Photo of Derek Lawlor

Derek Lawlor

Derek Lawlor is of counsel in the firm’s Election and Political Law Practice Group. Derek advises corporations, nonprofit organizations, and trade associations on compliance with federal and state lobbying, campaign finance, and government ethics laws.

Clients regularly rely on Derek to assist with their complex questions related to activities and projects that implicate all of these laws. Derek advises federal and state candidates and super PACs on campaign finance and disclosure issues. Derek also represents clients in government investigations and inquiries conducted by the Federal Election Commission, Office of Congressional Ethics, and Congressional Committees and Commissions.

On Thursday, the Senate passed two bills — The Lobbying Disclosure Improvement Act (S. 264) and Disclosing Foreign Influence in Lobbying Act (S. 289) — that attempt to increase disclosure of Foreign Agents Registration Act (“FARA”) activity through amendments to the Lobbying Disclosure Act (“LDA”).  The Senate passed versions of these

Covington annually publishes a detailed survey of state campaign finance, lobbying, and gift rules.  Now, for the first time, Covington is releasing an updated survey that details federal campaign finance, lobbying, and gift rules, in addition to those of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Corporations, trade associations, non-profits, other organizations, and individuals face significant penalties and reputational harm if they violate federal or state laws governing corporate and personal political activities, the registration of lobbyists, lobbying reporting, or the giving of gifts or items of value to government officials or employees. To help organizations and individuals comply with these rules, this detailed survey—now 327 pages—summarizes the campaign finance, lobbying, and gift rules adopted by the federal government, all 50 states, and the District of Columbia.

Newly added federal sections cover the Lobbying Disclosure Act, the Foreign Agents Registration Act, Congressional gift rules, executive branch gift rules, and the Federal Election Campaign Act. Information is provided in a table question and answer format intended to address common questions with practical guidance. Continue Reading Covington Releases Updated Survey of Federal and State Campaign Finance, Lobbying, and Gift Rules (2023 Edition)

For over a decade, Covington has published a detailed survey of the “pay-to-play” laws of all 50 states.  Now, for the first time, Covington is updating the survey with a new section covering federal pay-to-play rules, in addition to those of the 50 states and many cities and counties.  This new section details the federal

The Federal Election Commission has announced contribution limits for 2023-2024.  The new “per election” limits are effective for the 2023-2024 election cycle (November 9, 2022 – November 5, 2024), and the calendar year limits are effective January 1, 2023. The new limits represent the largest election cycle increase since the limits started being indexed for

*This guide was originally published in 2018 and we have updated it periodically.

January 31, 2023, Covington Guide

In 1938, Congress enacted the Foreign Agents Registration Act (“FARA”), requiring “foreign agents” to register with the Attorney General. As amended over the years, it applies broadly to anyone who acts on behalf of a “foreign principal” to, among other things, influence U.S. policy or public opinion. Until recently, it was a backwater of American law—and a very still backwater at that, with just seven prosecutions between 1966 and 2016.

That now has changed. Like the once obscure Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which prosecutors revived from hibernation some years ago, FARA is receiving its close-up. Prosecutors have brought more FARA prosecutions in the last several years than they had pursued in the preceding half century. In-house lawyers have scrambled to bone up on this famously vague criminal statute, at a time when the nation’s tiny bar of experienced FARA lawyers can still hold its meetings in the back of a mini-van.

While cases related to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation are the most salient examples, the renewed focus on foreign agents actually began prior to the Mueller investigation and has continued long after the Special Counsel closed up shop. A significant uptick in audits of registered foreign agents by the FARA Unit (the Department of Justice office that administers FARA), followed by significant staffing changes in the FARA Unit, and then noticeably more aggressive interpretations of the statute in advisory opinions and informal advice from the FARA Unit, all have signaled a sea change.Continue Reading The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA): A Guide for the Perplexed

Trade associations, 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations, other outside groups that pay for
political advertisements, and their donors now have more answers to long-running questions
regarding when donations to these groups are publicly reportable. After postponing
consideration of the issue during its previous meeting, the Federal Election Commission (“FEC”)
approved Wednesday an interim final rule on donor disclosure. The interim rule amends the
federal regulations that describe when outside groups that pay for independent expenditures–
advertisements that expressly advocate the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate–
must publicly disclose on FEC reports the names of their donors. The amended rule will take
effect 30 legislative days after the FEC transmits the new rule to Congress, which the FEC
anticipates will be September 30, 2022.

