A new law took effect in the city of Los Angeles on June 8 that prohibits developers, property owners, and their respective principals from making local political contributions while certain planning applications are pending with the City and for 12 months thereafter.

Who does the law apply to?

Any applicant or property owner associated with a “significant planning entitlement” filing in the city of Los Angeles qualifies as a “restricted developer” and is subject to the new restriction. “Significant planning entitlement” is defined broadly, capturing many discretionary applications filed with the Los Angeles Department of City Planning, including zoning issues and general plan amendments.

Continue Reading Los Angeles Bans Political Contributions by Developers and Property Owners

U.S. companies are allowed to make contributions to super PACs, which is exactly what Wheatland Tube, LLC did in this case. However, the decision to contribute involved conversations with a foreign national, and that led to a $975,000 fine to settle charges that the contribution by a U.S. company violated the ban on contributions made by foreign nationals. The fine is the third-largest in the agency’s history and provides an important lesson about the limits of foreign national involvement in decisions by U.S. companies to be involved in the political process.

The complaint concerned contributions totaling $1.75 million to a federal super PAC by U.S. company Wheatland Tube, LLC. Wheatland Tube is wholly owned by a U.S. corporation, Zekelman Industries, Inc. Canadian citizen, Barry Zekelman, is the CEO (as well as an owner) of Zekelman Industries.

Mr. Zekelman acknowledged that he discussed the contributions with Wheatland Tube’s president, a U.S. citizen who also served as general counsel of Zekelman Industries. But Wheatland’s president said that he exercised independent judgment in making the decision to contribute. The FEC rejected this defense, concluding that even if a U.S. citizen has “final decision-making authority or final say” over the making of a contribution, a foreign national – an individual who is not a U.S. citizen or lawfully admitted for permanent residence – may not participate, directly or indirectly, in a decision-making process regarding U.S. election-related spending. The FEC made clear that none of the funds involved appeared to have come from non-U.S. sources; the only violation was Mr. Zekelman’s involvement in the decision to contribute. To that end, the settlement also involved Zekelman Industries, because, even though it is a U.S. company, its executives were involved in the decision to contribute, and they were acting at Mr. Zekelman’s direction.

Continue Reading FEC Imposes Record Fine for Foreign Individual’s Role in U.S. Company’s Otherwise Lawful Contribution to a Super PAC

A flurry of recent advisory opinions from the Department of Justice’s FARA unit raise new questions about how the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) might apply to the nonprofit community. Adding to the uncertainty, these opinions arrive just as momentum is increasing for DOJ to adopt new regulations to clarify and update the pre-World War II law that has seen aggressive enforcement in the last decade.

FARA generally requires agents of foreign principals engaged in certain activities within the United States to influence domestic and foreign policy to register and publicly disclose the relationship and their activities to DOJ. In the last few years, enforcement has ramped up, with multiple indictments in the wake of investigations into foreign interference in the 2016 elections. As a result, organizations with international connections have called for greater guidance on the reach of what is a notoriously vague law. To this end, DOJ began releasing heavily redacted advisory opinions interpreting FARA and its regulations.

A common theme among opinions released in February 2022 is the scope of the so-called academic exemption, one of several exemptions to the law’s registration and reporting requirements. Under this exemption, an agent working on behalf of any kind of foreign principal need not register under FARA if the activity performed on behalf of the principal promotes bona fide religious, scholastic, academic, or scientific pursuits or the fine arts. Nonprofits, including universities and other educational organizations, religious groups, and other charitable organizations, have long relied on this exemption when engaging in activities that may cause them to be considered an “agent” of a foreign entity.

Continue Reading New FARA Advisory Opinions Put Nonprofits on Notice

Federal and state regulators continue to modify their lobbying and campaign finance reporting and enforcement practices and requirements in response to the ongoing upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As states postpone primaries to prevent the spread of coronavirus, agencies have revised reporting deadlines for election-sensitive campaign finance reports. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) announced