February 3, 2011 •
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.
Photo of the Alabama Statehouse by Spyder_Monkey on Wikipedia.
February 2, 2011 •
It would bring campaign finance rules within the Citizens United decision.
The state legislature has introduced a bill to bring Wyoming’s state campaign finance law into compliance with the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in the “Citizens United” lawsuit. Senate File 0003 sets forth reporting requirements for corporations and others making independent expenditures.
Currently, Wyoming law prohibits corporations from making these expenditures. Under the bill, direct corporate contributions to campaigns would remain illegal.
This image is a segment from the Flag of Wyoming by Dbenbenn on Wikipedia.
January 21, 2011 •
The Texas legislature is looking to tackle a new piece of pay-to-play legislation with Senate Bill 110.
The bill would affect an individual who submits a competitive bid or proposal for a contract as an individual, partner or owner of a privately held business, or board member or executive officer of a business.
They would be prohibited from making a political contribution to a candidate for statewide office, a statewide officeholder, or a specific-purpose committee for supporting or opposing a candidate for statewide office or assisting a statewide officeholder, during the period beginning with the date the bid or proposal is submitted and ending when the contract is awarded to another person or the 30th day after the bidder is awarded the contract.
Further, the same restrictions would be applied to a general-purpose committee established or administered by a corporation. If passed in current form, the legislation would take effect September 1, 2011.
January 19, 2011 •
New York Bill Proposes to Limit Contribution Amounts and Timing
Senate Bill 37, introduced by Senator Daniel Squadron, proposes to curtail political contributions by lobbyists. The bill limits lobbyist political contributions to $250 per candidate, per election and contributions may only be made between the first of July and the end of the year.
The bill further bars lobbyists from soliciting or transmitting a contribution or a request for a contribution from any person, including a political committee, for the benefit of a public official or party committee.
Photo of New York State Capitol courtesy of UpstateNYer on Wikipedia.
January 18, 2011 •
New Bill To Be Introduced
Representative Keith Grover has prepared HB 32 for introduction, which would amend the current statutory campaign contribution and financial reporting requirements. The bill requires new disclosure reports to be filed, including both annual and interim reports, from county political parties spending at least $50 or receiving at least $750.
Included in the reports would be specific donor and expenditure detail. The bill also includes penalties, fines, and scheduling dates for filing.
The Seal of Utah by Svgalbertian on Wikipedia.
January 17, 2011 •
Quebec Turns Calendar to 2011 to Roll Out Recent Campaign Finance Reform
The first of numerous recent changes to Quebec’s campaign finance law has gone into effect with the turn of the calendar into 2011. Touted as the first major reform in financing Quebec’s political parties since 1977, Assembly Bill 113 effectively lowered the contribution limit a voter may contribute to a party or candidate from $3,000 to $1,000 effective on January 1, 2011. Additional changes are set to take effect on May 1, 2011.
Included in these changes is a requirement for all contributions to first pass through the province’s Chief Electoral Officer, who will then distribute the contribution as directed. Further, in an effort to prevent companies from making contributions in the names of employees, all persons making a contribution will now be required to declare the contribution is made out of the person’s own property and voluntarily.
Finally, additional penalties have been created, including a prohibition for three years on the ability of any natural or legal person convicted of a campaign finance offense to acquire a public contract.
Photo of Québec City by Martin St-Amant on Wikipedia.
January 12, 2011 •
Senate Bill 75 Would Create New Campaign Contribution Limits and Enhance Revolving Door Law
Senate Bill 75, introduced to the Legislature on the first day of session, seeks to reinstate the state’s campaign contribution limits. The bill limits contributions to $2,000 for statewide office, $1,000 for state senators, $500 for state representatives, $325 for any other office if the population is under 100,000, $850 if it is between 100,000 and 250,000, and $1,275 if the population is more than 250,000.
The bill also alters the state’s revolving door provision by preventing legislators from becoming lobbyists for two years after leaving office.
Photo of the Missouri State Capitol by Visitjeffersoncity on Wikipedia.
January 7, 2011 •
An Advisory Committee on Campaign Finance created by Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler has issued a report recommending changes to the state’s campaign finance laws. Among the 25 recommendations are treating LLC clusters and all other legal entities with common ownership or control as single entities for contribution limit purposes, requiring disclosure from any non-political party group making independent expenditures for the election or defeat of a candidate, and requiring loan-related violations of campaign contribution limits to be assessed against candidates as well as lenders.
The committee suggested further study for issues regarding how campaign finance laws apply to “new media,” including requiring the reporting of sub-vendor information, to prevent covert campaigning by candidates and their committees through anonymous sources.
January 6, 2011 •
It’s not too late to consider your compliance obligations for the upcoming year!
All of the legislatures, even those that do not meet every year, are in session in 2011. Thus, it is important to know the registration obligations for your lobbyists in all of the jurisdictions in which they will be active. The most important pieces of information you need to know are whether they will need to register and when the registration will need to be filed. Many jurisdictions have a threshold, based on expenditures, salary, or time spent lobbying, that needs to be crossed before registration is required. Depending on your situation, you may not need to register if your lobbying activities will be minimal. Many other jurisdictions, however, have no threshold and will require registration before or within a certain amount of time of your lobbyist engaging in lobbying.
