Campaign spying law challenged

An Ohio law that prohibits campaign spies was challenged in federal court by Project Veritas, a nonprofit organization that describes itself as engaging “almost exclusively in undercover journalism to report to the public about instances of corruption, fraud, waste and abuse.” Ohio Revised Code Section 3517.21 expressly prohibits anyone from placing an agent or employee into a political campaign for the purpose of impeding the campaign by surreptitiously collecting and reporting information without the knowledge of the candidate. Project Veritas has sued the Ohio Elections Commission to prevent enforcement of the law, which they allege is an infringement on the group’s First Amendment rights. Read the full complaint here (subscription may be required).

Ethics

Now available: 2019 contribution limits, campaign finance reporting and lobbyist reporting resource

With 2019 legislative sessions underway in both Columbus and Washington, D.C., state and federal lobbying and campaign finance regulators have issued new reporting calendars and contribution limits for the current biennium. Staying up to date on these limits and deadlines is important for anyone participating in the political process.

For our clients and friends, Bricker's Government Relations team has summarized the revised state and federal campaign contribution limits and campaign finance and lobbyist reporting calendars into a single reference guide. Download now >>

Campaign Finance, Ethics

Campaign contribution fraud ends with county executive’s indictment

A yearlong investigation involving the FBI, U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the IRS resulted in the indictment of Steve Stenger, St. Louis County Executive. According to prosecutors, Stenger and others defrauded citizens “through bribery and concealment of material information.” The investigation, which has been ongoing since 2014, revealed that Stenger solicited and accepted campaign contributions in return for “favorable official action.” These favors included awards to donors of county contracts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Stenger then lied in public statements in an attempt to cover up his crimes. He has forfeited his law license and could spend several years in prison. For more, read the full story.

Campaign Finance, Ethics, General News

Ohio Ethics Commission's education and training opportunities

The Ohio Ethics Commission’s educational outreach initiatives, including live seminars, webinars and online courses, are designed to help public officials and employees comply with the law. The offerings are popular and well-received. In 2018 nearly 55,000 people took advantage of training across all three platforms, and participants praised the clear instruction and engaging presenters.

The Ohio Ethics Commission is offering several options for ethics law training throughout 2019, including available onsite training, an e-course entitled “The Ohio Ethics Law: Good Government in Action,” a webinar offered monthly entitled “Overview of Ohio Ethics Law,” and six at-large regional live training sessions. The e-course is approved for 1.0 general CLE hour and the regional sessions are approved for 1.5 general CLE hours.

In addition, the Ohio Ethics Commission joins with the Ohio Board of Professional Conduct each year to offer a 2.5-hour professional conduct CLE course. Three sessions are available, two in Columbus and one in Richfield, Ohio. As of this post, seats are still available for the June 5 and October 10 sessions.

All courses and training sessions are free. Onsite trainings may have a minimum attendee requirement. Please contact Susan Willeke at susan.willeke@ethics.ohio.gov with any questions or to schedule a training.

 

Ethics, General News

Don’t get caught red-handed this orange cone season

It’s summer time, which for commuters means one thing…orange cone season. That’s right, with warmer weather comes an increase of construction, groundbreaking and ribbon cutting ceremonies.

These ceremonies are an ideal way for companies to generate positive earned media by highlighting new projects and developments. These events also tend to feature food and some sort of memento or tchotchke to commemorate the occasion.

Because a ribbon cutting or groundbreaking ceremony usually attracts one or more government officials, potentially triggering issues with  Ohio’s ethics laws, it’s important to plan for and acknowledge the rules leading up to the event.

Ohio law prohibits giving a gift of “substantial value” to a public official or employee if the giver is a “prohibited source.” A prohibited source is anyone that is regulated by, doing business with or seeking to do business with/interested in matters before the official/employee’s agency or political subdivision. While substantial value is not defined, the Ohio Ethics Commission has provided guidance that acceptable gifts should be of a nominal value – generally around $20.

If you’re planning an event, our compliance team is always ready to help you err on the side of caution and avoid any ethics violations.

Ethics

Fair season reminder: Reporting the value of passes

As fair season approaches, public officials must remember that accepting fair passes (for themselves or their immediate family) totaling in excess of $25 must be reported. Likewise, lobbyists must “track the value of any gifted tickets/passes” and be aware of the different levels of the passes or packages they give. While fair admissions are easy to overlook, this type of gift does count toward the $75 in gifts that a legislator or staff member may receive in a calendar year. Read more >>

Ethics

Helpful ethics tips for the public-private partnerships

The latest edition of "The Voice of Ethics," provided by the Ohio Ethics Commission, contains many good reminders for private sector companies that do business with state or local government. See pages 3-7 for a helpful outline of public-private partnership restrictions related to economic aid, gifts, donations or compensation, recruitment and board service. 

Ethics

What went wrong? Campaign telemarketer fined by FTC

While false statements are no longer actionable in the election arena, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) can, and recently has, targeted telemarketers involved in allegedly deceptive solicitations. The FTC recently announced that Infocision, an Ohio-based telemarketing company, misled consumers by falsely saying it was not calling to solicit contributions. The company has agreed to pay a $250,000 fine to resolve the FTC complaint. According to NBC News, Infocision solicited contributions for Ben Carson’s political campaign and a number of conservative political groups, in addition to charitable organizations.

Campaign Finance, Ethics

Avoiding conflicts of interest

Most public officials, especially those at the local level, hold private employment, own businesses and have family in the community. This can make avoiding conflicts of interest a challenge when asked to vote on an ordinance or resolution to provide grants, make budget appropriations or take other actions that benefit a large number of constituents. Withdrawing from a vote is generally sufficient to avoid a conflict, but it can leave a public entity at a standstill if multiple officials have conflicts and must withdraw. One possible solution that is recognized by the Ohio Elections Commission is to sever the action and place the matter that creates a conflict into a separate legislative action, such as a supplemental appropriation. Public officials should work closely with their statutory counsel to determine whether such an action is possible and would be sufficient to avoid ethical violations.

Ethics

OEC releases spring newsletter

The Ohio Ethics Commission (OEC) recently released its Spring 2017 “The Voice of Ethics” publication. This edition spotlights whether an elected official is permitted to also serve as a volunteer firefighter and what conflicts of interest may exist. Also, the OEC has debuted its short online e-course, titled “The Ohio Ethics Law: Travel, Meals and Lodging.” The e-course is free and can be accessed from any device. 

Ethics
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