The Federal Election Commission (FEC) officially dipped its toes into the ongoing national debate around artificial intelligence (AI) regulation, publishing a Federal Register notice seeking comment on a petition submitted by Public Citizen to initiate a rulemaking to clarify that the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) prohibits deceptive AI-generated campaign advertisements. The Commission unanimously approved
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)
What happens in Arkansas does not stay in Arkansas. Or at least not when federal prosecutors from the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section get involved.
A recent sentencing from Arkansas highlights the many options in DOJ’s toolkit to pursue “state-level” misconduct involving public officials. In the case of former state senator Jeremy Hutchinson, DOJ obtained a “global” guilty plea for misconduct charged in three separate district courts. The court sentenced Hutchinson to 46 months incarceration.
According to the Government’s sentencing memorandum, Hutchinson accepted over $157,500 from the owner of an orthodontic clinic in exchange for advancing favorable legislation to deregulate the state dental industry. The bribes masqueraded as payment for legal retainers, according to the Plea Agreement. In addition, Hutchinson:
commingled campaign contributions and donations with his own personal funds and misappropriated and converted campaign funds for his own personal use, including, but not limited to, using campaign funds for a vacation, hotel stay, travel expenses, groceries, a gym membership, and jewelry.
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…
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?
The California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) adopted on Thursday higher political contribution limits and public officer gift limits for the 2023-2024 political cycle. The new limits take effect on January 1, 2023.
Under the new limits, an individual, business entity, or committee/PAC can contribute $5,500 per election to candidates for state legislature, up from $4,900. This means that individuals may generally give $11,000 per candidate per cycle, because the primary and general are considered separate elections. The same limit also applies to a candidate for local office unless the locality has adopted its own limits. The limit on contributions from an individual, business entity, or committee/PAC to a candidate for governor also increased, from $32,400 to $36,400 per election. The limit on contributions to PACs that contribute to candidates increased from $8,100 to $9,100 per year, though PACs can also have a separate, noncontribution account with no limit.
The following chart has additional details on the limits for individuals in 2023 and 2024:
An individual, business entity, or committee/PAC may contribute to…
|Lt. Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, Treasurer, Controller, Supt. of Public Instruction, Insurance Commissioner, and Board of Equalization
|Senate and Assembly
|City and County Candidates if no locally enacted limit
|Committee (PAC), other than a Political Party, that contributes to State Candidates
|per calendar year
|Political Party Account for State Candidates
|per calendar year
|Small Contributor Committee
|per calendar year
|Committee Non-Contribution Account
|per calendar year
The District of Columbia’s new pay-to-play law will take effect on November 9, 2022. As we blogged about here, the Campaign Finance Reform Amendment Act of 2018 prohibits certain campaign contributions by contractors doing or seeking to do business with the D.C. government. This prohibition applies to entities holding or seeking contracts worth an…
Perhaps no citation has been more favored in Federal Election Commission (“FEC”) decisions over the past decade than Heckler v. Chaney, 470 U.S. 821 (1985), a Supreme Court decision that gives an agency broad discretion over which enforcement cases to pursue. But there is a category of cases where the FEC is not employing Heckler when it should: Cases where the constitutional support for the statute no longer exists. See Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington v. Federal Election Commission, 993 F.3d 880, 884 (D.C. Cir. 2021) (“New Models”); see also Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington v. American Action Network, No. 18-CV-945, 2022 WL 612655, at *2 (D.D.C. Mar. 2, 2022) (holding that an FEC dismissal that was supported by “constitutional doubts” that “militate in favor of cautious exercise of our prosecutorial discretion” was judicially unreviewable under Chaney).
The FEC continues to pursue enforcement penalties in several categories of cases where there is almost no chance that a majority of the Supreme Court would find the statute constitutional. This resembles a sort of regulatory Russian Roulette, where the agency pursues enforcement actions until it finds a respondent that is willing to fully litigate the constitutional issues, mostly likely in a case with plaintiff-friendly facts. The risk for the agency is that when one of these cases eventually comes before the Supreme Court, the justices may use a hammer, rather than a scalpel, in striking down the law.
In two areas in particular, the FEC should exercise its prosecutorial discretion to decline to pursue cases based on statutes and regulations of dubious constitutionality.
A Person Cannot Corrupt His or Her Spouse With a Campaign Contribution, No Matter How Large.
Currently, the FEC follows the Supreme Court’s decision in 1976 to rather tentatively uphold the application of the contribution limits to contributions from intimate family members in the same way as contributions from lobbyists and corporate and union PACs. But the law has evolved, and the Supreme Court has since been clear that generally the only legitimate interest the contribution limits play is to prevent quid pro quo corruption or its appearance. It is nearly impossible to argue that a spouse who gives a contribution over $2,900 to his or her candidate/spouse presents the risk of quid pro quo corruption. Continue Reading Picking Battles: The FEC and the Constitution
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
In the digital age, it has become common to accuse opponents of propping up their online presence through paying influencers, buying followers or likes, or of being supported by bots. A California law new this year is looking to shed light on at least some of that activity.
The California Fair Political Practices Commission recently…