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Elizabeth Upton is a member of the Election and Political Law Practice Group in the Washington, DC office, representing and counseling corporate, political, and individual clients in matters before government agencies and Congress. Elizabeth defends clients in high-profile congressional investigations before House and Senate Committees, as well as in criminal and civil government investigations before the Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice and the Federal Election Commission. She has experience assisting companies in responding to formal and informal inquiries, requests, and subpoenas for documents, information, and testimony, and has experience preparing senior executives to testify before congressional committees. Prior to joining Covington, Elizabeth served as a Law Clerk to the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI).

Elizabeth also advises companies, PACs, nonprofits, and individuals on the full range of political law compliance and enforcement matters involving federal election, campaign finance, lobbying, and government ethics laws, as well as the election and political laws of states and municipalities across the country.

*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

The Federal Election Commission (“FEC”) recently answered a common question for those involved in operating a federal PAC:  When is the treasurer personally liable for violations of the rules on recordkeeping and reporting?  In doing so, the FEC highlighted the importance of external oversight of PAC operations, and the value of periodic audits of the PAC that can identify problems before they grow. 

The case involved a non-connected PAC affiliated with the Ute Indian Tribe (“Tribe”).  The Tribe hired a consultant who claimed extensive knowledge of the FEC’s intricate rules.  The Tribe allowed the PAC to operate outside its routine financial controls because the consultant told them the PAC would operate under the FEC’s recordkeeping and reporting system.    

Trouble began immediately, with the FEC’s Reports Analysis Division flagging problems with 75% of the reports the PAC filed in the three years after it began receiving funds in 2016.  As one measure of visible distress, the PAC amended one report five times.  Because no one at the Tribe was overseeing the PAC’s correspondence with the FEC—which were available on the FEC website—the Tribe was unaware of these warning signs.  The volume and magnitude of the filing errors ultimately triggered an FEC audit, which the treasurer also concealed from the Tribe, according to the complaint.

Continue Reading When is a Treasurer Personally Liable for PAC Violations?

In one of the most watched campaign finance disclosure enforcement cases, last week, the Washington State Supreme Court upheld a trial court’s finding that a trade association intentionally failed to register and report contributions and expenditures in opposition to a ballot initiative that would have required labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food.  In