RECENT LOBBYING, ETHICS & CAMPAIGN FINANCE UPDATES
We read the news, cut through the noise and provide you the notes.
Welcome to Compliance Notes from Nossaman’s Government Relations & Regulation Group – a periodic digest of the headlines, statutory and regulatory changes and court cases involving campaign finance, lobbying compliance, election law and government ethics issues at the federal, state and local level.
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Campaign Finance & Lobbying Compliance
Michigan: The Secretary of State released inflation-adjusted lobby reporting thresholds, fees, and penalties for 2021. The changes include an increase in the threshold for expenditures that require registration from $2,535 to $2,575 (in a 12-month period) and an increase in the monthly food and beverage limit from $63 to $64.
Montana: The Montana Commissioner of Political Practices has found that Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney, who is running for governor against U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, accepted over-the-limit contributions and failed to properly report in-kind contributions from the Democratic Governors Association (DGA) in connection with a joint advertising campaign criticizing Gianforte for his alleged support of a sales tax. Commissioner Jeff Mangan concluded that the Cooney campaign failed to disclose the costs associated with the website GregGianforTAX.com, a component of the advertising campaign, as an in-kind contribution from the DGA. Cooney and the DGA argued that the website cost less than $35 to set up so they weren’t required to report the spending, according to documents from the commissioner’s office. Mangan ultimately rejected this argument. (Perrin Stein, Bozeman Daily Chronicle)
North Dakota: The Ethics Commission adopted new gift rules for lobbyists that provide exceptions, including campaign contributions; transportation, lodging and meals for a speaker, panelist presenter or participant at a ceremonial event; gifts shared as a cultural or social norm at a public or private social and educational event; and food and beverage for immediate consumption. Reminder: the state’s constitutional ban on gifts from lobbyists (Section 2) takes effect on January 1, 2021, but excludes gifts “given under conditions that do not raise ethical concerns, as determined by rules adopted by the ethics commission.”
Wyoming: The Wyoming Secretary of State’s office has ordered “Wyoming Gun Owners,” a pro-gun lobbying organization, to reveal its donors after the group flooded Wyoming with dozens of ads disparaging a number of sitting lawmakers in competitive races around the state. While the organization is not new to Wyoming politics – and while the group is clearly listed as paying for those advertisements in disclosures on those advertisements – it’s not currently registered with the state as either a lobbying organization or a political action committee, which is required. The gun owners group now has until November 4 – one day after the election – to release the names of its donors or face a $500 fine. If the group refuses to comply, the case will then go to the Wyoming Attorney General. (Nick Reynolds, Casper Star Tribune)
Alabama: The Supreme Court split 5-3 to stay a lower-court injunction that lifted the prohibition on drive-through voting that was issued by Alabama’s secretary of state. Meaning, curbside voting is once again banned in Alabama. (Josh Gerstein, Politico)
Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court ruled unanimously to prohibit county boards of elections from rejecting absentee or mail-in ballots based on signature comparison conducted by county election officials or employees, or as the result of third-party challenges based on signature analysis and comparisons. (Marc Levy, AP News)
Political Speech & Campaign Advertisements
Kansas: According to Wichita Eagle reporting and a civil lawsuit, three Republican officials put together an ad smearing then-mayoral candidate Brandon Whipple in his campaign to unseat former Mayor Jeff Longwell. According to those accounts, State Rep. Michael Capps, Sedgwick County Commissioner Michael O’Donnell and Wichita City Council member James Clendenin launched the campaign from behind an anonymous New Mexico shell company they created; but their involvement started to come to light shortly after their video premiered and they decided to lie and frame members of their own party. (Chance Swaim and Dion Lefler, The Wichita Eagle)