Michael Pfeifer

Three New Commissioners Join FEC as Busy 2021 Looms

On December 18, 2020, three new Commissioners were officially sworn in as members of the Federal Election Commission (FEC or Commission), restoring the agency’s quorum and its ability to conduct business for the first time since June of 2020.  The appointees – Ms. Shana Broussard, Mr. Sean Cooksey, and Mr. Allen Dickerson – were nominated by President Trump earlier this year and confirmed by the U.S. Senate on December 9th.  After months without a voting quorum, the FEC will now be able to commence its core regulatory and enforcement functions on matters of campaign finance and elections, including issuing advisory opinions, promulgating and implementing regulations, and taking formal action in enforcement matters.

For the first time in roughly three years, the panel will be at a full slate of six Commission members. The newest appointees include one Democrat and two Republicans with differing backgrounds and viewpoints on the role of the Commission and the appropriate reach of federal campaign finance and election law.  Shana Broussard, the newest Democrat Commissioner, fills the seat previously held by former Commissioner Ann Ravel and holds a term that extends through April 30, 2023.  Ms. Broussard served as counsel to Commissioner Steven Walther prior to her appointment and also has previous public service experience as an Attorney Advisor for the Internal Revenue Service and Assistant District Attorney in New Orleans, LA.  Commissioner Cooksey – one of the new Republican additions to the Commission – joins the agency after serving as General Counsel to U.S. Senator Josh Hawley and Deputy General Counsel to U.S. Senator Ted Cruz.  Prior to his government service, Mr. Cooksey worked as an attorney in private practice focusing on appellate and constitutional law.  Commissioner Dickerson – the second of the new Republican members of the Commission – joins the agency after a long stint as legal director for the Institute for Free Speech and its nationwide First Amendment litigation practice.  Mr. Dickerson also has background as a Judge Advocate in the US Army Reserve and as a private practice litigator.  

Due to its longstanding lack of a quorum, the FEC currently faces a significant matter backlog with at least – 446 open matters before the agency and 275 staff reports awaiting action.  The beginning of 2021 thus looks to be a busy one for the new Commissioners, as they attempt to clear their docket and set priorities for regulation and enforcement in the dynamic of a Biden administration.   In light of this reality, the Dentons Political Law Team, which regularly represents clients before the FEC in enforcement matters, investigations, audits, advisory opinion requests, and other matters, will monitor the agency’s activities in the coming months and provide regular updates.

2020 Presidential Election: Where Things Stand

November 3rd is nearly two weeks in our rear view mirror – here is what we know. Most major news outlets have called the race for former Vice President Joe Biden, but President Donald Trump has refused to concede, and has filed a string of lawsuits around the country challenging the results of the election. We leave the politics aside and provide you with an overview of where things stand in the certification process in key states, and what is required to happen between now and Inauguration Day by federal law.

Vote Certification – and the Electoral College

Congress enacted the Electoral Count Act of 1887 to set forth a uniform process for states to follow to deliver their electoral votes to Congress after the election. Congress ultimately counts and certifies the results of the Electoral College, this year on January 6th, three days after the new Congress is sworn in on January 3rd. In order for a state’s electors to receive protection that Congress will accept their electors without any questions asked, a state must certify the results of its election by the “safe harbor” deadline of six days before the electors meet to cast their votes. This year, that means that states have until December 8th to receive safe harbor status, as the winning electors will meet to cast their votes for President and Vice President on December 14th.

As of the time of this writing, six states have already certified their electors. It is widely expected that all states will do so before the safe harbor deadline. While there are reports that Republican legislators in some states may try to certify their own slate of electors in conflict with current state law in every state, this is a highly unlikely scenario, and one that likely wouldn’t change the electoral college count such that the results of the election change. We briefly detail the current status of vote certification in a number of swing states below.

