HomeEssential Ethics / MARCH 29, 2019

Essential Ethics

MARCH 29, 2019

Latest Developments:

  • The Federal Election Commission met this week and considered an agenda laden with draft advisory opinions.  The Commission approved three opinions, including Opinion 2019-01 for It Starts Now, which permits a new form of funds that consist of earmarked funds solicited to be contributed to a candidate upon the candidate’s receipt of an endorsement by an organization by a specified date, as provided in the solicitation.  The Commission also approved Opinion 2019-02 for Bill Nelson for Senate, which permits excess recount funds to be transferred to either a charity or to a national party fund for recounts, contests, or other legal processes, as long as those funds are not used to influence a federal election.  The Chair indicated that this is an area ripe for rulemaking.  In addition, the Commission approved Opinion 2019-03 that the Libertarian Party of the District of Columbia is a state committee.
  • The Governor of West Virginia approved a measure to revise campaign finance registration and reporting requirements and to increase contribution limits.  SB 622 will increase contribution limits to $2,800 per election for candidates and $10,000 per year for caucus committees and party executive committees.  The bill takes effect in June.
  • The Governor of Kentucky signed SB 6, which extends revolving door provisions from 6 months to 1 year, slightly revises the definitions of executive agency lobbyist and lobbying activity, and requires lobbyists to itemize their compensation by lobbyist employer.  The bill also clarifies that the contingent fee prohibition applies to lobbyists who lobby procurement contracts.  Employers who pay procurement lobbyists a percentage of the contract awarded are barred from doing business with the state for 5 years.  The bill takes effect in June.
  • The Governor of Mississippi approved B. 1205, which prohibits state and local agencies from collecting personal information from 501(c) organizations and prohibits asking state or local contractors or prospective contractors about contributions to those nonprofit organizations.  The Mississippi Meridian Star informs us that the bill is aimed at “protect(ing) dark money.” Nonprofit organizations will not be required to disclose any donor information.  The bill takes effect July 1, 2019.
  • The Governor of Utah signed B. 147 which prohibits lobbyists from violating federal or state law, or legislative policies, covering workplace discrimination and harassment.  The measure also permits lobbyists who are victims of workplace discrimination or harassment to file complaints against executive or legislative employees, as applicable.  In addition, the bill replaces the biennial lobbyist registration period with annual reregistration, and includes a slight fee increase.
  • The Washington State Public Disclosure Commission met this week and adopted final regulations to implement the state’s Disclose Act.  Those regulations and amendments are included in the Commission’s agenda, although the commission adopted some minor changes to that text at its meeting.
  • The Connecticut State Elections Enforcement Commission issued a notice that it intends to issue a Declaratory Ruling on the extent to which polling expenditures must be disclosed.  According to the request, most pollsters do not own call centers and use a third-party contractor.  The issue is whether the secondary payee must be disclosed and to what extent a treasurer is required to determine if a pollster uses a subcontractor.  The matter will be heard at the Commission’s April meeting; a ruling could be issued as early as at its May meeting.


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:

  • “No PAC Money” Pledge a Threat to Bipartisan Corporate PACs:  An article by Roll Call describes the issues that corporate PACs confront when they try to split contributions in a bipartisan fashion among Democrats and Republicans and one side chooses to decline the contributions.  The article mentions, however, that “even some no-PAC-pledge-takers have suggested corporate donations go instead to the party committees or party leaders, who welcome such cash.”
  • The Flow of Foreign Money:  The Center for Responsive Politics reports that, following Citizens United, “foreign-based corporations or U.S. subsidiaries of foreign-based corporations have contributed millions of dollars to super PACs and hybrid PACs.”  However, regarding corporate-affiliated PACs, the Chair of the Federal Election Commission said “contributions from PACs of foreign companies are a ‘red herring issue’ that distracts from real challenges of foreign influence.  ‘I don’t have a problem with that at all — those are American citizens and that is their money that they’re using,” she said.’”
  • Gwyneth Paltrow Project Ok’d:  On March 5, 2019, voters in West Hollywood rejected a referendum aimed at rescinding the City Council’s approval of a multi-use development project on Sunset Boulevard. According to the latest report by the Los Angeles County Registrar, 60.3% of West Hollywood voters favored the development. Nielsen Merksamer served as Treasurer and counsel to the campaign, which brought together numerous community and elected leaders, as well as an overwhelming majority of West Hollywood residents, in support of the “Arts Club Project.”  Ballotpedia reports that the site was purchased and is being developed by a group that includes actress Gwyneth Paltrow.
  • Nevada Legislation Roulette:  Following the resignation of a former Democratic State Senate leader who left after using campaign funds for personal use, as previously reported here, the Reno Gazette-Journal tells us that reform proposals are beginning to emerge from Republicans.  According to the article, the Governor “said he’d recently spoken with legislative leaders about potential campaign finance fixes, but didn’t volunteer specifics on those discussions.”
  • Seeking Less Sunshine in the Land of the Midnight Sun:  The Anchorage Daily News reports that the Alaska Senate is seeking to roll back the ethics law it passed last year.  The state Senate approved B. 89 which would delete provisions that prohibit certain conflicts of interest.  Lawmakers complained that they couldn’t discuss matters with their spouses who work in fields subject to legislative actions.  The bill goes to the House.