Summary of New Campaign Finance, Ethics & Lobbying Laws Nationwide

National Law Review: “The New Year brings with it new laws governing campaign finance, lobbying, and ethics. Below we highlight some of the major state and federal laws that took effect on or around January 1. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list, but highlights some of the most significant changes that are new for 2015. In addition to the new laws outlined below, many state legislative sessions are starting up. Some states prohibit campaign finance activity during the session, so proceed with caution.”

Outside Spending Used to Criticize CT’s Public Financing Program

Courant: “Connecticut’s candidates for governor spent close to $13 million in public campaign financing in this past election. Outside ‘independent’ special interests spent an estimated $17 million on the same race, a fact critics say is proof the system is broken beyond repair.”

At least a dozen bills already have been filed by Republicans in the 2015 General Assembly to repeal or reform Connecticut’s once-heralded Citizen’s Election Program. But the fate of the bills proposed by the Republicans is uncertain in a Democrat-controlled legislature.”

“The State Elections Enforcement Commission, the agency that runs the public financing system, is planning to meet Tuesday to discuss its own reform proposals.”

“‘It’s safe to say we will oppose any proposals to eliminate or weaken the program,’ said Joshua Foley, an SEEC attorney. Foley said reforms the commission will consider are likely to include those that strengthen controls over the outside ‘dark’ money that flooded into Connecticut’s 2014 governor’s race.”

CA City Council to Vote on Expanding Ethics Commission’s Power

East Bay Express: “The second prong of a plan by city Councilmember Dan Kalb to increase transparency and accountability in City Hall calls for the council to approve the Oakland Government Ethics Act. The act would give the ethics commission the power to enforce a new, sweeping set of ethics rules in the city. The council is scheduled to hold a final vote on the act on December 9.

“As strange as it sounds, the Oakland Public Ethics Commission (PEC), created by city voters in 1996, has never had the authority to actually enforce ethics rules, in part because Oakland didn’t have a comprehensive set of regulations like other cities do. Instead, the PEC has focused mostly on political campaign reporting violations, local open-meeting violations, and other issues. However, the PEC lacked the staff and authority to actually do anything about those violations when it found evidence of them.

“Measure CC, a city charter amendment, changed that aspect of the PEC. It mandated that the city council, beginning on July 1 of next year, increase the PEC’s budget from about $300,000 a year to about $750,000 a year so that the commission can hire four additional full-time staffers. Currently, the PEC only has a budget for two full-time staffers — not enough to effectively investigate campaign finance and open-meeting laws.”

“But not included in Measure CC was a comprehensive set of ethics rules. And that’s where the Oakland Government Ethics Act comes in. Drafted by Kalb and a working group of good-government advocates and co-sponsored by City Attorney Barbara Parker, the act would give the PEC the power to enforce new rules that ban so-called revolving-door and pay-to-play politics and limit the value of gifts that politicians can receive from lobbyists and other special interests.”

Editorial: Part Time Work Worsens NJ Legislature’s Pay to Play Culture, Time to Make Full Time

Auburn Pub; “Despite all that, there’s a valid argument for saying that it may time to adjust state lawmaker base pay. They last got a raise in 1999, and if we’re looking to get the best and brightest people interested in this form of public service, it could be time for an adjustment.

‘With this chatter about a raise, there have also been suggestions about trade-offs. Legislators may get a raise if they agree to increase minimum wage or if they agree to adjust other state executive branch leadership salaries.

“We’re against such horse trading because there’s really a much more important compromise lawmakers should be making if they want greater paychecks from the taxpayers. They should be giving up their outside income and agree to make the job of state legislator officially a full-time job.

‘The much-maligned Moreland Commission that was created by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to explore government corruption did hit on at least one major problem with Albany. The conflicts created by the outside income elected lawmakers take in are a huge driver of the ‘pay to play’ culture in the state Capitol.

“The New York Public Interest Research Group did an analysis of financial disclosure forms and found that in 2012, state lawmakers had median income of $137,000 to $172,000. And many of the sources of that income had some form of business, direct or indirect, with the state.”

MD Board Proposes Restricting Campaign Fund Uses

Baltimore Sun: “New rules proposed by the State Board of Elections would forbid candidates from dipping into their political funds to pay for such things as foreign travel, tuition or mounting a legal defense to charges unrelated to the campaign.”

“The new election rules address questions such as how campaign contributions may be raised and spent. DeMarinis said many of them reflect long-standing “guidance” letters from the attorney general’s office. He said the Office of the State Prosecutor advised him that converting that advice into regulations would make it easier to enforce election laws.

“In addition to the ban on some uses of campaign funds, the board is proposing explicit rules on what actions violate the state’s longtime ban on legislators and statewide elected officials raising money during the General Assembly session.”

NJ State Senator Pushes Plan to Limit Contributions from Contractors, Local Parties

Politicker NJ: “Senator Tom Kean, R-21, has announced that pursuant to Senate Rule 12:6, he has filed a 24-hour notice to remove Senate Bill 287, which would limit campaign contributions by contractors and political parties, from the State Government Committee for a vote in the full Senate.”

“S-287 restricts contributions from public contractors, and county and municipal political party committees.”

Bloomberg View Calls for Obama, IRS to Change Rules to Distinguish Political Activities

Bloomberg View: “President Barack Obama, who’s pretty good with words himself, could easily order the IRS to change its language. That would help curb the influence of dark money, political contributions that are shielded from public view, which amounted to some $200 million in 2014 – most of it spent on negative advertisements.”

“The IRS has been studying how to tighten its rules for nearly a year and is expected to release a proposal early in 2015. Returning to the statute’s “exclusively” standard is not a feasible solution: That would eliminate tax exemptions for nearly all large nonprofit organizations, from hospitals to universities. So the goal must be a rule that prohibits such organizations from engaging in campaign-related activity.”

“That’s no easy task, but it can be done. Obama should direct the IRS commissioner, John Koskinen, to draw bright lines between social-welfare organizations and political committees, so that the latter cannot dress up as the former. This also would allow the IRS to spend less time policing political spending, work for which it is spectacularly ill-suited.”