The interim rule brings the FEC’s regulations into harmony with a 2018 court decision that
invalidated a long-standing regulation, 11 C.F.R. § 109.10(e)(1)(vi), requiring outside groups to
disclose only those donors who contributed at least $200 to the outside group “for the purpose
of furthering the reported independent expenditure.” The interim final rule strikes the regulation
entirely. However, the FEC added a note to 11 C.F.R. § 109.10(e)(1) that clarifies the remaining
portions of the regulation and the relevant statute are still in effect.

In the wake of the 2018 decision, many questions remained about when these groups must
disclose donor names. The revised regulation itself was not meant to answer those questions; it
was simply meant to harmonize regulations on the books with existing court decisions. Some of
these questions were answered by an unusual guidance document the Commission posted to
its website after the 2018 decision. That guidance, which remains in effect, provides that groups
(other than political committees) that pay for independent expenditures must disclose the names
of donors of over $200 who made contributions “earmarked for political purposes” during the
reporting period.Continue Reading FEC Commissioners Issue New Guidanceon Donor Disclosure for Groups Paying forPolitical Advertisements

Trade associations, 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations, other outside groups that pay for political advertisements, and their donors now have more answers to long-running questions regarding when donations to these groups are publicly reportable.  After postponing consideration of the issue during its previous meeting, the Federal Election Commission (“FEC”) approved Wednesday an interim final rule on donor disclosure.  The interim rule amends the federal regulations that describe when outside groups that pay for independent expenditures — advertisements that expressly advocate the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate — must publicly disclose on FEC reports the names of their donors.  The amended rule will take effect 30 legislative days after the FEC transmits the new rule to Congress, which the FEC anticipates will be September 30, 2022.

The interim rule brings the FEC’s regulations into harmony with a 2018 court decision that invalidated a long-standing regulation, 11 C.F.R. § 109.10(e)(1)(vi), requiring outside groups to disclose only those donors who contributed at least $200 to the outside group “for the purpose of furthering the reported independent expenditure.”  The interim final rule strikes the regulation entirely.  However, the FEC added a note to 11 C.F.R. § 109.10(e)(1) that clarifies the remaining portions of the regulation and the relevant statute are still in effect.

In the wake of the 2018 decision, many questions remained about when these groups must disclose donor names.  The revised regulation itself was not meant to answer those questions; it was simply meant to harmonize regulations on the books with existing court decisions.  Some of these questions were answered by an unusual guidance document the Commission posted to its website after the 2018 decision.  That guidance, which remains in effect, provides that groups (other than political committees) that pay for independent expenditures must disclose the names of donors of over $200 who made contributions “earmarked for political purposes” during the reporting period.

But when is a contribution “earmarked for political purposes”?  If a donor provides funds for get-out-the-vote activities, is that donation “earmarked for political purposes”?  If a donor makes a contribution following a presentation from an outside group describing its political activities, is the donation reportable?  What about a donation intended to further a hard-hitting issue advertisement whose purpose, at least in part, is to defeat a particular candidate?  These questions are all left unaddressed in the interim final rule and the website guidance.Continue Reading FEC Commissioners Issue New Guidance on Donor Disclosure for Groups Paying for Political Advertisements

Late last week, the Supreme Court indicated that it intends to review a challenge by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) to federal limits on the use of post-election contributions to repay pre-election loans that candidates make to their own campaigns.  This follows an earlier three-judge district court decision that struck down those limits as unconstitutional under

With a growing chorus of support across the progressive landscape, the For the People Act of 2021 has emerged as a key legislative priority for congressional Democrats in the 117th Congress. Envisioned as a “transformational anti-corruption and clean elections reform package,” the bill would enact sweeping changes to federal election laws along with important changes