Wednesday, February 29, 2012
We just posted about a pay-to-play resolution being considered by the Fulton County, Georgia, Board of Commissioners. That post considers whether the campaign regulation proposed by the county is good policy and further warns about the legal pitfalls encountered in other states adopting similar proposals.
What I didn’t address is the possibility that someone at Fulton County already knows the resolution is legally invalid as an attempt to regulate campaign activity statutorily reserved to the State. The evidence would appear to indicate that they do.
A careful read of Commissioner Emma Darnell’s website announcing the resolution shows that someone appears to have inadvertently attached a privileged legal analysis from the Indiana Attorney General to the Indiana Senate to the end of her proposal concluding that a virtually identical resolution, “if enacted by the City of Fort Wayne, would be invalid as an attempt to regulate, without specific statutory authority, conduct which is regulated by a state agency.” (emphasis added)
One can only speculate as to the reason why such a legal opinion would be attached to the proposed Fulton County resolution. One potential possibility would be that the Commission is already concerned that the resolution as proposed is legally invalid. On the off-chance that Commissioner Darnell’s website changes subsequent to this post, here is a screen-grab of the resolution along with the apparently inadvertently attached legal opinion as it was originally circulated.
Without offering any legal advice upon which anyone should rely, it would appear that Georgia’s constitutional and statutory structure mirrors that which concerned the Indiana Attorney General when he analyzed the Fort Wayne pay-to-play proposal. As is the case in Indiana, the Fulton County proposal clearly seeks to regulate conduct related to campaign financing and contributions. As is the case in Indiana, Georgia’s “Home Rule” provisions limit the power of municipalities to matters not preempted by the General Assembly through general law and not specifically enumerated as matters of state authority under O.C.G.A § 36-35-6. Included among those powers reserved to the state are authority over election procedures and campaign finance rules, which are specifically administered by the St ate Board of Elections and Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission in accordance with the requirements of general law and the state constitution.
In fairness, there are some in Indiana who disagree with the analysis and conclusion reached by Indiana Attorney General Zoeller; including Fort Wayne’s former city attorney. Nonetheless, this would appear to be a good opportunity for Fulton County to slow down, exhale, and reconsider.
We’ve noted before that New Jersey remains the hands-down leader in pay-to-play ordinance proliferation. Until Governor Christie (or someone at the state level) succeeds in implementing a uniform statewide protocol for procurement efforts such as the one proposed here, New Jersey will extend its dubious distinction of having more varietie s of pay-to-play legislation than its Turnpike has exits. (Think I’m kidding? Read on. It’s not even close).
This week saw two such ordinances seek admission to New Jersey’s growing family. First, Montclair, New Jersey proposed an ordinance, which would, if passed, debar contractors and their companies, which have made local political contributions in excess of $300 (and in some instances $500) within the preceding year from contracting with the township. The provision further provides for two relatively punitive provisions for its violation. First, the proposed law makes clear that a violation “shall be a material breach of the terms of a Montclair agreement or contract for Professional Services or Extraordinary Unspecified Services”, which virtually ensures that discovery of inadvertent violations of the ordinance shall be the first order of business for any losing bi dder contemplating a bid protest. Second, making matters worse for the intentional or unintentional violator, contractors discovered to have transgressed (by a disgruntled bid protestor or others) would be barred from bidding on township contracts for four years. Ouch.
A second pay-to-play ordinance is being contemplated by the Bergen County, New Jersey Board of Chosen Freeholders. This ordinance has drawn criticism not for the penalties it imposes but rather for the exemptions it contains (one payer’s “exemption” is another player’s “loophole”). At issue in the Bergen County ordinance is a provision that its penalties and restrictions do not apply to contracts procured via open, competitive bidding (the so-called “fair and open process” exception). While it might strike some (such as myself) that contracts awarded through a transparent and open bidding process do not require the same, strict level of safeguards in the form of complex, and often punitive, restrictions on campaign activity, the “fair and open process” e xception has drawn fire in the township. This clause has drawn the ire of Jersey residents before and shows no sign of abating any time in the near future.
