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D.C. Circuit Rules Obstruction of Office of Congressional Ethics Not a Crime, but Questions and Risks Remain

In a unanimous ruling, the D.C. Circuit shed new light this week on the applicability of key federal criminal statutes on proceedings before the Office of Congressional Ethics (“OCE”).  While largely removing the prospect of criminal obstruction liability for parties responding to inquiries from OCE, the court’s opinion is another reminder of the potentially serious … Continue Reading

Political Campaigns Among Entities Alleged to Have Violated TCPA

Yesterday, a complaint was filed in a Minnesota federal district court against Bernie 2020 Inc. (“the Sanders Campaign”), alleging that the Sanders Campaign transmitted automated text messages to mobile telephone numbers without the “prior express consent” of their recipients in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”). The complaint alleges that at least two … Continue Reading

Campaign Finance Violation for Unregistered Political Committee Upheld in Washington State, but $18 Million Penalty Must Still Pass Excessive Fine Test

In one of the most watched campaign finance disclosure enforcement cases, last week, the Washington State Supreme Court upheld a trial court’s finding that a trade association intentionally failed to register and report contributions and expenditures in opposition to a ballot initiative that would have required labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food.  In … Continue Reading

So-Called “Dark Money” Group Reveals its Donors

In a rare case, a so-called “dark money” group has now publicly released the names of its donors.  Under federal law, if an organization has as its “major purpose” the nomination or election of federal candidates, the organization may be a “political committee” required to report its receipts and disbursements with the Federal Election Committee.  … Continue Reading

Florida FARA Case Leaves Troubling Precedent

On May 7, 2019, a federal District Court in the Southern District of Florida ruled that an American company, RM Broadcasting, must register as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (“FARA”) for its agreement to broadcast radio programming from Rossiya Segodnya (meaning “Russia Today”), a Russian state-owned news agency.  Although the decision … Continue Reading

Colorado Enacts Replacement Campaign Finance Enforcement System

Just one week ago, a federal court in Colorado held that the state’s system for enforcing its campaign finance laws was unconstitutional.  Moving quickly, the Colorado Secretary of state has enacted temporary enforcement rules, effective immediately. Under the new rules, any person may file a complaint, just like under the old system.  However, the rules … Continue Reading

Federal Court Decision Puts Brakes on Issue Ads

As the 2018 mid-term season approaches, viewers may be seeing fewer issue advertisements paid for by so-called “dark money” groups.  In a consequential decision, a federal court in Washington, D.C. concluded yesterday that all “electioneering communications” presumptively count as political spending for purposes of determining whether a group should register as a political action committee … Continue Reading

MSRB Pay-to-Play Challenge Stymied by Sixth Circuit over Standing

Over the past few years, a few state political party committees have relentlessly sought to block or overturn pay-to-play laws overseen by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Yesterday, the Sixth Circuit delivered another defeat to an ongoing effort to challenge federal pay-to-play laws. Last year, we noted that the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB) … Continue Reading

D.C. Circuit Dismisses Major Case Concerning Attorney-Client Privilege in Congressional Investigations

The long saga of the legal challenge by Carl Ferrer, CEO of Backpage, to a subpoena issued by the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (“PSI”) appears to have reached a conclusion.  A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit this week dismissed the case as moot and additionally vacated a … Continue Reading

What’s Next for the SEC Pay-to-Play Rule Challenge?

Yesterday’s D.C. Circuit opinion upholding the SEC’s burdensome “pay-to-play” rule on procedural grounds is bad news for those questioning the rule’s constitutionality.  Nevertheless, the rule is still far from invincible. The SEC pay-to-play rule, among other things, effectively prohibits investment firm executives from making certain political contributions to state and local officeholders and candidates.  Last … Continue Reading

Highlights from Wagner; D.C. Circuit Upholds Contributions Restrictions But Limits Ruling

The Wagner case, decided today by the D.C. Circuit, is important because of its analysis of the constitutionality of federal campaign contribution restrictions and, by extension, of pay-to-play laws generally. Covington has been monitoring this case since the district court decision in 2012, to the argument before the D.C. Circuit in 2013, and the decision … Continue Reading

D.C. Circuit Hears Constitutional Challenge to SEC Pay to Play Rule

A constitutional challenge to the SEC’s “pay to play” rule moved one step closer to resolution today, even as significant hurdles remain in an effort to strike down the rule. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard arguments this morning on an appeal brought by two state political parties challenging … Continue Reading

