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 E-News from State and Federal Communications, Inc.

June 2015  

 

Elizabeth Z. Bartz
President and CEO
@elizabethbartz

Virginia Passes Ethics Reform

by Kevin Newman, Esq., Research Associate

After considering several versions and various amendments, Virginia lawmakers passed an ethics reform measure aimed at limiting gifts to members of the General Assembly. House Bill 2070, along with its companion, Senate Bill 1424, makes several changes to the amount and type of gifts a legislator is allowed to accept from a lobbyist, a lobbyistís principal, or a person or organization seeking to do business with the state or a local government.

Legislators may currently accept gifts up to $250 in the aggregate from any one source during a calendar year. The new legislation decreases this limit to $100. However, statutory language creates exceptions for gifts from personal friends and for gifts of food, beverage, and entertainment while at a widely attended event. The bill also removes the distinction between tangible and intangible gifts, thereby eliminating a loophole for providing an unlimited amount of transportation, meals, lodging, and other items of hospitality. The bill further requires disclosure of any single gift or entertainment, or any combination of gifts or entertainment, with a value exceeding $50. These new provisions include gifts to a lawmakerís immediate family.

One point of contention during the creation of the bill involved the make-up and authority of the Virginia Conflict of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council. Early versions of the measure envisioned a council comprised, at least in part, of citizen members. The final version, however, creates a nine-person council consisting of current members of the House and Senate and appointees of the governor, speaker, and Senate rules committee. Serving mainly an advisory role, the council will oversee the mandatory electronic disclosure filings and must review and approve gifts of transportation, lodging, and hospitality to legislators worth more than $100. The councilís funding will be bolstered by an increase in the lobbyist registration fee from $50 to $100.

The final hurdle to completing the bill centered on the $100 limit. The version passed by both chambers and sent to the governor reduced the limit from an aggregate of $250 per year to a per gift limit of $100. Gov. Terry McAuliffe, foreseeing acceptance of an unlimited number of gifts of $99, proposed an amendment to change the limit to $100 in the aggregate per calendar year. Both chambers passed the amendment unanimously.

The provisions of the bill relating to the councilís creation and composition become effective July 1, 2015, while the provisions mandating electronic filing of disclosure forms are effective July 1, 2016. The remaining provisions are effective January 1, 2016.

 

Summary of Changes UPDATE
Note Recent Changes to Compliance Regulations
 

John Cozine, Esq., Research Manager

ALBERTA: Although Alberta had a fixed election set for spring 2016, Lt. Gov. Donald Ethell agreed to dissolve the Legislative Assembly at the premierís request. Polling day occurred on Tuesday, May 5, 2015. The 2011 Election Amendment Act requires elections to be held in the fourth calendar year after the preceding election. However, this law did not affect the powers of the lieutenant governor to dissolve the Assembly before the four years had expired.

ARKANSAS: The state Ethics Commission is discussing how to administer new lobbying and campaign laws signed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Senate Bill 967 (now Act 1280) limits lobbyists to one "planned activity" per week and provides a 30-day grace period for officials to return improper gifts. Political contribution limits from individuals and PACs to a candidate have been raised from $2,000 to $2,700 per election. Act 1280 also authorizes the commission to oversee new ethics laws contained in a constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2014. The amendment prohibited lobbyist gifts and corporate contributions, but did not provide the commission authority to administer the constitutional changes. Earlier this year lawmakers passed House Bill 1002 (now Act 47), but that law only authorized the commission to issue advisory opinions concerning the amendment. Act 1280 further provides the commission with statutory authority to administer the changes by issuing rules and investigating complaints. Act 1280 became effective upon Hutchinsonís signature.

FLORIDA: The U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Florida campaign finance restriction prohibiting judicial candidates from personally soliciting donations. In a 5-4 decision, the Court rejected First Amendment concerns, ruling states may choose to elect their judiciary but are not required to treat judicial candidates like politicians. Though candidates may not solicit contributions, the Florida law allows others, such as campaign managers and friends, to do so on their behalf. Chief Justice Roberts stated the case was a rare instance where the state, in trying to maintain the integrity of the bench, has a compelling interest in restricting speech.

NEW YORK: Senate Bill 2006 was signed into law on April 13, 2015, and became effective immediately upon Gov. Andrew Cuomo's signature. The bill amends lobbyist registration requirements by expanding the definition of municipality to include jurisdictional subdivisions with a population of 5,000 or more, including school districts. This change will have a large impact on interactions with local officials throughout the state of New York, potentially requiring lobbyist registration at the state level for interactions with local officials from municipalities with populations of 5,000 or more, as well as with school district officials. The registration threshold of $5,000 has not changed; however, Senate Bill 2006 has vastly broadened the spectrum of activity considered lobbying.