Until New Jersey finds a way to adopt a common regulatory standard throughout the state, it will remain safely ensconced as the clear national leader in multiple, contradictory political procurement regulatory schemes.
While you’re holding your breath for that development, I strongly recommend that any entities or individuals seeking to navigate New Jersey pay-to-play or doing business with the State’s numerous townships to bookmark this extremely handy reference to the State’s numerous (literally over 100) current pay-to-play provisions. I further recommend that anyone seeking to navigate the State’s famous turnpike be on the lookout for these signs.
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Pay-to-Play Disclosure For Government Contractors - UPDATE Strong Reactions and a Not-Too Transparent White House
Notably, that alert observed:
by Stefan C. Passantino and Benjamin P. Keane
Proponents of ethics reform and increased political transparency in Washington don’t often see reform proposals pass through Congress by overwhelming margins, and rarely does anyone bemoan an excess of “political intelligence” in Washington, but that’s exactly what happened on Capitol Hill this past week. While the reform community can’t quite be sure what version of reform will survive the ongoing tug of war between the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, it is clear that those trading on “inside political knowledge” are clearly in the transparency crosshairs.
If you are a consultant, a lobbyist, a law firm, or simply a person with inside knowledge of how Washington thinks, this post pertains to you (but you already know that, of course).
Two relevant reform proposals emerged in the wake of growing public outrage generated by CBS’ “Sixty Minutes” and other reports highlighting the ability of elected officials and their staff to trade on otherwise “non-public” information for personal investment gains. Near universal public outrage is about the only catalyst for Congressional action these days but, despite bipartisan grass-roots calls for reform, no singular solution is ever presented by Congress…. Instead, as many might have predicted, Congress produced two competing visions of what problems need to be addressed and how to go abo ut it.
The Senate set forth its vision last Thursday when it passed the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (“STOCK”) Act of 2012 in a lopsided, 96-3 roll call vote. In addition to tackling the fundamental problem not so subtly referenced in its title, the STOCK Act seeks to implement a number of aggressive ethics rules and revisions to the Lobbying Disclosure Act aimed at further restricting legislative and executive branch conflicts of interest and mandating more transparency in the area of non-lobbyist political consulting.
Most significantly for “Establishment Washington”, included within the Senate proposal’s ban on “insider trading” is a controversial obligation that all “political intelligence” consultants register and disclose their activities as if they were federal lobbyists, and a contentious legislative fix to the poorly-written “honest services fraud” statute that was recently-deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in contexts outside of bribery and kickback schemes.
The language of the Senate bill would reach individuals and entities who engage in “political intelligence contacts” for the purpose of obtaining information from officials of the executive and legislative branches of government “for use in analyzing securities or commodities markets, or in informing investment decisions.” Any organization employing or retaining an individual who engages in one such contact would be required to register and report in the same fashion as if they were a lobbyist-registrant under the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA). As such, they would be subject to the same quarterly and semi-annual disclosure requirements that lobbyist-registrants currently meet.
On a quarterly basis, via a Form LD-2, “political intelligence” registrants would need to disclose the “issue areas” their organizations are discussing, the legislative body or federal agencies they are contacting, the employee(s)/consultant(s) that engage in such contacts, and the total expenses incurred with regard to the intelligence-gathering activities. On a semi-annual basis, via a Form LD-203, political intelligence registrants would also need to disclose political contributions and contributions to events honoring or recognizing covered executive or legislative branch officials. Such contribution reports would be required of both individual consultants and their employing organizations, effectively opening up a new segment of the Washington political class to public scrutiny of its campaign and non-campaign donations. Certain limited exemptions to these disclosure requirements do exist under the Senate version of the bill, but they are not nearly as broad as those carved out under the LDA for current lobbyist-registrants.