A Pyrrhic Victory? The Impact of Today’s District Court Decision on Electioneering Communications (Van Hollen v. FEC)

A U.S. District Court judge today vacated an FEC regulation that limited the degree to which corporations and labor unions must disclose their donors when they pay for an Electioneering Communication.  Van Hollen v. FEC  An Electioneering Communication is a broadcast, cable or satellite communication that features a federal candidate, airs within 30 days of … Continue Reading

Court Dismisses Challenge to SEC Pay to Play Rule (For Now)

In an important decision, the US District Court for the District of Columbia yesterday dismissed a constitutional challenge to the SEC’s “pay to play” rule, which restricts contributions and fundraising by some individuals who are associated with hedge funds, private equity funds, and other registered investment advisers. The Court ruled that the case had been … Continue Reading

Federal Judge Finally Tosses Aside Limits on Contributions to New York Super PACs

Super PACs in the Empire State and in the Big Apple are about to become more “super.”  Today, a New York federal court finally (albeit begrudgingly) struck down a state law that effectively capped contributions to state Super PACs at no more than $150,000.  Prior to today’s ruling, New York had been one of a … Continue Reading

Don’t Hold Your Breath for a Legislative “Fix” to McCutcheon

In his controlling opinion yesterday in McCutcheon v. FEC, Chief Justice John Roberts struck down the federal aggregate campaign contribution limits.  These limits capped the total amount one individual could give to candidates, party committees, and PACs in a two-year election cycle.  The purpose of the limits was to prevent donors from circumventing the per-candidate … Continue Reading

Record-Setting Enforcement by California’s Campaign Finance Regulator

California’s Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) is more aggressive than ever and is employing new tactics.  The FPPC’s recently-released end-of-year report detailing enforcement activities in 2013 highlights some interesting statistics that should be on the radar of every company doing business in California. Prosecutions of both “serious campaign cases” and lobbying violations were both “at … Continue Reading

Update #2: Appeals Court Reinstates Legal Challenge to Ban on Lobbyists Serving on Advisory Committees

On January 17, 2014, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated a legal challenge to President Obama’s ban on lobbyists serving on advisory boards and commissions in federal agencies.  The appellate decision overturned a lower court judgment, issued in September 2012, that dismissed the claims of several lobbyists who alleged that the ban violated their … Continue Reading

Shareholders Try New Tactic in Corporate Political Disclosure Fight

This year has not been a great one for activists seeking to force corporations to increase disclosure of their political activities.  According to the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Legal Policy, average shareholder support for proposals related to political spending or lobbying declined again this year, from 22 percent to 20 percent for lobbying proposals and … Continue Reading

SEC Takes a Pass on Corporate Political Disclosure, But Other Fronts Remain

If there was an award for “political law issue of the year,” corporate political disclosure would be a front-runner.  About a year ago, the Securities & Exchange Commission (“SEC”) asked the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (“OIRA”)—housed within the Office of Management and Budget as part of the Executive Office of the President—to add … Continue Reading

FBI Sting Results In Prison Sentence for Candidate’s Finance Director

This spring, a jury convicted Robert Braddock, the Finance Director to former Congressional candidate—and former Speaker of the Connecticut House of Representatives—Christopher Donovan, with conspiring to hide the source of $27,500 in campaign contributions.  According to the indictment, Braddock accepted contributions to the campaign knowing that they had been reimbursed by individuals associated with Connecticut … Continue Reading

FEC Moves to Reconsider Scope of “Spouse” In Light of Supreme Court Decision Striking Down DOMA

As we recently predicted the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor striking down part of the Defense of Marriage Act is prompting the FEC to reconsider, and likely revise, its decision in an earlier Advisory Opinion, 2013-02 (“Winslow I”), that the definition of “spouse” under federal election law did not apply to same-sex … Continue Reading

Agreed-Upon Permanent Injunction Releases N.J. Super PACs from Limits

As forecasted, a federal court has entered a permanent injunction that permits Super PACs in New Jersey to raise unlimited funds, pursuant to the parties’ agreement.  This resolves the suit brought by the Fund for Jobs, Growth & Security after the state’s Election Law Enforcement Commission advised the Fund in March that it was powerless … Continue Reading
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