ExperienceEthics Agencies – Enforcement, Advice, Rulemakings, Audits & Litigation

Administrative Enforcement Actions:

    • Representing public officials and employees alleged to have violated the conflict of interest and financial disclosure rules.
    • Representing leading corporations in connection with ethics agency investigations into alleged violations of lobbying, gift, and conflict of interest rules.
    • Filing and responding to complaints regarding various alleged violations of the campaign finance laws, including political advertisement disclaimers, and of the similar laws of other states.
    • Working in conjunction with criminal co-counsel representing clients in matters such as alleged “laundered” contributions and “quid pro quo” transactions.

Formal Advice:  With increasingly complex political rules, evolving practices and technologies, new judicial interpretations, and changes in agency leadership, it can be challenging to predict exactly how an agency might apply its rules to a novel situation. Most ethics agencies accept formal requests for the agency to explain how it would apply its rules to a planned activity.

    • Nielsen Merksamer’s attorneys have submitted hundreds of such letters, meticulously analyzing the planned activity in light of the letter and purpose of the applicable rules, judicial precedent, agency past practice, and good policy.

Agency Regulations:  Ethics agencies are continuously changing their rules and regulations, and typically offer an opportunity for the public and interested stakeholders to comment on an issue or a draft regulation, both in writing and at public meetings.

    • Our firm’s attorneys and researchers monitor the regulations agencies are developing and regularly submit expert comments on behalf of interested clients or as members of the political law bar.

Audits:  Numerous ethics agencies across the country audit the entities that report to them. Our representation during audits benefits from our extensive experience providing bookkeeping and political reporting services.

    • Firm attorneys and our highly experienced professional staff have represented clients in well over 100 audits by federal, state, and local agencies ranging from the General Accountability Office’s review of federal lobby reports to state audits of political committees, lobbyists and major donors.
    • Our auditing proficiency also allows us to quickly and comprehensively assess an organization’s compliance status either in the face of a government audit or pro-actively to establish best practices.

Impactful Litigation:  Firm litigators have challenged political laws that violate our client’s rights at every level of government.

  • The firm established itself as a leading advocate for the regulated community forty years ago in a case before the United States Supreme Court that ruled it is unconstitutional for governments to limit contributions to local ballot measure committees in Citizens Against Rent Control City of Berkeley, 454 U.S. 290 (1981).
  • In Citizens to Save California v. California Fair Political Practices Commission, 145 Cal. App. 4th 736 (2006), the firm successfully challenged a California Fair Political Practices Commission regulation restricting contributions to candidate-controlled ballot measure committees, on the ground that it exceeded the Commission’s statutory powers. The firm also earlier obtained an injunction preventing the FPPC from investigating Citizens to Save California’s compliance with the challenged regulation while the suit was pending.
  • In Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes v. City of Richmond, Case No. 3:12-cv-04545-CRB (N.D. Cal. 2012), the firm obtained a preliminary injunction against enforcement of Richmond’s unconstitutionally-burdensome disclaimer requirements for campaign mailings. The City’s ordinance was then amended to remove the offending provisions.