Reform and transparency are all well and good, but these requirements proved too much for the House (and legions of the suddenly activated “political intelligencia”) to accept.
Yesterday morning, the House followed the Senate’s lead by passing its own amended version of the STOCK Act by a similarly enormous voting margin – 417 to 2 to be exact – but without the requirement that non-lobbyist “political intelligence” consultants register and report their activities. Likewise, the House version of the bill refrains from amending the honest services fraud statute to allow for its use in non-bribery and non-kickback scenarios.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) articulated the House rationale when he commented that the Senate’s disclosure requirements were something “outside of what we do” and that they were not part of the original purpose of the STOCK Act legislation. Also criticized was the “vagueness” of the political intelligence provisions as pertains to anything that happens in Washington.
Thus, in as sure an effort towards “assisted suicide” as Congress has in its arsenal these days, the amended House STOCK Act calls for a federal study of the “political intelligence” industry for the purpose of making future legislative recommendations and additionally prohibits lawmakers from receiving access to initial public offerings of stock. THAT always results in action, right?
Looking to the future, many believe that the political intelligence requirements of the Senate’s STOCK Act are yet another reformulation of recent efforts attempting to compel increased disclosure, and thus disincentivize, political spending by corporations and wealthy individuals. This blog has discussed similar efforts by the SEC, Congress, the ABA, and the Obama Administration in the past. And as such, it is easy to understand the negative reaction that has come from these House Members and many on K Street. Particularly when coupled with the drastic effect the expansion of registration and reporting requirements would have on business activities in and around Washington, D.C moving forward.
In the end, it will be interesting to see whether the overarching goal of banning “insider trading” by Members of Congress and congressional staff becomes collateral damage in the battle over establishing political intelligence registration and reporting requirements. Stranger things have happened on Capitol Hill. Anyone selling information or access in Washington needs to be closely watching Congress in the coming weeks to see how this tug of war ends.
But you already know that.
By Stefan C. Passantino & Benjamin P. Keane
If it takes three times to make something a habit, it is safe to say that “pay-to-play” legislation in the State of California is getting to be a bit habitual. For the third time in as many years, the California State Legislature has decided to ripple the “pay-to-play” regulatory waters by passing an “urgency” measure designed to clarify and modify the state’s existing restrictions on investment managers and investment placement agents who do business with California’s public employee pension funds, such as the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS). The new piece of legislation, Senate Bill 398 (SB 398), was signed into law on October 9, 2011 by Governor Jerry Brown, and is designed to complement two other recently-passed bills regulating the activities of pension fund investment managers.
The first of those recently-passed bills was Assembly Bill 1584 (AB 1584), which was passed by the state legislature in 2009 as part of an effort to increase transparency in the management of public employee pension fund assets. Specifically, AB 1584 required all California pension funds to adopt disclosure policies that would require the reporting of all campaign contributions and gifts made to pension fund board and staff members by “placement agents” and external investm ent managers. Likewise, the bill mandated that all outside investment managers disclose information regarding the fees they pay to placement agents for the purpose of securing asset management business opportunities with state and local pension funds across California.
The second of those complementary pieces of legislation was Assembly Bill 1743 (AB 1743), which was passed by the state legislature in 2010 as part of an effort to build on the transparency provisions of AB 1584 by explicitly restricting the ability of placement agents and external investment managers to engage in pay-to-play activities associated with California’s public employee pension funds. As this blog highlighted at the time of the bill’s passage, AB 1743 placed a broad swath of placement agents, external investment managers, and external investment management firm staff under an obligation to register as lobbyists with the State of California. In addition, AB 1743 banned these same individuals from making campaign contributions to the elected board members of California’s pension funds and prohibited them from setting up contingency fee arrangements to manage such pension fund assets.
