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New Campaign Finance, Lobbying, and Ethics Laws Take Effect

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.

  • Federal:

    • The FEC will increase the federal individual contribution limits to candidates and party committees for the 2015-2016 election cycle, but has not yet set those new limits.

    • In December, Congress created new accounts controlled by party committees that may accept large contributions from individual and PAC donors.

  • Arkansas: In November, Arkansas banned corporate and union contributions to candidates and prohibited most lobbyist gifts to officials, among other changes.

  • Arizona: On December 5, 2014, a federal court ruled Arizona’s definition of “political committee” unconstitutional.  The state is seeking to stay this ruling pending appeal.  If the court does not stay its ruling, the state’s campaign finance laws will be thrown into disarray.

  • California:

    • Holding fundraisers at the home of a lobbyist is prohibited if the lobbyist is registered to lobby the candidate or office the candidate seeks.  Cal. Gov’t Code §§ 82015, 85702.

    • Contribution and gift limits are increased for inflation.  2 Cal. Code Regs. §§ 18545(a), 18940.2.  Corporations, PACs, and individuals may now contribute up to $4,200 per election to legislative candidates, $28,200 per election to gubernatorial candidates, and $7,000 per election to other statewide candidates.

    • A committee that pays a spokesperson $5,000 or more to appear in advertising regarding a ballot measure, or makes any payment to a spokesperson if that person is held up as having a specialized occupation, must file special disclosures with the state.  Cal. Gov’t Code § 84511.

  • Delaware:

    • Corporations and other entities that give more than $100 in the aggregate per election period to a political committee must disclose the name of a “responsible party.”  Del. Code Ann. tit. 115, § 8012(e).  This includes an officer, director, partner, or other individual with control over the donor’s activities.  Id.

    • Lobbyists who file their financial reports late now must pay a fine of $25 plus $10 for each additional day late, up to $100 maximum.  Id. tit. 29, § 5838.

  • DC:  Effective January 31, many new changes take effect.

    • Disclosure by PACs and independent expenditure committees is increased, and must include the identity of significant “bundlers.”

    • Persons making independent expenditures must make new disclosures.

    • Committee treasurers must take a training course.

    • Affiliated entities will be treated as a single unit under the contribution limits, closing the so-called “LLC loophole.”

  • Florida:

    • Online lobbyist registration is now available.

    • Lobbyists before water management districts must follow new, specialized rules.  Fla. Stat. § 112.3261.

  • Illinois:

    • Contribution limits are increased for inflation.  An individual may now contribute $5,400, a corporation $10,800, and a PAC $53,900 per candidate per election cycle.

    • A new executive order, which we blogged about here, makes changes to the state’s gift and lobbying laws.

  • Louisiana: Candidate and political committees must make more detailed explanations of their expenditures.  La. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 18:1491.7, :1495.5.

  • Maine:  Beginning with this legislature, legislators must wait for a one year “cooling-off period” after the end of their term before registering as a lobbyist.  Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 1, § 1024.

  • Maryland:

    • “Contribution” now explicitly includes coordinated expenditures.  Md. Code Ann., Elec. Law § 1-101.

    • Contribution limits to a campaign finance entity from individuals and most other entities are increased from $4,000 to $6,000 per election cycle.  Id. § 13-226.

    • Contributions from affiliated entities are aggregated for the purpose of the contribution limits, closing the “LLC loophole.”  Id.

    • PACs organized in states other than Maryland must follow special registration and reporting requirements if they transfer $6,000 or more into state campaign finance entities.  Id. § 13-301.

    • Persons making independent expenditures or electioneering communications of $5,000 or more in an election cycle must file special registrations and reports of their activities.  Id. § 13-306, -307, -309.1.

    • An IRS § 501(c)(4) and (c)(6) organization that makes contributions or donations  of $6,000 or more in an election cycle with the express purpose of causing the recipient to make a disbursement in Maryland must register and make reports  of the five donors who gave it the most money to influence an election in the one year period before the report.  Id. § 13-309.2.

  • Massachusetts:

    • Contribution limits for individuals are increased to $1,000 per candidate per year.  Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 55 § 7A.

    • The state Office of Campaign & Political Finance now has jurisdiction over all municipal campaign finance activity in the state.  Id. § 18.

    • PACs must adhere to a new, stricter filing system that requires more frequent and more detailed reporting.  Id. § 19.

    • Committee treasurers must take an online training course within 30 days of accepting the position and every two years thereafter.  Id. § 5C.

  • New York State: Lobbyist training mandated in 2011 is now available and must be completed by all lobbyists once every three years according to this schedule.

  • North Carolina:  Contribution limits from individuals, political committees, and other entities to candidates or other committees are increased for inflation to $5,100 for the 2015-2016 cycle.

  • Oklahoma:

    • Oklahoma significantly revised both its lobbying and campaign finance rules, with highlights below.

    • Federal PACs making contributions to candidates in Oklahoma do not need to register.  Okla. Ethics Comm’n r. 2.98.  They may meet their obligations by listing contributions on FEC reports.  Id.

    • There are now three new types of PACs:

      • Unlimited committees, which are somewhat similar to Super PACs and which support independent expenditures, electioneering communications, or ballot measures;

      • limited committees, which is what the standard PAC is now called; and

      • new or small limited committees, which have lower contribution limits than regular committees.  Okla. Stat. tit. 21, § 187.

    • Defines private sector lobbyists as an “executive” lobbyist, a “legislative” lobbyist, or both, depending on who they lobby.  Okla. Stat. tit. 74, § 4249.

    • Lobbyists and lobbyist principals may generally provide state officials nothing of value.  Okla. Ethics Comm’n r. 5.6.  There are some exceptions, but fewer than before, and most permissible gifts must be reported.  Id. rr. 5.7-5.18.

  • Vermont: Contribution limits are increased.  Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 17, § 2941.

    • Limits to candidates for State Representative are increased to $1,000 per individual, entity, or political committee per election cycle.

    • Limits to candidates for State Senator are increased to $1,500 per individual, entity, or political committee per election cycle.

    • Limits to candidates for statewide office are increased to $4,000 per individual, entity, or political committee per election cycle.

    • Limits to political committees are increased to $4,000 per individual, entity, or political committee per election cycle.

    • Limits to political parties are increased to $10,000 per individual, entity, or political committee per election cycle.

  • Wyoming:

    • Contribution limits  from individuals to statewide candidates increased to $2,500 per election and for non-statewide candidates to $1,500 per election.  Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 22-25-102.

    • PACs may not contribute more than $7,500 per statewide candidate per election or $3,000 per non-statewide candidate per election.  Id.

    • Contributions to a PAC that are earmarked for a particular candidate are treated as a contribution to that candidate and subject to the candidate limits.  Id.

    • Contributions for the general election may not be given or received before the primary.  Id.

    • Donors making automatic contributions, such as via payroll deduction, no longer need to reauthorize the deduction ever year.  Id.

  • Washington:  Legislators may only accept 12 meals from lobbyists per year that do not fall within some other exception to the gift rules.  Wash. Leg. Ethics Bd. r. 5.

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