HomeEssential Ethics / May 17, 2023

Essential Ethics

May 17, 2023

Latest Developments:

  • Minnesota Enacts Voter Registration, Election and Campaign Finance Reform: On May 5, 2023, the Governor of Minnesota signed HF 3 into law, which includes provisions for automatic voter registration and the criminalization of knowingly spreading certain misinformation with the intent to prevent others from voting. In addition, effective August 1, 2023, HF 3 expands the definition of “express advocacy” that triggers a reporting requirement, and effective January 1, 2024, it bars “foreign-influenced corporations” from spending to influence elections.
  • Supreme Court Reverses Pair of Wire Fraud Convictions and Narrows the Scope of Federal Corruption Law: In Percoco v. US, the Supreme Court reversed Joseph Percoco’s conviction of wire fraud. During a brief hiatus from his position as the Executive Deputy Secretary to the New York Governor, Percoco had accepted $35,000 from a real estate development company to help the company in its dealings with a state agency, and a jury subsequently convicted Percorco of wire fraud based on the theory that a private citizen could deprive the public of “honest services.” The Court reversed and remanded because it determined that the jury instructions as to when a private citizen owes a duty of honest services to the public were too vague.
  • In Ciminelli v. US, the Supreme Court reversed another conviction for wire fraud. In this case, prosecutors alleged that Louis Ciminelli, a New York real estate developer, rigged the bidding process for government contracts. They proved to a jury that, under the “right to control” legal theory, Ciminelli committed wire fraud by depriving the government entity awarding the contracts of “potentially valuable economic information necessary to make discretionary economic decisions.” The Court threw out this theory, finding that fraud could only be committed when there is loss of “money or property.”
  • Indiana Enacts Voter Registration and Election Reform: On May 4, 2023, the Governor of Indiana signed HB 1336 into law, which includes provisions pertaining to the state’s voting and elections process. However, beginning on July 1, 2023, the new law also allows for the use of electronic or digital signatures for the reporting of campaign contributions and expenditures.
  • The Washington Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) Adopts New Guidance on Use of Previous Campaign Funds: On May 11, 2023, the PDC issued a release, sharing that it voted to issue formal guidance on the use of campaign money received for a different office than the office currently sought. Under the new guidance, any transferred contributions will count toward the original contributor’s limit for the new campaign.


  • The Practising Law Institute presents: Advanced Topics in Ethics and Compliance 2023: State and Local Government Contracts on May 16, 2023, from 1:30-5:15 p.m. ET in New York. The half-day program, which is also available via live broadcast, will explore a vast array of procurement, ethics and compliance laws relating to the government contracting process, and features Nielsen Merksamer’s Elli Abdoli as Chair and Jason Kaune as well as Robert Carlin, Senior Attorney at CalPERS, Jared DeMarinis, Director at Maryland State Board of Elections, and Amina A. Mack, Senior Corporate Counsel at Microsoft. Register here to attend in-person or online.
  • The State of California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) is holding a public hearing at 10:00 a.m. on May 18, 2023 to consider regulatory proposals related to the implementation of SB 1439 and its expansion of California’s pay-to-play laws. To participate in real time, visit http://mediasite.fppc.ca.gov/ or call 877-411-9748; access code 723284. The FPPC invites written comments via email to CommAsst@fppc.ca.gov by no later than 12:00 p.m. on May 17th.Please contact your Nielsen Merksamer attorney if you have any questions about the potential impact of these proposed regulations.

In Case You Missed It:

  • Nonprofit’s Board Funds and Attends Trips with California LegislatorsCal Matters reports that last year, a nonprofit paid for 32 of the state’s 120 legislators to attend at least “one study trip or conference” to California destinations or other countries. Funded through membership fees paid by the nonprofit’s board of directors, which includes major corporations, oil companies, environmental groups, trade unions and public utilities, the international trips typically “feature packed schedules of presentations, panels, and on-site tours led by local officials and industry representatives.” While participating legislators insist that these trips offer new perspectives, critics complain that the travel “amounts to unofficial lobbying, with organizations able to buy precious time with elected officials that others cannot afford.” Pursuant to state law, the nonprofit is required to disclose their major donors, but some call for increased transparency.
  • Senate Committee Sends Letter to Republican Mega Donor Requesting Itemized List of Gifts to Justice Clarence ThomasThe Washington Post reports that the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Republican mega donor and billionaire Harlan Crow asking for “an itemized list of gifts worth more than $415 that he’s made to [Justice Clarence] Thomas, any other justice or any justice’s family member, as well as a full list of lodging, transportation, real estate transactions and admissions to any private clubs…”. Stemming from reports that Justice Thomas failed to disclose that Crow took him on lavish vacations and paid for both his mother’s house and his grandnephew’s private school tuition, this letter is part of a congressional effort to subject Justices to stronger ethical standards. Based on a recent statement issued by the Court, the Justices believe in the status quo, and are presumably unwilling to adopt a new code of conduct for themselves. However, as news outlets continue to uncover potential conflicts of interest, such as Insider’s report that a nonprofit paid Justice Thomas’ wife for consulting work before it filed a brief to the Supreme Court, legislation for ethics reform is on the table.
  • Congressman George Santos Pleads Not Guilty to 13-Count IndictmentAP News reports that United States Congressman, George Santos, pleaded not guilty to federal charges related to duping campaign donors, stealing from his campaign, unlawfully collecting unemployment benefits and lying to Congress about his finances. If convicted, Santos faces up to 20 years in prison.