While not as groundbreaking as either AB 1584 or AB1743, SB 398 does build upon each of those bills and make some noteworthy changes to California’s pay-to-play regulatory framework for pension fund placement agents and external investment managers. Specifically, SB 398 modifies existing law in the following ways:
· The bill revises the definition of the terms “external manager”, “placement agent”, “investment fund”, and “investment vehicle” to clarify that almost all managers of securities and assets for California public employee pension funds, whether directly or through managed funds, are subject to the disclosure and lobbyist registration rules put in place by AB 1743 for external managers and placement agents. Despite this fact, however, SB 398 does exempt investment management companies that are registered with the Secur ities and Exchange Commission (SEC) pursuant to the Investment Company Act of 1940 and that make public offerings of their securities from having to comply with the statutory disclosure and registration standards.
· The bill extends AB 1743’s “safe harbor” exemption from state-level lobbyist registration so that it also applies to local-level lobbyist registration requirements. Under AB 1743’s safe harbor provision, investment managers of public pension funds need not pursue state-level lobbying registration if they meet three separate requirements: (1) they are registered with the SEC as investment advisers or broker-dealers; (2) they obtain their pension fund business through competitive bidding processes; and (3) they agree to be subject to the Cal ifornia fiduciary standard imposed on public employee pension fund trustees. In turn, SB 398 extends a similar exemption to investment managers who would otherwise be required to register as local-level lobbyists on account of their management of local public employee pension fund assets.
Since SB 398 was passed by the state legislature and signed by the governor as an “urgency” measure, it is now the active law of the land in California. It remains to be seen, however, what sort of impact it will actually have on the ethics of public pension fund asset management. While its changes will certainly have some effect on investment managers and placement agents doing business with public employee pension funds in California, it will certainly not be as significant an effect as either AB 1584 or AB 1783. After all, individuals working in the pension fund investment management business have to be slowly getting used to California’s growing pay-to-play regulation habit.
In light of this fact, perhaps the most interesting thing to watch in the wake of SB 398’s passage just might be the reaction of California localities to the extension of AB 1743’s safe-harbor exemption. How will localities with a history of tackling pay-to-play issues (like Los Angeles) react to the state’s intrusion into municipal issues such as the regulation of local public employee pension fund management? We shall see if any drama ensues in the Golden State… Stay tuned…
Monday, February 27, 2012
Variable Annuity Contract Thief Gets 10-Year Sentence ? Hartford and Nationwide Life Insurance Companies
Pay-to-Play Disclosure For Government Contractors - UPDATE Strong Reactions and a Not-Too Transparent White House
Notably, that alert observed:
Transparency Advocates Look to the SEC to Accomplish What Congress, The White House, and the IRS To-Date Have Not
By Stefan Passantino & Ben Keane
It has been almost exactly 19 months since the Supreme Court handed down its controversial decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, but the plot continues to thicken as those favoring mandatory corporate disclosure of political activities look for a non-judicial fix to the ruling.
To date, the fields are littered with detritus of failed efforts at identifying a mechanism that compels corporations and wealthy individuals to disclose all exercise of their newly-recognized First Amendment freedoms. This blog has previously reported on failed efforts to mandate such disclosure in Congress, as well as the Obama White House’s proposed executive order circumventing both Congress and the Supreme Court. To achieve these same goals, groups such as Democracy21 and the Campaign Legal Center have promoted changes to the Internal Revenue Code, while the American Bar Association has encouraged Congress to make pertinent amendments to the Lobbying Disclosure Act.
Our latest contestants in this Sisyphean legal drama are a united band of like-minded law school professors looking to utilize the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as a vehicle to counter the perceived negative impact of Citizens United. It appears this group has concluded that the imposing moniker “Committee on Disclosure of Corporate Political Spending” (the “Committee”) sounds more authoritative than “a united band of like-minded law school professors”. I think I agree with them on that.