OKLAHOMA: At its April meeting, the Ethics Commission increased the maximum individual contribution limit for the 2016 election cycle from $2,600 to $2,700. The increase is the first mandatory increase approved by the commission since its new rules were adopted in 2014. By rule, the individual contribution limits are adjusted automatically in conjunction with the consumer price index. The new limit is currently in effect and will apply to all 2015 special elections.

Jurisdictions Added to our Website

The number of municipalities and regional governments our research associates track continues to grow. We now cover almost 300 municipalities and local governments. This is part of a continuous effort to better serve the needs of our clients.

In that effort, we have recently added abridged jurisdictions to our website. These entries, condensed due to the limited number of relevant local laws, provide the core information our clients need for their government relations work.

The new jurisdictions are:

Fairbanks, Alaska

Roanoke, Virginia

San Luis Obispo County, California
 

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 State and Federal Communications' digital encyclopedias for lobbying laws, political contributions, and procurement lobbying and can be found in the client portion of our website.

Summaries of major bills are also included in monthly email updates sent to all clients. The chart below shows the number of bills we are tracking in regard to lobbying laws, political contributions, and procurement lobbying.

  Total bills Number of Jurisdictions Passed Died Carried over
to 2016
Lobbying Laws 192 42 15 25 4
Political Contributions 379 47 43 59 9
Procurement Lobbying 190 35 18 30 4



 

State and Federal Communications has added a new quick reference chart to its Political Contributions publication. At the request of customers, a chart showing the dates of elections without the accompanying reporting information is now available The chart can be accessed by clicking on the right side of the red Political Contributions banner and selecting "Election Dates by Month" in the pop-up menu.

ASK THE EXPERTS

State and Federal Communicationsí Experts Answer Your Questions

Here is your chance to ďAsk the ExpertsĒ at State and Federal Communications, Inc. Send your questions to experts@stateandfed.com. (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 email us with questions about your particular company or organization. As always, we will confidentially and directly provide answers or information you need.) Our replies are not legal advice, just our analysis of laws, rules, and regulations.

The Canadian branch of our company would like to set up some meetings with the federal government.  Does Canada have lobbying laws too?

Canada does have lobbying laws at the federal, provincial, and even municipal levels of government.

For the federal government, in-house lobbyists must register when the collective time devoted to lobbying activities by all of its employees reaches or exceeds 20 percent of the duties of a single equivalent-paid employee of the corporation or organization during a calendar month. Lobbying is communicating with public officeholders on behalf of another person or entity.

If the above threshold is reached, the senior most paid person of the company is required to file a registration and become the registrant. This registration will contain a list of all the names of the employees whose job duties include lobbying in some fashion.

Once registered, the registrant is required to file monthly returns. A return is the Canadian form of a report. The returns are due on the 15th day of the month. On this return, the registrant simply reports any communications that were had with public officeholders and the date and content of those meetings. The monthly return does not need to be filed if: (1) no communications with public officeholders took place that month; (2) no information on the registration needs to be amended; and (3) the undertaking has not been performed or terminated.

It isnít just lobbying the federal government that you have to worry about, either. Almost all of the provinces have a separate lobbying law, and the major cities throughout the country are starting to pass lobbying laws as well. If you have specific questions related to your companyís activities in Canada, we will be more than happy to help you.

June's Expert - Shamus Williams, Esq., Compliance Associate


 

Circle of Red is a society of women who have the passion, the motivation and inspiration to drive and influence change in the community regarding heart health of women in their community and across the country. This year, Elizabeth Z. Bartz was the chair of the Circle of Red and her husband, John P. Chames, was the chair of Men Go Red.



State and Federal Communications employees acknowledged on their anniversary.
 
Employees receiving recognition for their longevity at State and Federal Communications, Inc. Elizabeth with Mandy Lebus, Compliance Assistant [left]; with Shamus Williams, Esq. and Jen Zona, Esq., Compliance Associates [right].  Congratulations.

Plan to say hello at future events where State and Federal Communications, Inc.
will be attending and/or speaking regarding compliance issues.

 

Events

June 4-6, 2015 NCSL Executive Committee Spring Meeting, Denver, Colorado
June 8-10, 2015 US Small Business Summit, Washington, DC
June 15-18, 2015 BIO International Convention, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
June 19-23, 2015 US Conference of Mayors Annual Conference, San Francisco, California
July 12-15, 2015 CSG MLC Annual Meeting, Bismarck, North Dakota
July 23-26, 2015 NGA Summer Meeting, Greenbrier, West Virginia
August 4, 2015 Astellas National Women's Executive Day, Akron, Ohio
August 3-7, 2015 NCSL Legislative Summit, Seattle, Washington
 

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