HomeEssential Ethics / May 10, 2019

Essential Ethics

May 10, 2019

Latest Developments:

  • The United States District Court in South Dakota struck down a 2018 state constitutional amendment that prohibited contributions to ballot question committees from nonresidents, including businesses.  In SD Voice v. Noem, the court found that Initiated Measure 24  violated the First Amendment because it was “not even closely drawn to avoid unnecessary abridgment of associational freedoms.” The court also found that it “without question violates the Commerce Clause and is unconstitutional.”
  • The Federal Election Commission met this week.  The primary focus of the meeting was a discussion of pending opinions; no decision was reached on either opinion.  The first opinion discussed was regarding Defending Digital Campaigns, a bipartisan group that wants to provide free or reduced-cost cybersecurity services to federal candidates or parties.  The second opinion concerns a streaming service, System 73, which wants to pay a political committee a license fee for exclusive rights to stream a political event.
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania has major changes to its campaign finance law that took effect on May 1.  According to the city’s Advisory Alert, the changes include revised contribution limits, and enhanced disclosure of electioneering communications.
  • The United States House of Representatives has a new form to request permission for Members and staff to engage in fundraising for charitable organizations.  According to Roll Call, the House Ethics Committee has issued a memo describing a “simplified process for fundraising requests.”   According to the Roll Call, “members would find it easier to get written approval from the Ethics panel before making solicitations on an organization’s behalf.”
  • North Dakota has punted on ethics.  Constitutional Amendment 1, enacted by the voters in November 2018, established a state ethics commission.  SB 2148, as introduced, was a 24-page bill detailing the power of the ethics commission, including enforcement powers.  The Governor signed B. 2148, which is now a one-paragraph bill requiring a study of the implementation of the ethics provisions of the state constitution.  The constitutional amendment gives the legislature three years to enact implementation and enforcement legislation.
  • The Oakland Public Ethics Commission, as part of its agenda, voted to conditionally endorse a proposal by the City Council President to require that recipient committees and independent expenditure committees disclose the identities of those persons who control the committee.  The proposal would also require key city employees to file a disclosure notice within 10 days if they solicit contributions from persons who do or seek to do business with the city.

In Case You Missed It:

  • California Fundraising Loophole Continues:  A loophole that permits candidates to raise unlimited money for ballot measure committees remains in place.   The Los Angeles Times reports that the California Legislature has, once again, killed legislation to limit how much money officials may raise for a controlled ballot measure committee.  According to the article, at least 31 legislators have ballot measure committees.  However, “few have spent money to support or oppose a proposition; most spend it on things like political consultants, polling and travel. The rules don’t require the committee to ever engage in ballot measure politicking.”
  • Bipartisan Response to Russia:  A version of the 2017 Honest Ads Act has been reintroduced this week in each house of Congress.  The measure would require “disclosure of those paying for online political ads and create a publicly available database of political ads that appear on major online platforms,” according to the Center for Responsive Politics.  The bill reintroduction is in response to the Mueller Report, which identified at least $100,000 in online political ads paid for by Russian entities in violation of federal law.
  • High on Lobbying:  The Boston Globe reports that the newest business in Massachusetts – Marijuana – rely on a tried and true method for success:  employing lobbyists.  According to the Globe, “at least 12 of the 17 recreational pot stores open as of May 1 hired lobbyists or former politicians.”  The article notes that a number of high-profile former officials are lobbying in exchange for some extraordinary payments.
  • New York Lobby Rules Struggle:  Despite new rules that took effect January 1, 2019, which require more disclosure, including the names of public officials lobbied, “some of Albany’s biggest power players aren’t complying with the rule so far,” according to the Albany Times Union.  But “many top firms are trying to comply,” according to the article.
  • Mayor doesn’t Speak to Lobbyists – but He Hears From Them:  The Mayor of New York is quoted as saying last week, “I don’t sit down with lobbyists, I don’t talk to lobbyists and I haven’t for years,” in a report by the New York Daily News.  But a Daily News analysis indicates that, “De Blasio’s deputy mayors, commissioners and high-ranking aides had at least 358 meetings and talks with both commercial and in-house lobbyists in just 11 months.”
  • States Seek Schedule B:  New York and New Jersey have filed a lawsuit against the IRS over a rule change last summer that eliminated disclosure of donors to 501(c) organizations, thus shielding identities of sources of money used for political purposes.  The Huffington Post indicates that the suit is arises because the rule change “veils the identities of so-called ‘dark money’ contributors to certain tax-exempt groups.”
  • Follow up and bye-bye:
    • We previously reported on the pay-to-play scandal in St. Louis; this week the County Executive resigned and pled guilty in federal court, according to the Louis Post-Dispatch.
    • We have also reported on the pay-to-play shenanigans of the Mayor of Baltimore; according to MSN, she has also resigned.