This brings up an important point: it is crucial that you understand what activities comprise lobbying in the jurisdiction. A lobbyist may meet the definition of “lobbyist” before contact is even made with an official. And do not forget that once registered, you will have ongoing reporting requirements. Illinois and Georgia, in particular, will have more frequent reporting than in past years. (more…)
January 4, 2011 •
Commission on Governmental Ethics Seeks Independent Investigatory Powers and New Campaign Finance Restrictions in 2011
The Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices has issued a memo outlining the agencies priorities for 2011. The commission seeks to investigate possible violations of legislative ethics on its own, even if no formal complaint is filed.
The commission also wishes to enact regulations that restrict legislative candidates from using Clean Election money to buy computers, cell phones, and other electronic equipment and increase the fine for failing to include a disclaimer on campaign communications from a maximum of $200 to a maximum of $5,000.
The Great Seal of Maine courtesy of Wikipedia.
December 30, 2010 •
News Rules Respond to Citizens United
Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner has announced permanent rules affecting the disclosure of corporate independent expenditures in Ohio.
The rules address the impact of the recent 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.
Affected groups who make independent expenditures will now have to include their Internet web address in their ads and must also disclose 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 Citizens United case now allows corporations to make independent expenditures for and against candidates in state and federal campaigns, “ said Secretary Brunner. “I am pleased Ohio has in place new rules so Ohioans will know who is trying to influence their votes in Ohio elections.”
The new rules take effect January 7, 2011. You may view the rules at the Register of Ohio Web site.
Photo of Ohio Statehouse by Alexander Smith on Wikipedia.
December 29, 2010 •
In a continuing effort to better serve the needs of its clients, State and Federal Communications, Inc. is expanding coverage of laws and regulations for political contributions, lobbying, and procurement lobbying to more municipalities, regional governments, and governmental organizations.
State and Federal currently offers coverage for 187 municipalities, in addition to the 50 U.S. states, other U.S. jurisdictions, and Canada.
We have added six new jurisdictions for which our online clients will find comprehensive, timely, and accurate information that includes: complete calendar of reporting deadlines; critical statutory citations; extensive directories of contact information; summaries of each state law; detailed reference charts on goods and services contributions; highlights of every statute; copies of all required forms; and much more.
The new jurisdictions are:
- Bridgeport, CT
- Huntsville, AL
- Provo, UT
- Rockford, IL
- West Valley City, UT
- Winston-Salem, NC
The image of North America by Bosonic dressing on Wikipedia.
December 21, 2010 •
Alabama Governor Bob Riley signed seven bills relating to lobbying, campaign finance, and ethics into law yesterday.
While not as strict as the bills originally proposed by the Governor, the newly passed rules represent a dramatic overhaul to Alabama ethics law. Under the new rules, PACs will be forbidden from making transfers of funds to other PACs with a few exceptions.
State lawmakers will be unable to hold a second public job, and one bill imposes a ban on “pass-through pork” whereby a legislator can appropriate funds to a specific agency or project without legislative approval. In the new year, lobbyists will be required to complete a training program, and the State Ethics Commission will have subpoena power.
Another bill signed by Governor Riley will forbid public employees from donating to political groups via payroll deduction. This law has been criticized as politically motivated by state Democrats.
December 20, 2010 •
Two jurisdictions grapple with the regulation of campaign finance in social media.
Just as the use of social media has exploded with the average person in everyday interaction, so it goes with the use the of social media in political campaigns. And just as political ads have prompted regulations in traditional media – in print, radio, and television – ethics oversight agencies in the states are now facing the need to regulate political ads in social media.
In essence, we have a 1970s post-Watergate system of political ads regulation facing a completely new set of challenges with today’s political activity on the internet. How do you get all parties to agree on meanings and terms for features in electronic ads when there is no industry standard? How do you identify the source of funding for a Google or Facebook ad? How would you fit a disclosure statement into a tweet when you are limited to 140 characters? Some have said regulation of political ads in social media constitutes a restriction of the exercise of freedom of speech. Others have argued that endorsements by influential bloggers should be considered as in-kind contributions.
Two states to watch are Maryland and California. The Maryland State Board of Elections and California’s Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) have established rules for proper use of social media by political campaigns, PACs, and private individuals. At the Council on Government Ethics Laws 2010 conference in Washington, D.C., I had the privilege of meeting Jared DeMarinis, Maryland’s Director for the Maryland Board of Elections Division of Candidacy and Campaign Finance, and Roman Porter, Executive Director of the FPPC. It was a COGEL breakfast group discussion with them that prompted me to offer these resources in this post.
Here is the link for Maryland’s Summary Guide to Candidacy and Campaign Finance Laws. Chapter 12, section 6 deals with electronic media. Maryland’s answer to the issue of disclosure within the limited space of a social network appears to be requiring a hyperlink to a landing page that would host the disclosure information. Government Technology has a nice article from August 3, 2010 called, “Maryland Social Media Campaign Rules Take Effect,” which describes the new regulations.
California’s FPPC offers a report from the Subcommittee on Internet Political Activity called “Internet Political Activity and the Political Reform Act,” dated August 11, 2010. Here is a memorandum describing amendments, from October 2010. They also offer a helpful online FAQ page called “Electronic Media: Paid Political Advertisements.” These resources have a great deal of guidance regarding disclosure in social media political ads, what triggers the need for disclosure, and how disclosure is to be done in social media.
Perhaps the work of these two agencies will be the template for other jurisdictions! We will be watching…
State and Federal Communications, Inc. provides research and consulting services for government relations professionals on lobbying laws, procurement lobbying laws, political contribution laws in the United States and Canada. Learn more by visiting stateandfed.com.