Under either moniker, this group has filed a petition for rulemaking with the SEC requesting draft regulations that require public companies to disclose to shareholders information regarding the use of corporate resources for political activities. The main gist of its petition – stricter SEC disclosure rules are necessary to ensure that corporate political activities are subject to the appropriate level of shareholder scrutiny in the wake of Citizen’s United. The Committee bases this conclusion on the following contentions:
First, it asserts that there is strong data indicating that public investors have become increasingly interested in receiving information about corporate political spending. To support this statement, the like-minded professors reference a 2006 Mason-Dixon poll indicating that 85% of shareholder respondents held that “there is a lack of transparency surrounding corporate political activity.” They also make note of a FactSet Research Systems analysis that indicates 50 out of 465 shareholder proposals appearing on public-company proxy statements in 2011 involved political spending issues.
Second, the Committee grounds its request in the belief that there is increasing momentum toward political spending transparency in the corporate community, as evidenced by the growing number of large public companies that have voluntarily adopted policies requiring disclosure of their political expenditures. To this point, and perhaps undercutting the urgency of their call to action, the professors highlight a study by the Center for Political Accountability indicating that nearly 60% of S&P 500 companies voluntarily provide shareholders with information regarding corporate spending on political activities.
Third and finally, the Committee bases its request on the idea that stricter SEC regulation of corporate political disclosure will lead to better corporate oversight and accountability mechanisms. At present, the professors assert, shareholders are unable to hold directors and officers accountable when they spend corporate funds on politics in a way that departs from the interests of the company. From the Committee’s point of view, this is due to the fact that public information regarding corporate political activity is out of the average shareholder’s reach (because it is either dispersed among too many regulatory bodies or not gathered at all). By requiring companies to disclose to one central entity (the SEC), it is the professors contention that there will be better information available to shareholders, and in turn, a subsequent improvement in corporate accountability.
Based upon these assertions, the Committee’s petition recommends that the SEC initiate a rulemaking project to adopt a series of regulations that mandate periodic disclosure of corporate political spending. Whether the SEC will take heed of the Committee’s request remains to be seen, but the petition itself has already begun to draw a mix of criticism and support from members of the business, legal, and academic communities.
For example, just a few days after the Committee’s petition was submitted, Keith Paul Bishop – the former California Commissioner of Corporations and an adjunct professor at the Chapman University School of Law – filed a response letter with the SEC refuting the professors’ contentions and requesting that no such rulemaking project be initiated by the Commission. In his response, Bishop contends that the Committee’s proposal will only add to the already extensive public disclosure burden faced by reporting companies and that it is unnecessary in light of the growing trend toward voluntary corporate disclosure. He also argues that it is not the role of the SEC to mandate corporate expenditure on public disclosure of political activity when statistics show that not even a third of 2011 proxy proposals on the subject enjoyed shareholder support.
In contrast, official comments filed by Mark Latham, founder of VoterMedia.org, and executives from the International Corporate Governance Network expressed strong support for the Committee’s request. Specifically, both comments revealed a common respect for the Committee’s belief that the disclosure of corporate political spending is necessary to help stave off abuse or the breach of business ethics by officers and directors.
The debate over who has the better side of the argument will rage on in the coming months as the SEC weighs the proposal and determines whether to take any action. One would have to expect the Obama Administration to lend its support to the Committee’s cause in it’s typical “no fingerprints here, I don’t know what you’re talking about” approach. The response from the corporate community will undoubtedly be more mixed and more direct, but it will be interesting to see what reaction emerges from groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and The Conference Board’s newly formed Committee on Corporate Political Spending (to which, BIAS ALERT, I am an advisor). Stay tuned….
Variable Annuity Contract Thief Gets 10-Year Sentence ? Hartford and Nationwide Life Insurance Companies
The American Bar Association (ABA) has weighed in on a proposal to prohibit federal lobbyists from contributing to, or raising money for, those they seek to influence on Capitol Hill. Yesterday, the ABA’s House of Delegates approved a resolution calling for several significant changes to the Lobbying Disclosure Act – the federal legislation governing lobbyist registration and disclosure.
