Compliance Notes – Vol. 1, Issue 16
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
- The House Ethics Committee directed Rep. Rashida Tlaib to repay $10,800 to her campaign for salary she drew after Election Day 2018. Although Congressional candidates may draw paychecks from their campaigns, they may only do so as active candidates. Tlaib received deferred compensationwithout a contemporaneous written agreement, which the Ethics Committee recommends. (Niels Lesniewski, Roll Call)
- Convicted internet marketer Jeremy Johnson agreed not to challenge allegations that he used straw donors to give $50,000 to Utah Sen. Mike Lee, and $20,000 to retired Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in the 2009-10 election cycle. The Federal Election Commission filed a civil complaint against Johnson in 2015 and sought a $840,000 civil penalty. The FEC agreed to forego the penalty in a settlement because Johnson already owes millions in federal government fines and has limited earning capacity. A federal judge must still sign off on the judgement. (Dennis Romboy, Deseret News)
- Missouri: The Missouri Ethics Commission fined Uniting Missouri PAC $2,000 for failing to disclose within forty-eight the fair market value of two flights the group chartered for Gov. Mike Parson. (Jack Suntrup, Louis Post-Dispatch)
- Alabama: A state judge dismissed a lawsuit by the League of Women Voters and several elderly or sick Alabamians challenging provisions of Alabama’s absentee ballot laws - one that requires absentee voters to have photo IDs to obtain a ballot, and another requiring a notary public or two witnesses to attest that the voter filled out the ballot. (Howard Koplowitz, com)
- California: Governor Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 423 to let counties offer fewer in-person polling places as long as the counties keep the ratio of one precinct per 10,000 registered voters, instead of the typical 1,000 voters. In exchange, counties will open the sites earlier for at least eight hours each day from Saturday, Oct. 31, through Monday, Nov. 2, and from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day. (Andy Beam, AP News)
- Georgia: In an effort to prevent hours-long lines at the polls, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Democratic Party of Georgia and several voters sued the state to require more polling places, better-trained poll workers and emergency paper ballots. (Mark Niesse, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
- Iowa: Governor Kim Reynolds issued an executive order restoring voting rights to most people convicted of felonies who completed their sentence. This enables tens of thousands of additional Iowans to vote by November. (Kira Lerner, The Appeal)
- Nevada: President Donald Trump’s campaign sued Nevada over recent legislation that expands mail-in voting for the 2020 general election, saying it would make voter fraud “inevitable.” The legislation requires election officials to send all active registered voters a mail-in ballot in the case of a statewide emergency, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. (Riley Snyder and Michelle Rindels, The Nevada Independent)
- Virginia: All Virginia voters who cast absentee ballots will send their forms back in envelopes marked with tracking codes, according to a new State Board of Elections rule. (Graham Moomaw, Virginia Mercury)
- Illinois: ComEd pleaded not guilty to federal bribery charges. The plea was a formality, since the company entered an agreement to defer prosecution. ComEd will pay a record $200 million fine and cooperate in the ongoing probe of its lobbying practices in Springfield in exchange for dropping the charges at the end of the agreement period. (Megan Crepeau and Jason Meisner, Chicago Tribune)
- Ohio: A longtime shareholder sued FirstEnergy Corp.’s board of directors in a derivative suit, accusing the board of failing to establish the internal controls needed to prevent what authorities called a massive bribery scheme involving House Bill 6. Authorities said FirstEnergy affiliates funneled more than $60 million in bribes in exchange for House Bill 6, a $1.3 billion bailout of two nuclear plants that, at the time, were owned by a FirstEnergy subsidiary. The allegations were filed eight days after the unsealing of a federal indictment that charged former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and four allies with racketeering. (John Caniglia, The Plain Dealer)
- Tennessee: State Sen. Katrina Robinson is charged with stealing more than $600,000 in federal funds between 2015 and 2019 and using that money to pay for her wedding and honeymoon, an automobile for her daughter, travel and entertainment for her family and an event for her state Senate campaign. (Adrian Sainz, AP News)
- Michigan: An attorney who helped write Michigan's campaign finance laws filed a complaint against Michigan Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, a nonprofit tied to Republican consultants, regarding its use of money from undisclosed sources to back the campaign to limit Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's emergency powers. The complaint argues the nonprofit should have to file its own fundraising disclosures after contributing to the Unlock Michigan petition drive. (Craig Mauger, The Detroit News)
- New York: Attorney General Letitia James has called for the dissolution of the NRA and the removal of CEO Wayne LaPierre, saying he and other top officers of the organization engaged in a decades-long pattern of fraud to raid the coffers of the powerful gun rights group for personal gain. James accused the NRA leaders of flouting state and federal laws and signing off on reports and statements they knew were fraudulent, while diverting millions of dollars away from the NRA’s charitable mission to benefit themselves and their allies. Separately, D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine announced that his office filed a lawsuit against the NRA Foundation, accusing the organization of being controlled by the NRA, despite legal requirements that it independently pursue charitable purposes. (Carol D. Leonnig and Tom Hamburger, The Washington Post)
Political Speech & Campaign Advertisements
- Facebook removed hundreds of accounts from a Romanian troll farm posing as African-Americans in support of Donald Trump. It also removed hundreds of fake accounts linked to conservative media outlet, The Epoch Times, which pushed pro-Trump conspiracy theories about coronavirus and protests in the U.S. According to Facebook, it removed the accounts because they coordinated inauthentic behavior based on “behavior, not content.” (Ben Collins and Kevin Collier, NBC News)
- Instagram’s algorithm that pushes users toward supposedly-related content treated hashtags associated with “Biden” and “Trump” in very different ways. Searches for Biden-related hashtags return counter-messaging, while those for Trump do not. According to Instagram, the difference is due to a “bug” preventing hashtags including #Trump and #MAGA from being associated with potentially negative content. (Ryan Mac, BuzzFeed News)
- Tennessee: Tennesseans for Sensible Election Laws, a group that wanted to describe a state representative as "literally Hitler" in a mailer, successfully challenged a law that blocked false speech, including satire, against candidates in campaign literature. The mailer called a bill proposed by Rep. Bruce Griffey (R-Paris) "the kind of thing you would see in Nazi Germany, not Tennessee" and included bold text saying, "Bruce Griffey is LITERALLY HITLER." (Adam Tamburin, Nashville Tennessean)
- Washington: The King County Superior Court denied Facebook’s attempt to dismiss a campaign finance lawsuit filed by state Attorney General Bob Ferguson. Ferguson filed the suit in April, claiming Facebook sold Washington state political ads “without maintaining information for the public” as required by state law. (Connor Sarles, KXLY)
- Election Systems & Software LLC, the top U.S. seller of voting-machine technology, opens their devices to testing by hackers to probe for vulnerabilities of the company’s systems. (Robert McMillan and Alexa Corse, The Wall Street Journal)