matter was continued to April, pending additional information from the staff.

Oakland Ethics Commission meets on Monday, March 26, 2018, for a special meeting “to conduct strategic planning, performance, and operational activities.”  Among the topics on the agenda is how staff should handle complaints of violations of the Sunshine Ordinance by the Ethics Commission itself.  (Two complaints are pending.)

New York Joint Commission on Public Ethics meets next Tuesday, March 27.  The notable matters on the agenda scheduled for discussion include staff legislative proposals and discussion of a new website.  Once again, noticeably absent is any mention of the comprehensive lobby regulations first published in October 2016.  They remain featured on the commission’s website.

In case you missed it:

  • The Governor of Washington State signed the Washington State Disclose Act of 2018 (SB 5991) on March 19, 2018.  That act requires nonprofit organizations that do not otherwise fit within the definition of a political committee to nevertheless register and file reports as an “incidental committee” if they expect to make $25,000 in political contributions or expenditures in a calendar year and receive aggregate contributions of $10,000 or more from a single source during the calendar year.  These incidental committees will be required to file regular reports disclosing their top 10 donors who have contributed at least $10,000 in the calendar year.
  • Florida SB 1628 passed both houses of the legislature, but died on the last night of the session (March 10, 2018) while awaiting concurrence.  That bill would have authorized the leaders in each house or the Governor to suspend a lobbyist’s registration if he or she is found to have violated workplace or sexual harassment prohibitions.
  • The Governor of Utah approved two bills in the past week:
  • HB 206 creates a new gift exception for gifts to the state; however the gift may not be consumable or perishable and may not be transferred to benefit one or more public officials.
  • HB 320 prohibits contributions to the Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, State Auditor, or State Treasurer while the legislature is in session.