Of significance to this blog, the resolution calls upon Congress to amend the Act to prohibit lobbyists from working their trade with any member of Congress for whom he or she has raised money in the past two years. The resolution also recommends a refinement of the definition of “lobbyist” to enhance registration and disclosure. With respect to contributions by such lobbyists, the resolution recommends mandating that a federally-registered lobbyist may not:
(a) lobby a member of Congress for whom he or she has engaged in campaign fundraising during the past two years;
(b) engage in campaign fundraising for a member of Congress whom he or she has lobbied during the past two years;
(c) make or solicit financial contributions to the reelection campaign of a member of Congress whom the lobbyist has been retained to lobby for an earmark or other narrow financial benefit; or
(d) enter into a contingent fee contract with a client to lobby for an earmark or other narrow financial benefit for that client.
The proposal is likely to enjoy enhanced stature because of the high caliber, and bi-partisan bona fides of the task force issuing the underlying report recommending the changes this past January. Co-chairs to the ABA task force included former Republican FEC Commissioner Trevor Potter, noted Democratic attorneys Rebecca Gordon and Joseph Sandler, and former Reagan Solicitor General and current Harvard Law School professor Charles Fried. Nothing says “bipartisan” and “mood of America” like agreement between former counsel to Obama for America, John McCain 2008, the Gipper, and Stephen Colbert.
Already, the American League of Lobbyists (ALL) is responding to this shot across its bow with a promise to release a report of its own in response to the ABA’s proposals. ALL President Howard Marlowe has also signaled that the League may embark on an effort kill this portion of the proposal before it gains any traction. As reported in Roll Call, Marlowe acknowledged “the significance of money in the policymaking process” represents a “significant” problem, but then pivots to signal an effort to kill the proposal with the backhanded compliment that while the leagues’ proposal will be similar, “[t]he ABA knows ‘that they are on the short end of the stick constitutionally when they’re doing that, and it’s not likely to pass muster.’” Marlo we also reached out to Politico to characterize the proposed contribution ban as “not practical at all.”
You have to give ALL props for trying, but there would appear to be far less constitutional infirmity in this proposal, which simply prohibits lobbyists from plying their regulated trade with those they have previously supported politically, than we have seen in other attempted bans on free association and expression covered and criticized by this blog in the past.
There is an old legal saying that “good lawyers know the law, great lawyers know the judge.” The ABA’s proposal looks to refine lobbying effectiveness more towards “what you know” and less towards “who owes you.” The ABA has captured the mood of the country with a sensible proposal that is as likely to enjoy as much legislative success as anything trying to make its way through an otherwise dysfunctional legislative environment.
Sunday, February 26, 2012
There is DEFINITELY a New Sheriff in Albany - Governor Cuomo Proposes Sweeping Ethics and Pay-to-Play Reform
Having apparently abandoned all hope of reforming New York’s Congressional delegation (and with a bipartisan ethics All-Star team including Congressmen Anthony Weiner (D-NY), Christopher Lee (R-NY), Eric Massa (D-NY), Charlie Rangel (D-NY) and Vito Fosella (R-NY)), Governor Cuomo has concluded that it's time to focus on New York State ethics and disclosure.
This week, Governor Cuomo announced that he, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver had reached a three-way agreement on a substantial ethics reform package. Initially, and possibly more appropriately, named the “Clean Up Albany Act” in early press releases, the “Public Integrity Reform Act of 2011” proposes sweeping changes across a number of ethical disciplines. The proposed changes include the following:
Financial Disclosures: Financial disclosure statements filed with the new Joint Commission on Public Ethics from elected officials will now be posted on the internet and the prac tice of redacting the monetary values and amounts reported by the filer will be ended. The Act also includes greater and more precise disclosure of financial information by expanding the categories of value used by reporting individuals to disclose the dollar amounts in their financial disclosure statements. The Act requires disclosure of the reporting individual’s and his or her firm’s outside clients and customers doing business with, receiving grants or contracts from, seeking legislation or resolutions from, or involved in cases or proceedings before the State as well as such clients brought to the firm by the public official.
