Last week, the Alabama Ethics Commission (the “Commission”) held its first of six scheduled meetings for the year. At the meeting, the Commission issued a new opinion addressing charitable solicitations and amended a previously issued opinion interpreting certain provisions of the Alabama Fair Campaign Practices Act (“FCPA”). Here are some of the highlights from the meeting and a summary of the Commission’s activities.
- The Commission is still focusing its attention on issues related to solicitations.
Certain solicitations by public officials and public employees are prohibited by the Ethics Law and are subject to criminal prosecution. Last year, many of the Commission’s opinions addressed issues related to solicitations made by public officials and public employees, including questions related to solicitations for charitable donations, political contributions, job opportunities, and gifts. Thus, it is not surprising that the first new opinion for 2017 primarily involves solicitation questions.
- The definition of a “principal” was not addressed.
Last December, after hearing concerns from multiple nonprofit organizations, the Commission formally withdrew the McCalla Opinion, which interpreted the definition of “principal” to include the following individuals in an organization:
- People who occupy top-level, decision-making positions within an entity/organization;
- Executive-level personnel who (through their position, influence, or discretionary authority) are responsible for a lobbyist’s compensation or actions on behalf of the entity/organization or who can otherwise act on behalf of the entity/organization;
- Members of the board of directors;
- Officers; and
- Related individuals who have authority.
Despite the withdrawal of the McCall Opinion, questions remain about the definition’s scope, particularly with respect to organizations that employ or retain a lobbyist. None of the February opinions addressed the issue, and there was no discussion about this issue at the meeting.
- The Commission will assess fines for delinquent Statements of Economic Interest.
At the meeting, the Commission voted to begin assessing penalties for county and municipal non-filers who had previously been given notice of their failure to file their 2015 Statements of Economic Interests. A penalty of $10 per day (up to $1,000) will be assessed against delinquent filers for their failure to comply with the Ethics Law beginning February 13, 2017, unless a completed form is filed with the Commission before that date.
- The Commission has a new website.
The Commission’s new website is at the same address, but the format has been updated and there are new features. The public now can search lobbying registrations and reports more easily, and precertification requests are now being published on the website.
Summary of the Commission’s Activities
One previously issued opinion was amended and then adopted after a public comment period.
- A.O. 2016-23 (“FCPA Opinion”) – Permissible and impermissible uses of campaign funds.
There is one new opinion.
- A.O. 2017-01 (“AWF Opinion”) – Permissible and impermissible solicitations on behalf of a nonprofit principal who employs a city councilman.
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