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gift-1420830_640With a new administration coming into office, there will be many changes in Washington. One less noticed change comes from the U.S. Office of Government Ethics (OGE) and will affect how you interact with new executive branch appointees and those career employees who stay on from the prior administration.

OGE recently published amendments to the executive branch gift rules, which took effect on January 1, 2017. The amendments affect some of the most common ways in which individuals and organizations engage with federal officials and employees, including receptions, widely attended gatherings, and gifts based on a family or personal relationship.

Here are some of the most significant changes:

Continue Reading Major Changes in Gift Rules Greet Trump Administration

By White House/Chuck Kennedy (White House (P090612CK-0875)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Thinking about sponsoring or hosting an event at the presidential nominating conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia?  Or considering giving free items to attendees?

Venable’s client alert summarizes recent guidance on convention events from the House and Senate ethics committees, and discusses both new and old ways that the national parties and the host cities are raising money to pay for the conventions.

Our Political Law Group has extensive experience advising companies, trade associations, and nonprofits in navigating the gift rules that apply to convention events, and making political contributions.

 

nomoneyThe Federal Election Commission recently concluded an investigation into contributions from a Canadian citizen to a candidate for governor. Why would the FEC investigate a state contribution? Because the ban on contributions from foreign nationals applies not just to federal candidates, but to state and local candidates as well.

The FEC dismissed the case because the state candidate did not know the contributions were illegal. In fact, he had checked with state election officials, who told him there was no issue under state law. There wasn’t, but there was an issue under federal law.

Foreign nationals are individuals who are not U.S. citizens or non-citizens who do not have permanent resident (i.e., green card) status, as well as any companies incorporated, organized, or located abroad. U.S. citizens living in other countries are permitted to contribute.

Continue Reading Don’t Forget: Recent FEC Case Is a Reminder That Federal Law Prohibits Contributions at the State and Local Levels Too

As we get closer and closer to the elections, candidates will be working harder and harder to raise money. One tried and true method is the fundraiser: an individual agrees to put together an event where his or her closest friends will make substantial contributions to the candidate, attend a breakfast, lunch, cocktails, or dinner, meet the candidate, and, if they contribute enough, get a picture with the candidate. While this may seem simple and straightforward, companies often get into trouble when they use their corporate resources to help put on fundraisers.

The largest fine in FEC history ($3.8 million) came as a result of corporate facilitation back in 2006. Others have followed. The FEC just unveiled an enforcement case involving a Nevada architectural firm that paid a substantial fine for using corporate resources to hold a fundraiser. The settlement provides a good example of how not to fundraise for federal candidates.  Continue Reading Hosting Fundraisers: One Company’s Example of How Not to Do it

presentThe Office of Government Ethics (OGE) has proposed revisions to the gift rules for executive branch employees. Although some of the proposed changes are meant to bring clarity without changing the rules’ substance, several changes will result in new restrictions on the “gifts” that flow from day-to-day interactions companies and associations have with officials. Overall, the changes do little to bring further clarity, and do a lot to cloud the waters of when certain gifts are permissible.

It is important to remember that a gift is broadly defined to include anything of value. Most entities with any business or policy issue before an agency are considered prohibited sources, and may not give any gifts unless an exemption applies. Thus, attendance at events, food and drink, attendance at receptions, and commemorative plaques are all considered to be gifts subject to restrictions on whether executive branch employees may accept them.  Continue Reading The Office of Government Ethics Proposes Changes to the Gift Rules: How the Changes Could Limit Interaction With Government Officials

Earlier this month, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe signed into law a new bill making significant changes to Virginia’s lobbying and gift laws. The critical changes made by this bill, Senate Bill No. 1424, will become effective on January 1, 2016. Many of the revisions focus on gift reform, but the bill also contains important changes affecting lobbying as well as pay-to-play compliance.  Continue Reading Virginia Tightens the Reins: Major Lobbying and Gift Law Changes to Take Effect in 2016

deadlineFirst quarter lobbying disclosure reports are due on Monday, April 20. This report, the LD-2, is where organizations report their expenses for federal lobbying efforts. The first quarter of a year is often a good time to evaluate your organization’s recordkeeping and processes for filling out the report and to determine what changes may need to be made. Keep in mind these key aspects of preparing the report:  Continue Reading First Quarter LD-2 Reports Deadline Approaching

moneyhandsOver the last few years, the courts have loosened campaign finance laws and the agency charged with enforcing them is frequently gridlocked. However, one campaign finance violation that can still get you in big trouble is reimbursing contributions, particularly when the reimbursing is done by a corporation.

In settling a recent enforcement matter involving the Fiesta Bowl, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) obtained fines of nearly $100,000 from the corporation and the CEO and restitution by the CEO of over $60,000. A parallel criminal case resulted in guilty pleas that landed the former CEO in jail for eight months, community service for one executive, and two years of probation for another (who would have also faced a $15,000 penalty from the FEC, but she was able to demonstrate an inability to pay).

The case is not really new – the settlements occurred in 2012 and 2013 – and the FEC has yet to release the documents on its website, but the organization that filed the complaint with the FEC made them available to the public. The documents show a scheme that the FEC says included:

Continue Reading The Big No: Reimbursing Contributions

As we described in a January 16 post, moments after being sworn in as Virginia’s 72nd governor on January 11, Governor McAuliffe signed an executive order imposing new gift restrictions on Executive Branch employees and officers and their immediate family members. The Executive Order applies only to individuals that work in Virginia’s Executive Branch. As expected, Virginia’s legislators have followed suit and have enacted their own ethics reform rules for members of the legislature and certain state and local officials.

The new law limits the value of gifts covered officials may solicit or accept from lobbyists, lobbyist principals, and government contractors to $250 annually from a single source (the law does not prohibit giving the gift, just receiving the gift). Although touted by the legislature as sweeping ethics reform, the new law has garnered significant attention not on what it covers, but what it does not cover.

First, the rules do not limit gifts from most individuals or groups. Only gifts from registered lobbyists, entities that retain or employ lobbyists, and government contractors are restricted. Personal gifts from corporate executives whose companies lobby state legislators or have government contracts are not affected. Notably, Governor McAuliffe’s Executive Order sweeps more broadly by barring gifts from lobbyists and the organizations that retain them, and limiting gifts from others.

TitleSecond, the $250 limit does not apply to “intangible gifts,” such as entertainment, hospitality, a ticket, admission, transportation, lodgings, and meals. Although many state ethics rules include exemptions allowing officials to participate in meetings, conferences, and other events at the expense of private parties, Virginia’s categorical exclusion of intangible gifts is unusually broad. As Robert McCartney of The Washington Post noted in his column, the advocacy group ProgressVA studied the issue and found that only 18 gifts out of 756 given during 2012 were tangible. In other words, the bill likely will have only a modest impact on gift-giving practices in Richmond. The law requires covered officials to disclose gifts from lobbyists, lobbyist principals, and government contractors (both tangible and intangible) given to officials and their family members.

Finally, keep in mind that contractors are also subject to a 2010 pay-to-play law that prohibits them from making campaign contributions or providing gifts valued more than $50 to the governor, the governor’s PAC, or certain executive branch officers if the value of a non-bid contract is $5 million or more.

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In case you missed our webinar last week on government affairs compliance, you can click here for the recording and here for the presentation materials. We covered topics including:

  • Creative ways to be involved in the political process; 
  • Operating a compliant PAC;
  • Federal and state lobbying compliance;
  • Pay-to-play laws that affect business with state and local governments;
  • New efforts to force transparency on companies and nonprofits, and
  • Enforcement trends.