In Albany, this is a controversial measure as a number of legislators – who will now be required – effective July 1, 2012 and upon potential penalty of $40,000 for failing to do so – to disclose the names of “outside clients and customers” – are attorneys who do not wish to disclose the identities of their clients. As one would expect, backlash from legal members of the Assembly was immediate and vociferous.
Increased Access to Who is Appearing Before the State and Why: The Act establishes a new database of any individual or firm that appears in a representative capacity before any state governmental entity.
Additional Disclosures for Registered Lobbyists: The bill expands lobbying disclosure requirements, including the disclosure by lobbyists of any "reportable business relationships" of more than $1,000 with public officials. It also expands the definition of lobbying to include advocacy to affect the "introduction" of legislation or resolutions, a change that will help to ensure that all relevant lobbying activities are regulated by the new Joint Commission.
A New Joint Commission on Public Ethics: This is potentially the most significant development of the newly proposed legislation. The new Joint Commission on Public Ethics will replace the existing Commission on Public Integrity with jurisdiction over all elected state officials and their employees, both executive and legislative, as well as lobbyists. Among other restrictions, no individual will be eligible to serve on the Joint Commission who has within the last three years been a registered lobbyist, a statewide office holder, a legislator, a state commissioner or a political party chairman. Commissioners will be prohibited from making campaign contributions to candidates for elected executive or legislative offices during their tenure.
The Joint Commission will have jurisdiction to investigate potential violations of law by legislators and legislative employees and, if violations are found, issue findings to the Legislative Ethics Commission, which will have jurisdiction to impose penalties. Significantly, if the joint commission reports such a violation to the Legislative Ethics Commission (with full findings of fact and conclusions of law), that report must be made public along with the Legislative Ethics Commission’s disposition of the matter within strict timeframes. The Joint Commission will have jurisdiction to impose penalties on executive employees and lobbyists. Any potential violations of federal or state criminal laws will be referred to the appropriate prosecutor for further action.
This provision has proven controversial almost immediately. In order to initiate an investigation, the new Joint Commission will require that two appointees of the same party in a given branch assent. This means, as many have already pointed out, that in theory the commission could vote 11-3 to take action without anything being done. Similarly, the New York Times noted that “commissioners appointed by the Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, could effectively block investigations of any Democrat in the Legislature, while commissioners appointed by the Senate majority leader, Dean G. Skelos, a Republican, would have similar power over investigations of any Republican.”
Overall, however, it appears that most public interest groups believe that the newly proposed Joint Commission will strike the right balance between unbiased investigation and the prevention of politically motivated “witch hunts” against the party out of power.
Forfeiture of Pensions for Public Officials Convicted of a Felony: Certain public officials who commit crimes related to their public offices may have their pensions reduced or forfeited in a new civil forfeiture proceeding brought by the Attorney General or the prosecutor who handled the conviction of the official.
Clarifying Independent Expenditures For Elections: The Act requires the state board of elections to issue new regulations clarifying disclosure of Independent Expenditures.
Increased Penalties for Violations: The Act substantially increases penalties for violations of the filing requirements and contribution limits in the Election Law, and provides for a special enforcement proceeding in the Supreme Court. The bill also increases penalties for violations of certain provisions of the state’s code of Ethics that prohibits conflicts of interest.
Without a doubt, this legislation represents sweeping change that must be carefully studied, and compliance prepared for, by all doing business in New York.
Now, if only we could get the Governor to introduce a “Clean Up Washington Act”.
Cue the obligatory training montage and iconic theme music…Like its best known fictional sports hero, the City of Philadelphia is looking to pick itself up off the ethical mat and take a first step toward regaining the public trust when it comes to political decision making and government action. Battered and bruised by an ongoing ethics investigations against its former mayor, allegations of improper political activity on the part of city council staff, and a sordid history of pay-to-play corruption, it appears as if Philadelphia and its Board of Ethics are finally working to change the culture of politics in the City of Brotherly Love, one reform idea at a time.
