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Legislation We Are Tracking
At any given time, more than 1,000 legislative bills, which can affect how you do business as a government affairs professional, are being discussed in federal, state, and local jurisdictions. These bills are summarized in the State and Federal Communications’ digital encyclopedias for lobbying laws, political contributions, and procurement lobbying; this information is located on the client portion of the State and Federal Communications website.
Summaries of major bills are also included in monthly e-mail updates sent to all clients. The chart below shows the number of bills we are tracking in regards to lobbying laws, political contributions, and procurement lobbying.
Alabama Lawmakers Overhaul Ethics Rules in Special Session
Following a headline-grabbing scandal in which several prominent Alabama lawmakers, businessmen, and lobbyists were indicted in a cash-for-votes scheme related to pending gambling laws, state legislators took the opportunity to overhaul lobbyist, campaign finance, and other ethics rules. The special session, called by Governor Riley in late December, lasted seven days and saw the passage of several landmark bills, each of which was promptly signed into law.
The most dramatic change concerning lobbyists is the newly enacted expenditure limits. Previously, lobbyists could spend anything on an official without having to report it until the spending exceeded $250 per day. Now, lobbyists may only spend $25 on an official for a meal with an annual limit of $150. For a lobbyist’s employer, the limit is $50 per meal with a $250 annual cap. This law has been criticized by some as having too many loopholes. For instance, the limit does not apply to an "educational function" or certain "widely attended" events. Disclosure of spending at these events is still required when spending exceeds $250 per official.
Lawmakers also passed a ban on PAC-to-PAC transfers of funds. This, lawmakers hope, will reduce the "shell game" sometimes played which makes it very difficult for the public to track who is actually funding candidates or making expenditures.
Several of the laws passed impacted the actions of state officials directly. Starting in 2014, a state lawmaker will no longer be allowed to hold another government job. Additionally, the reforms include a ban on "pass through pork." This is a practice whereby state lawmakers could direct an agency to spend money a certain way without legislative approval. Finally, the Alabama Ethics Commission will be granted subpoena power; this is expected to make enforcement of the laws much easier and effective.
The most controversial bill passed during the session is one banning politically active groups from receiving contributions via payroll deduction from state employees. This law was decried as an attack on the American Education Association, a group usually linked to Democratic candidates. Governor Riley, a Republican, defended the bill as a step to prevent misuse of state time and money.
While most agree the reform package is not perfect or all-inclusive, most within the state’s ethics and political circles agree they are a significant step forward at a time when Alabama badly needs one.
Summary of Changes UPDATE
NEVADA: Governor Brian Sandoval signed Executive Order 2011-02 establishing a new ethics gift rule for the governor’s senior staff, cabinet, all division heads of cabinet agencies, and himself as governor. The order prohibits gifts which might be intended to influence or reward an individual in the performance of his or her official business. The order also requires notification of the ethics requirements to vendors doing business with the state and those receiving state grants.
OHIO: Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner has announced permanent rules affecting the disclosure of corporate independent expenditures in Ohio. The rules are a response to the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The new rules address campaign expenditures by corporations, nonprofit corporations, and labor organizations by requiring disclosure of the amounts the groups spend for independent campaign advertisements for or against a candidate or committee. Entities which make independent expenditures will now have to include their internet web address in their ads and must also disclose that their ads have not been authorized by a candidate or committee. Independent expenditures by corporations or businesses with 20 percent or more foreign ownership are prohibited by the new rules. Finally, corporations or businesses which have been awarded state or federal money will not be allowed to influence Ohio elections with independent expenditures within a year of the award. The new rules took effect January 7, 2011.
BROWARD COUNTY, FLORIDA: The Broward County Commission has passed a new ethics law aimed at instituting a new standard of ethical behavior on all county employees. The new ethics code is an extension of previous code which had been passed during the summer of 2010 to institute such a standard on the county commissioners. Following a training session scheduled for spring of 2011, all county employees who receive perishable gifts will be required to place them in an area where other employees and the public will be free to enjoy them, while non-perishable gifts will have to be turned over to the administration to be put to the public use. Further, employees will not be permitted to accept personal gifts outside the office which could be perceived as being intended to influence their decisions as an employee of Broward County.
GEORGIA: The State Ethics Commission has approved an increase in contribution limits for both statewide and other offices. The contribution limit for a statewide office during each primary and general election has been increased from $6,100 to $6,300, while the limit for a runoff election for the primary or general election has increased from $3,600 to $3,700. Additionally, contribution limits for all other offices during each primary and general election have increased from $2,400 to $2,500, and from $1,200 to $1,300 for a runoff election resulting from the primary or general election.
VARIOUS: Several jurisdictions had changes in the leadership of their watchdog organizations. In Los Angeles, the ethics commission chose Heather Holt as its new executive director to replace LeeAnn Pelham, who had been the commission’s head for the past 10 years. The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board hired Megan Tooker as its new executive director. The outgoing director, Charlie Smithson, stepped down from the position to become the Iowa House’s new chief clerk. Michael Cherkasky resigned as chairman of the New York Commission on Public Integrity, sighting personal conflicts of interest. Cherkasky's resignation is effective January 1, 2011. The Hawaii State Ethics Commission selected Mr. Leslie H. Kondo to serve as the new executive director. Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer nominated Jennifer Hensley to serve as the state’s top ethics official. Hensley would replace Dennis Unsworth, whose six-year term expired at the end of the year. Finally, Paul M. Nick was designated interim director of the Ohio Ethics Commission.
ASK THE EXPERTS
State and Federal Communications’ Experts Answer Your Questions
Here is your chance to “Ask the Experts” at State and Federal Communications, Inc. You can directly submit questions for this feature, and we will select those most appropriate and answer them here. Send your questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org. (Of course, we have always been available to answer questions from clients that are specific to your needs, and we encourage you to continue to call or e-mail us with questions about your particular company or organization. As always, we will confidentially and directly provide answers or information you need.) Our replies to your questions are not legal advice. Instead, these replies represent our analysis of laws, rules, and regulations.
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