Status in Swing States

Arizona

The certification date for Arizona is November 30th. As of the time of this writing, former Vice President Biden maintains a roughly 11,000 vote lead, and most major news outlets have declared him the victor. Arizona has very restrictive recount laws, so there is unlikely to be a recount. The Trump campaign has filed a lawsuit seeking to block the state’s certification of votes.

Georgia

The certification date for Georgia is November 20th. As of the time of this writing, former Vice President Biden maintains a roughly 14,000 vote lead, and most major news outlets have declared him the victor. The Georgia Secretary of State has announced that the state will conduct a hand recount of every ballot cast in the presidential race, and will also conduct a risk-limiting audit to rule out the possibility of fraud or errors. This process has begun as of the time of this publication.

Pennsylvania

The certification date for Pennsylvania is November 23rd. As of the time of this writing, former Vice President Biden maintains a roughly 60,000 vote lead, and most major news outlets have declared him the victor. Biden’s lead is currently too large to trigger an automatic recount, and it is unclear if the Trump campaign would request one. Pennsylvania is the state where the Trump campaign has filed the most lawsuits. Because of one of the lawsuits, the United States Supreme Court ordered mail ballots postmarked by election day but received in the three days following election day to be sequestered. The number of ballots in this category appears to be approximately 10,000. The Trump campaign has also filed a lawsuit seeking to block the state’s certification of votes.

Wisconsin

The certification date for Wisconsin is December 1st. As of the time of this writing, former Vice President Biden maintains a roughly 20,000 vote lead, and most major news outlets have declared him the victor. The Trump campaign has said that it would request a recount, which would need to be completed within 13 days of its commencement under state law.

Abramoff Pleads Guilty to Criminal Lobbying Violation in Landmark Prosecution

Last month, the US Department of Justice (“DOJ”) filed multiple criminal charges against well-known lobbyist Jack Abramoff, including a charge that Abramoff violated the Lobbying Disclosure Act (“Act”). According to the US Department of Justice, Abramoff plead guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and violating the LDA for separate cases. This marks the first ever known prosecution of a lobbyist for a criminal violation of the LDA. Abramoff was previously sentenced to six years in federal prison for mail fraud, conspiracy to bribe public officials, and tax evasion related to lobbying efforts on behalf of Native American casino businesses and tribes.

The DOJ charged Abramoff with knowingly and corruptly failing to register as a lobbyist, as required by the LDA, after being retained for lobbying efforts by a client in the marijuana industry. Specifically, the DOJ alleged that in June of 2017, Abramoff failed to register as a lobbyist for efforts on behalf of the client that involved communications with one or more federal officials, as required by the LDA. The LDA requires, generally, that any person engaged in lobbying efforts with the federal government register as a lobbyist with the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Representatives within 45 days of the retention by the client or making the triggering contact. In Abramoff’s case, an FBI undercover agent posed as a potential client seeking assistance with federal lobbying efforts.  Abramoff signed an engagement and met with members of Congress, but failed to register for his efforts.

In a separate, unrelated matter, the DOJ alleged that Abramoff conspired with Marcus Andrade to mislead investors about a proposed new cryptocurrency called AML Bitcoin. The DOJ alleges that Abramoff and Andrade purported to show investors that their crypto-currency would comply with anti-money laundering and ‘know-your-customer’ laws and regulations. In one instance, Andrade and Abramoff hired writers to publish op-eds falsely claiming that NBC had rejected a Super Bowl ad featuring North Korean leader Kim Jong Un yelling at his subordinates for failing to hack the cryptocurrency.

The criminal prosecution against Abramoff for violating the LDA is being viewed as a significant moment that possibly signals new aggressiveness in federal lobbying enforcement. Transparency advocates have long contended that the registration and reporting obligations of the LDA are widely flouted by federal lobbyists, and criticized the DOJ for lack of enforcement in both the civil and criminal context. While it remains to be seen if this is an idiosyncratic prosecution driven by Abramoff’s high profile and past history as a lobbyist, it nevertheless serves as a reminder to companies, firms and individuals engaged in federal lobbying to employ a diligent compliance framework to ensure that the registration and reporting requirements of the LDA are met. The Dentons Political Law Group will continue to provide updates regarding this and other lobbying compliance-related developments.