The newest Philly reform effort of note is the city’s lobbyist registration regulation, which was signed into law in June 2010 but will not go into official effect until January 3, 2012. This regulation, labeled as Regulation No. 9 by the Philadelphia Board of Ethics, will for the first time in the city’s history require individuals who attempt to influence legislative or administrative action, or who endeavor to obtain city contracts, to register as lobbyists. In addition, the rule will place significant disclosure requirements on most lobbyists, lobbying firms, and lobbying principals operating in Philadelphia. Specifically, the regulation will require most registrants (those expending more than $2,500 or lobbying more than 20 hours per quarter) to periodically report their lobbying expenditures on gifts, hospitality, transportation, lodging and other associated activities. In addition, the new rule will mandate that registered Philadelphia lobbyists publically divulge basic information about the nature of their lobbying co ntacts and communications with city officials and employees.Beyond these fundamental disclosure requirements, Regulation No. 9 will also prohibit contingency fee lobbying among registrants, mandate lobbyist training, and impose a number of conflict-of-interest rules on city lobbyists. In addition, the regulation will prevent registered city lobbyists from serving as officers for the political committees and political action committees of candidates seeking elected office in Philadelphia. Also, interestingly, the new rule prohibits any registrant from transmitting, uttering, or publishing any false, forged, counterfeit or fictitious communication to a city official or employee for the purpose of influencing legislative or administrative action. How broadly the false statement provision will be enforced moving forward will be interesting to watch. All told, however, Regulation No. 9 appears to take significant steps toward bringing Philadelphia’s municipal lobbying rules up to speed with those in place in other major cities around the county. Enactment of Philadelphia’s lobbyist registration regulation comes on the heels of another noteworthy reform put into place by the city council and Board of Ethics earlier this year. This reform, known as Regulation No. 8., went into effect in late March, and is designed to severely limit improper, partisan political activity on the part of city officers and employees. Like a mini-version of the federal Hatch Act, Regulation 8 seeks to prevent appointed Philadelphia officials and employees from using city resources to engage in partisan political activities. Likewise, the regulation seeks to prohibit city officials and employees from utilizing their status or tit le as a means of influencing or coercing participation in political activities. Along these same lines, Regulation 8 endeavors to prevent improper, partisan political behavior through the following mechanisms: (1) a ban on collecting, receiving, and soliciting political contributions for a partisan purpose; (2) a ban on membership in national, state, and local political party committees; (3) a ban on political campaigning and political management activities; (4) a ban on circulating nomination petitions or papers for political candidates; and (5) a ban on get-out-the-vote participation when such activities are organized or sponsored by a political party, candidate, or partisan political group. In practice, these provisions are designed to preserve a proper separation between impartial policy making and partisan political activity by city government officials and employees … a line that has not always been so clear in Philadelphia. Whether Regulation 8 will accomplish this goal moving forward, however, remains to be seen. This is particularly the case in light of a few of the broad carve-outs contained within the regulation. Exceptions to the political activity restrictions discussed above exist for a wide range of partisan political behavior, including engaging in most political activities organized by civic, community, labor, and professional organizations, and campaigning for or against referendum questions and municipal ordinances. Likewise, the regulation also exempts city council employees from having to comply with several of the aforementioned prohibitions, including the exclusion on partisan political campaigning and manageme nt. It is doubtful that the loopholes in Regulation 8 are broad enough to swallow the entire rule, but how they affect overall compliance is certainly something to keep an eye on in the future. For many, reforms like Regulation No. 8 and Regulation No. 9 might seem like too little, too late on the part of the Philadelphia city government and Board of Ethics. After all, over the past few decades, the City of Brotherly Love has become an environment more synonymous with appearances of cronyism and corruption than transparency and good governance. But in a city known for its comeback stories, I wouldn’t count out meaningful political reform quite yet.