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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Illinois: The Illinois Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case that could determine elected officials' ability to use their political campaign funds to pay for their legal defense in public corruption cases. Existing law strictly prohibits elected officials from using campaign funds for personal expenses; however, three Chicago Democrats facing corruption charges have been using campaign funds to pay for their legal defense. Their lawyers argue that mounting a defense against criminal corruption allegations or investigations is a "political" expense, not a personal one. Further, the State Board of Elections argued that the General Assembly could enact a specific prohibition on using campaign funds for legal fees. The court is therefore poised to resolve whether defending against federal or state corruption charges is an ordinary expense of holding public office. (Mark Maxwell, WCIA)
Washington: The Washington Supreme Court upheld an $18 million fine levied against the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) for violating state campaign finance laws in 2013 while trying to defeat a food-labeling initiative. In a 5-4 ruling, the court found the fine was not excessive because GMA's efforts to conceal the identity of corporations funding its 2013 campaign "struck at the core of open and transparent elections." (Jim Brunner, Seattle Times)
Government Ethics & Transparency
The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) referred its findings that there is "substantial reason" to believe that Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) misused official resources and solicited or accepted improper gifts from subordinates to the House Committee on Ethics for further review. According to OCE, Lamborn's aides told investigators they often ran personal errands for Lamborn's wife. Lamborn also may have allowed his chief of staff to compel other staff members to provide gifts to him and his family. Lamborn could face a subpoena from the committee as part of the House Committee's investigation. (Shawna Chen, Axios)
OCE unanimously found substantial reason to believe Rep. Marie Newman (D-Ill.) may have bribed a political opponent. According to a report, Rep. Newman may have promised federal employment to a potential primary opponent, Professor Iymen Chehade, in exchange for political support. Therefore, OCE recommended that the House Committee on Ethics further review the allegations. (Bryan Metzger, Business Insider)
Georgia: Judges for the Fulton County Superior Court granted District Attorney Fani Willis' request to seat a special grand jury in her investigation into former President Trump's alleged attempt to interfere with the 2020 election results in Georgia. While the special grand jury will not have the authority to return an indictment, they will have the power to issue subpoenas to compel testimony from prospective witnesses who have refused to cooperate thus far. The special grand jury may also make recommendations concerning criminal prosecution. (Noah Garfinkel, Axios)
Elections & Legislation
Alaska: The Alaska Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that rejected a challenge to a statewide initiative approved by Alaska voters in 2020, clearing the way for the state to proceed with its new open primary and ranked-choice voting system. Under this system, the four candidates receiving the most votes will advance to the general election. Voters can rank the candidates in order of preference instead of choosing just one candidate. (Greg Giroux, Bloomberg Government)
Florida: Florida Republicans are pushing two versions of the so-called "Personal Privacy Protection Act" through the state legislature. The proposed House bill shields public knowledge of funding sources by prohibiting government entities from requiring corporations, associations and nonprofits from providing information about their support to any entity, whether direct or indirect. Further, if public entities have such information, they would be barred from publicly releasing it. The proposed Senate bill is narrower, as it would protect information identifying a person, member or donor to a charitable organization. (Ana Ceballos and Samantha Gross, Miami Herald)