Trump Impeachment Update: Senate acquits

On Wednesday, February 5, the United States Senate voted to acquit President Trump of the two articles of impeachment that the US House of Representatives passed on December 18 and hand-delivered to the Senate on January 15. The vote concluded a trial that lasted 20 days, saw 36 hours of presentations, 16 hours of Senate questioning, and some late-inning drama that ultimately resulted in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell securing enough votes to prevent introduction of witnesses and new evidence, a move that would have delayed the final vote indefinitely. 

Late last Friday after Senate questioning ended, Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, a retiring senator from Tennessee, announced that he would vote against a measure to introduce witnesses and new evidence. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) announced that she would support the measure, joining Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) as the only members of their party willing to break ranks with their caucus to hear from witnesses. Had Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, another moderate Republican, joined her colleagues from Maine and Utah, the vote count on the measure would have been 50-50, and Chief Justice John Roberts would have had to cast the deciding vote as the presiding officer. But Senator Murkowski ultimately voted against the measure, offering as one of the reasons that it had become clear that some of her colleagues intended to “politicize this process, and drag the Supreme Court into the fray, while attacking the Chief Justice. I will not stand for nor support that effort.”

Some Senate Republicans, as well as the President, wanted the Senate to conduct the final vote last Friday evening, which would have allowed the President to address the nation on the State of the Union on Tuesday without a cloud hanging over his head. However, other Republicans, and the Democrats, wanted an opportunity to make floor speeches about the impeachment trial. McConnell reached a deal with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to hold the final vote this afternoon. The President, for his part, did not mention the impeachment trial during Tuesday night’s SOTU address, and other news events, including the Super Bowl and the Iowa Democratic Caucus, prevented the impeachment trial from receiving much media attention over the last few days.

Senator Joe Machin (D-WV) has drafted a Senate resolution to censure the President, and has suggested that consideration of such a resolution would garner bipartisan support by giving Senators who don’t believe the President’s conduct warrants removal from office a formal opportunity to condemn the President’s actions. While both moderate Democrats and Republicans might like the opportunity to vote on such a resolution, it seems unlikely that the Republican leadership in the Senate will allow such a resolution to come to a vote. McConnell has said that he wants to move on after the acquittal, and various Republicans in the Senate have suggested that if the Democrats wanted a censure vote, they should have pursued such a vote in lieu of impeachment.

When Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist 65 that impeachment would “seldom fail to agitate the passions of the whole community, and to divide it into parties more or less friendly or inimical to the accused,” he correctly forecast the dynamics that have played out over the past few months. As Senator Murkowski said in her statement last Friday night, “It is sad for me to admit that, as an institution, the Congress has failed. We are sadly at a low point of division in this country.”

Impeachment on a Page – Week of January 20, 2020

Impeachment on a Page – Week of December 9, 2019

As developments in the Trump impeachment inquiry continue to unfold, Dentons’ Public Policy group has created a quick reference guide to the current status of this fast-moving process. Enclosed please find “Impeachment on a Page” for the week of December 9, 2019.

Previous Updates

Trump Impeachment Inquiry Alerts

Click here to subscribe and receive email updates directly to your inbox on the impeachment drama on Capitol Hill, including highlights of key testimony and documentary evidence, the White House’s response and the latest impeachment polls.

Impeachment on a Page – Week of December 3, 2019

As developments in the Trump impeachment inquiry continue to unfold, Dentons’ Public Policy group has created a quick reference guide to the current status of this fast-moving process. Enclosed please find “Impeachment on a Page” for the week of December 3, 2019.

Previous Updates