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Political Law Blog

Welcome to the Holland & Knight Political Law Blog, featuring news and analysis related to federal and state campaign finance, ethics and lobbying disclosure laws, as well as Congressional gift and travel rules. We provide a regular review of happenings at the Federal Election Commission and analysis of a variety of federal and state topics of interest to our readers.

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As control of the U.S. House of Representatives shifts to Democrats during the next Congress and we enter the presidential election cycle, now is a good time for entities that regularly interact with the federal government to assess their government affairs activities – both internal and external – to ensure effectiveness and compliance with federal, state, and local campaign finance, lobbying, and ethics laws.
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When the new Congress convenes on Jan. 3, 2019, Democrats will take control of the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time in eight years and will gain the ability to launch a new wave of congressional investigations and oversight. We expect a major focus of these investigations to be issues related to ethics, conflicts of interest, campaign contributions and corruption.
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The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Inspector General in September 2016 published an audit report regarding compliance and enforcement of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
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Last month, a Washington consultant providing political intelligence was convicted of stealing secrets from the government and using it for insider trading. The consultant, who had worked at several Washington, D.C. based firms, was charged with obtaining from an employee of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) confidential and nonpublic information he then sold to hedge fund portfolio managers who used it make or recommend profitable stock trades in advance of the information's public release.
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The New Hampshire Department of Justice has recently issued critical guidance for any campaign, corporation or individual that engages in political activity in the state. As in many states, New Hampshire's Campaign Finance System bifurcates responsibility between the State's Secretary of State, who is responsible for implementing the state's disclosure system, and the state's Department of Justice, which enforces the underlying campaign finance statutes.
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June 12, 2018
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The number of persons and entities registering with the Department of Justice (DOJ) as foreign agents under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) is on the rise. According to DOJ FARA Registration Unit, the number of new primary registrations had grown from 69 in 2016 to 102 in 2017.
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On October 31, 2017, Senator Chuck Grassley, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced S. 2039, the Disclosing Foreign Influence Act. An identical bill, H.R. 4170, was introduced in the House by Congressman Mike Johnson, a member of the House Judiciary Committee. These proposed bills would remove the current exemption under the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938, as amended (FARA), for registrants properly disclosing under the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995, as amended (LDA).
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November 16, 2017
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With disclosure issues currently receiving significant attention within the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Congress considering changes to the relationship between the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938, as amended (FARA) and the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995, as amended (LDA), now is a good time to review your internal disclosure compliance programs.
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The Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995, as amended (LDA), is a federal lobbying statute administered by Congress that applies to legislative and executive branch contacts. The LDA does not apply to state or local lobbying. The LDA requires registration and then disclosure of certain lobbying activities, including the issues lobbied, individual lobbyists, and lobbying costs. LDA violations are subject to fines of up to $200,000 per violation and, in some cases, up to 5 years in prison. The LDA is a companion statute to the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938, as amended (FARA).
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With tax-reform on everyone’s radar, Trade Associations and other advocacy groups operating as business leagues should be aware that the most recent proposals released by the House Committee on Ways and Means might impact the deductibility of expenses that are intended to local councils or similar governing bodies, including tribal governments.
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November 2, 2017
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With year-end Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings now submitted and the 2018 election season already underway, federal Political Action Committee (PAC) managers now have the opportunity to reassess efforts to ensuring continuing compliance with federal campaign finance laws.
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February 1, 2017
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On Jan. 28, 2017, President Trump signed an ethics executive order repealing former President Obama's ethics EO for executive branch officials and implementing new, similar restrictions.
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January 31, 2017
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On September 29, 2016, the FEC considered expanding restrictions on foreign national involvement in U.S. elections. This was the second time in one month that the Commission deliberated on this topic. Democrats on the Commission have put forth two proposals.

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October 3, 2016
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Most federal agencies do not take their obligations under the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) seriously, and as a result it is often difficult to confirm an executive branch covered official under the LDA. Our Political Law Blog provides alternative methods for determining whether an agency official is a covered official.
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July 18, 2016
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Several federal contractors have been in the news recently for potentially engaging in prohibited lobbying activity. Both the Department of Justice and the Department of Defense Inspector General have been focusing on this issue. This restriction applies to any recipient of a federal contract, grant, loan or cooperative agreement and specifically prohibits using federally appropriated funds to influence the executive branch or Congress in connection with any federal contract, grant, loan, or cooperative agreement.
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Although 501(c)(4) organizations have been in the news recently for potentially engaging in too much political activity, it is worth noting that a relatively obscure Senate amendment from 1995 prohibits lobbying by certain 501(c)(4)s. While the Internal Revenue Code permits entities exempt from federal taxation under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC), known as social welfare organizations, to engage in almost unlimited amounts of lobbying, the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) prohibits these organizations from engaging in federal lobbying activities if they receive a federal grant, loan, contract or other award.
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The U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia recently announced a settlement a settlement with a lobbying firm that includes a $125,000 fine for missing Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) reports. This civil penalty is the largest to date under the LDA and is the latest example of increasing LDA enforcement activity that may at some point include a criminal prosecution.
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August 28, 2015
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With 2015 being a non-federal election year, in which most PACs choose to change their filing frequency to either semi-annual or quarterly, it is important to keep an eye on how special elections that crop up could trigger special filing dates.
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May 5, 2015
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The U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia recently entered into a settlement with a lobbyist that includes a $30,000 fine for missing Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) reports.
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February 3, 2015
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Recently passed spending legislation dramatically increased the amount that individual donors may give to the National Party Committee accounts used to fund party conventions, construction and legal challenges.
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