NIELSEN MERKSAMER PARRINELLO GROSS & LEONI, LLP: Latest Developments

Published 11 February 2019 by NIELSEN MERKSAMER PARRINELLO GROSS & LEONI, LLP

Nielsen Merksamer, a leader in national political law compliance, hosts briefings, workshops and communications to share best practices and recent developments in campaign finance, lobby disclosure and government ethics laws across the nation.  For the latest from our research team, read on…

Latest Developments:

  • The Federal Election Commission announced revised contribution limits for the 2019-2020 election cycle based on changes to the consumer price index.  For example, under the new contribution limits, individuals may contribute up to $2,800 to federal candidates for President, U.S. Senate, or the U.S. House of Representatives. 
  • The Federal Election Commission also met this week for the first time this year.  The Chair noted that activity for the 2020 election has begun, but the Commission was closed during a portion of December and January, leading to a significant backlog of work.  She indicated that the Commission has 326 pending enforcement cases, of which over 50 are nearing the statute of limitations. 
  • The Governor of Tennessee issued Executive Order No. 2 that revises the prior Governor’s Executive Order No. 20 from 2012.  It continues to, among other things, prohibit gifts to executive branch employees from any person who is seeking a contract or other state business, is regulated by the employee’s department, or has interests affected by the employee’s performance of official duties.  The order contains some revised exceptions, including dropping the requirement that an official is a speaker at a meeting in order to receive a gift of food, entertainment, or interstate travel.  In a related matter, last month, the Tennessee Ethics Commission raised the per-event gift limit to $63 and the annual aggregate limit for gifts from a lobbyist employer to a covered person to $126.
  • The Governor of New Mexico signed SB 191, which we reported here two weeks ago as being on a fast-track “rocket docket.”  The measure requires that lobbyist and lobbyist employer expenditures of under $100 be disclosed in the aggregate on their periodic reports.  The bill provides that those aggregate expenditures be listed, in lump sums in three categories:  meals and beverages, other entertainment, and other expenditures.  The bill takes effect on July 1, 2019, and, thus, will not affect expenditures in the current session, which is expected to adjourn in mid-March.
  • The Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance released draft regulations to, among other things, lower the limit on contributions that unions can make to a candidate from $15,000 to $1,000.  The change follows the case of 1A Auto, Inc. v. Director of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, in which the Massachusetts Supreme Court upheld the state’s ban on corporate contributions.  Mass Live quotes the Executive Director of Common Cause, who favoured the change, as believing that the new rule will provide “consistent contribution limits that are applied across the board and without big exceptions.”  Currently, corporations can contribute nothing; individuals can contribute $1,000, and unions can contribute $15,000.  The new rule would put unions on par with individuals. The rules also require registration and reporting for independent expenditure PACs and for electioneering communications.

In Case You Missed It:

  • Limits in OregonOregon Public Broadcasting reports that the Oregon Supreme Court has “agreed to fast-track a case that proponents hope will let the state limit campaign contributions.”  Multnomah County imposed a $500 limit on contributions to county candidates, despite a 1997 state Supreme Court ruling that contribution limits violate the state’s free speech protections.  If the county limits are upheld, the case would “open the door for statewide campaign finance regulations.”
  • Gifts that Keep on Giving:  According to the Tampa Bay Times, an ethics complaint against former Tallahassee Mayor and gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum is moving forward after probable cause was found that he accepted gifts from lobbyists in violation of state law.  The former mayor allegedly accepted gifts in excess of $100 on trips to Costa Rica and New York City.
  • More Ethics Reform Proposals:  The Hill reports that, in addition to the Democrats’ much-heralded ethics bill, so many lawmakers have introduced ethics measures that it is “a sign the topic will dominate into the 2020 campaigns.”  These assorted campaign finance, lobby regulation, and anti-corruption bills “allow individual members to highlight specific proposals as well as offer some pieces a chance for bipartisan support,” according to the article.
  • Careful What You Wish For:  An Alaska lawmaker was forced to withdraw a health care reform bill as a result of new ethics reforms, according to the Juneau Empire.  Her husband is a health care professional and new rules prohibit legislators from voting on measures that would financially affect a family member.  Although the original ethics measure was aimed at “lawmakers who have connections to the oil industry,” it has a much broader application.