HomeEssential Ethics / NOVEMBER 30, 2018

Essential Ethics

NOVEMBER 30, 2018

Latest Developments:

  • The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision in Thompson v. Hebdon, in which three individuals and the Republican Party challenged Alaska’s campaign contribution limits. The court upheld the challenged state limits on contributions to candidates and to non-political party groups, but barred the state’s limit on aggregate contributions that a candidate may accept from nonresidents of Alaska.  The court reasoned that the nonresident limit did not target an important state interest.  The case will be discussed on December 10 at the COGEL conference.  (See below).  The Anchorage Daily News reports on the anticipated impact of the ruling.
  • The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has decided that Missouri’s requirement that all lobbyists register and report their activity even if not receiving compensation is constitutional, rebuffing a challenge in Calzone v. Summers.  The court found that the state has an interest in transparency that transcends whether the person is paid or not.  The Kansas City Star reports that some lawyers think the ruling “could force everyday Missourians to register as lobbyists.”
  • The Governor of Missouri, Michael Parson, issued an Executive Order revising former Governor Greitens’ Executive Order on ethics.  The Louis Post-Dispatch describes the order as tweaking the former Governor’s order to conform the definition of “gift” to an existing Missouri statutory definition in an effort to end a federal lawsuit that alleged the prior order violated the First Amendment.  The order also reinstates a revolving door provision that prohibits members of the Governor’s staff from becoming executive lobbyists during the Governor’s term.
  • The New York Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) met briefly on Tuesday.  Among the items on the agenda that were discussed was the new lobby application web page.  The commission expects to have a new lobby registration portal operational on December 10.

COGEL Bluebook:

  • The Council on Governmental Ethics Laws (COGEL) meets December 9 to 12.  The conference is designed for government ethics administrators from around North America.  Jason Kaune of Nielsen Merksamer will moderate a panel discussion entitled, “Campaign Finance Update: The ‘Must Know’ Litigation Developments.” Nielsen Merksamer edits an annual bluebook, compiled from government ethics administrators’ contributions and distributed at the conference.  The bluebook includes a synopsis of all major campaign finance litigation in the United States and Canada in the past year.  Nielsen Merksamer clients may obtain a free PDF of that publication by requesting a copy through their political attorney.

In case you missed it:

  • Ethics out of the Blue:  Newly empowered house Democrats say that their first priority is a bill that includes ethics reform, according to NPR.   Among other things, the conceptual bill (no draft language exists) would overturn Citizen’s United, require more campaign spending disclosure, expand anti-bribery statutes, and require disclosure of the president’s tax returns.
  • No PAC Money – The Workaround:  Faced with a number of freshmen members of Congress who have pledged not to take corporate PAC money, Roll Call reports that, “Instead of PAC dollars, corporate interests plan to rely on individual personal donations from their executives, lobbyists and other consultants, instead [sic] of the collective contributions from corporate PACs.”  The “no PACs pledge” has also led to increased participation in meet and greet events and to mobilizing people in member’s districts.
  • Football Ethics:  The Connecticut Citizen’s Ethics Advisory Board is appealing a superior court decision overturning the board’s finding that the University of Connecticut’s new football coach was a state employee who violated nepotism laws when he arranged for a job for his son on his new football team.  The Hartford Courant reports that the matter turns on the Board’s opinion that the coach became a state employee when he signed a letter of intent, before he actually began work.  During that period after signing the letter, but before he began working at the university, he negotiated a contract for his son.
  • Big Families = Big Contributions:  A peculiar exception in South Dakota campaign finance law has led to an odd result.  The Rapid City Journal reports that while state law caps contributions to statewide candidates at $4,000, “immediate family” are excluded from that limit.  That term is defined broadly in state law to include all those within the third degree of kinship (including great grandparents, grandnephews, and cousins), thus permitting unlimited contributions from a potentially large group.  Secretary of State Shantel Krebs told the paper that “the exemption is probably not common knowledge among the general public, but is well known among candidates.  ‘It gets used quite a bit,’ Krebs said.”
  • No Finesse in Utah:  A lobbyist asked a state senator for a meeting and in the same email expressed a desire to deliver a campaign check, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.  The article quotes another state senator, “A lawyer might argue that no legal lines were crossed, but the people of Utah know it’s not right to hold out a campaign contribution while asking for an interview with a man who oversees the state budget.  Even if it is legal, it’s corrupt.  This was pay to play.”
  • Could a large expenditure be a contribution that violates limits? The Charleston Post and Courier reports that a South Carolina Democrat was successful in halting ads supporting his opponent that were paid for by the GOP State Senate Caucus.  The caucus was limited to making a $5,000 contribution to his opponent, but additionally spent large sums on its own advertisements supporting the candidate.  According to the Columbia State, a judge agreed that under state law, caucus committees are limited to $5,000 to support a state candidate; the caucus spent over $200,000 on the ads.  The caucus plans to appeal the injunction.

Meeting Notices:

  • The California Fair Political Practices Commission Budget and Personnel Committee has a meeting scheduled for December 6, 2018, although no agenda has been posted.
  • The Federal Election Commission meets on December 6.  The agenda includes a discussion of an opinion on whether a member of Congress may use campaign money to pay for cyber security for his personal devices.