Posts Authored by Matthew R. Koppitch

Are government shutdown freebies considered gifts?

During the limited federal government shutdown, many businesses responded by offering discounts and freebies to federal employees to help them cope during the difficult time. Our team often urges caution when government employees are involved with items or services that can be construed as gifts. So, we looked into this to ensure our clients were not inadvertently violating federal ethics guidelines and potentially making a bad situation worse.

Federal employees are normally limited to accepting gifts valued at $20 or less (and the total value of gifts from the same entity cannot exceed $50 in a calendar year). Gifts are broadly defined as anything of value. Here’s the great news: the federal ethical guidelines contain an important exception that discounts offered to all federal employees or to the general public are not considered gifts.

Ethics policies are extremely helpful in both the private and public sectors to keep employees (and their employers) away from compromising ethical situations. We all recognize the importance of the guidelines that detail what not to do. It’s equally important that these policies contain common sense exemptions for real life scenarios. We’d be happy to help create, review or revise your company’s ethics policies, if you need assistance.

General News

Columbus approves new campaign finance contribution limits

On January 14, 2019, Columbus City Council voted to approve new campaign finance contribution limits. Individual contributions are now limited to a total of $12,707.79 per year, the same limit set for State of Ohio officials. The council also amended legislation to require any candidate or group raising $1,000 or more to file campaign finance reports. These city ordinances are scheduled to go into effect March 1.  

Campaign Finance

2018 lame duck summary and 2019 budget and legislative preview

With a new year comes a new General Assembly. Bills that the 132nd General Assembly did not pass will have to be reintroduced if legislators want to pursue those issues in the 133rd General Assembly. The DeWine-Husted administration will have until as late as March 15 to present the administration’s first draft of the FY 2020-21 Operating Budget to the General Assembly. However, we anticipate learning more about the new administration’s priorities in the near future. Read More >>

General News

Campaign finance changes coming to Columbus

On November 28, 2018, Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther announced new campaign finance proposals that would limit individual contributions to $12,707.79. Currently, the City of Columbus does not cap campaign contributions, and if passed, this new amount would mirror the contribution limit currently set for State of Ohio officials. Critics argue that the proposed amount is too high, as compared to limits of $5,000 and $1,000 in Cleveland and Cincinnati, respectively. Columbus City Council will vote on these proposed changes at its December 10 meeting. 

Campaign Finance

2018 post-general election update

On Tuesday, November 6, 2018, Ohioans cast ballots in the 2018 general election. For the first time since 2006, five statewide elected offices were up for election without an incumbent running in the 2018 general election. Federal offices, including all Ohio U.S. Representatives seats and one U.S. Senate seat, two Ohio Supreme Court seats, all seats in the Ohio House of Representatives and 17 Ohio Senate seats were on the ballot. For your convenience, we have compiled an overview of the 2018 general election results and details on races of particular interest.

General News

Reporting tips for local ballot issue spending

Much has been written about campaign spending and disclosures – analyzing every tier of government from the federal level to city hall. Now at the close of another election season, it may be helpful to review a potentially overlooked aspect of campaign spending and disclosure: corporate spending in support or opposition of a local ballot measure.

Ohio law permits a corporation to support a ballot issue political action committee (PAC) or levy committee or to spend independently to support or oppose a local ballot measure. Either way, the law requires an itemization of the corporate expenditures.

This is where the reporting can get tricky. Expenditures are often considered direct spending (i.e., a monetary contribution, purchasing yard signs, advertising, consulting fees, etc.). However, the definition of expenditure can also include internal staff time or the use of office resources dedicated to supporting or opposing the ballot issue. Compliant reporting is accomplished when the Ohio Secretary of State’s 30-B-1Form (for contributions to support a PAC or levy committee) or 30-B-2 Form (when the corporation acts independently or there is no established PAC) is filed with the board of elections in the county where the issue is to appear on the ballot.

As always, strong record keeping and organization is the best way to avoid any reporting issues. Additionally, filers may find it easier to report the expenditures as they occur, as opposed to filing only on the prescribed deadlines.

While these considerations will likely be helpful for those supporting or opposing local ballot measures, bear in mind that some charter cities have their own campaign finance restrictions and disclosure requirements in addition to state requirements.

Campaign Finance

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

Current campaign laws overlook tech-based marketing

Today, there are many laws and regulations governing campaign advertisements through traditional media, such as broadcast and print media. However, despite social media marketing’s growing relevance to election outcomes, there are still no laws governing social media ad sales for political candidates. As recently spotlighted in Wired, the 2016 presidential election demonstrates this loophole.

Not only is it speculated that Russian nationals took advantage of the lack of social media regulations to influence the American political climate and election, but Trump’s own tech-savvy campaign relied heavily on social media leniency. Specifically, Facebook’s preferential treatment to provocative or “clickbait” advertisements allow candidates to promote their messages at cheaper rates than their opponents, according to Antonio García Martínez, a former Facebook advertising product manager. He believes that social media’s influence on elections will only continue to rise.

Campaigns are increasingly using social media advertising as a means of targeting and reaching voters. The laws may never catch up to the furious advancement of social media and technology, but, ideally, voters should be privy to the sources behind these posts and how they are funded. 

Election Law

New Year’s resolution: Don’t end up on the lobbying “naughty list”

Lobbying reports are quickly coming due. January 31, 2018, is the deadline for the September through December 2017 time period. These lobbying activity and expenditure reports, filed with the Office of the Legislative Inspector General (OLIG), transparently provide the general public with information in regards to who is lobbying on what legislation or agency decision, as well as the cost of any meals, beverages or gifts (of more than $25) given to or received by legislators. Reports are filed to document legislative, executive and retirement system activities, and are required three times per year.

Failure to file, or inaccuracies, can result in placement on the delinquent employer or delinquent agent lists. Most of the time, this action is inadvertent, and the OLIG will work with the filer to rectify the situation. However knowingly filing a false report is a first degree misdemeanor.

The OLIG website provides additional guidance on filing, as well as what constitutes reportable activity, gifts or expenditures

Lobbying

Did I just lobby?

This year has seen an uptick in grassroots activity surrounding politics and public policy. If you have placed phone calls to state or federal legislators, participated in an industry lobbying day or accompanied a paid lobbyist in directly advocating on an issue, you have been a participant. But, the real question is did you just become a lobbyist? This is an important distinction that has vast repercussions from a regulatory compliance standpoint.

Read more >>

Lobbying
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