With an election year just weeks away, there are steps you can take now to boost the effectiveness of your government affairs program, and help your organization and its principals avoid legal trouble. This is a particularly good time to fill the coffers of your PAC, develop a political contribution plan for next year, evaluate lobbying registrations and renewals, and begin preparing for the many campaign and lobbying reports due in January.
The start of an election year is also an ideal time for a compliance audit. If you have not conducted a compliance audit in some time, you may no longer be in compliance with major changes in campaign finance and lobbying laws at the federal and state levels.
Here are a few things to consider:
Maximize Fundraising. The contribution limit for federal PACs, which is $5,000 per calendar year, resets on January 1, 2018. As such, there is a short window remaining to encourage your largest donors to max out for 2017, while retaining the ability to solicit those donors for another $5,000 next year.
Finalize 2017 Contributions. A number of states, such as Illinois and California, also reset contribution limits or reporting thresholds on January 1, 2018. PACs and other organizations hoping to maximize contributions to state candidates or committees should act as soon as possible to ensure contributions are received by the recipient committees before the end of the year. Additionally, many jurisdictions bar contributions at the beginning of legislative sessions. The next several weeks may be your last opportunity to contribute to certain candidates until well into next year.
Create a Political Contribution Plan. Consider creating a political contribution plan and timeline for making contributions. This will help you comply with contribution limits and legislative session blackouts. State and local government contractors should also be mindful of pay-to-play laws, which bar contractors, as well as their officers, directors, and key employees, from making certain political contributions, and impose reporting requirements. Our 2017 blog post on pay-to-play laws provides more detail about these requirements.
Evaluate Lobbying Registrations. Lobbyist and lobbyist employer registrations will expire in a number of jurisdictions at the end of the year. Renewal and first-time registration requirements vary by state, and careful consideration should be paid to the legal and political implications associated with your decision to either renew your registration or allow it to lapse. Companies and nonprofits also need to ask themselves the question, “Is this considered lobbying?” States and localities treat a wide range of activities as “lobbying,” including procurement activity, grassroots communications, and efforts to cultivate goodwill.
Check for Changes in Laws. State campaign finance and lobbying laws change frequently, and a number of state election boards are in the process of rewriting regulations. Be alert for changes in jurisdictions where you are or plan to be active.
Consider Reporting Options for your Federal PAC. In an election year, federal PAC filers may choose to file reports either monthly or quarterly. This election may only be changed once over the course of the year. For active PACs, monthly reporting can help make recordkeeping and reconciliation easier, and allow for PACs to spot and promptly correct errors. Monthly filers also are relieved of the obligation to file “pre-primary” reports that fill in the gaps between the close of books on the quarterly reports and 20 days before the relevant primary. Because primary dates vary from state to state, a PAC that contributes to candidates in multiple states may have to monitor and file several pre-primary reports.
Begin Compiling Information for Year-End Reports. January is a busy month for filing lobbying and campaign finance reports. Most states require year-end or fourth quarter disclosure reports for PACs and lobbying organizations, and some states require donor reports. For example, in California, major donor reports must be filed by individuals or entities that have contributed more than $10,000 to candidates and committees.
Taking advantage of these next few weeks will help your organization start the year on the right foot. If you need assistance filing reports or better understanding laws applicable to you and your organization, the Venable Political Law Practice can be of assistance.