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Ethics Reform Summary

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Details of the legislation to reform the Commonwealth’s ethics, lobbying and campaign finance laws.

Ethics

--Bans all gifts to public officials, making it a civil violation for gifts up to $1,000 and a felony for gifts with a value greater than $1,000. The criminal penalty would be 5 years in prison, a $10,000 fine, or both, and would apply to both the recipient and the giver.

--Strengthens the Ethics Commission’s authority to enforce ethics laws and to investigate and prosecute alleged ethics violations. Commission receives enhanced subpoena power and expanded regulatory authority. Commission also benefits from increased penalties on all ethics law violations and an increased statute of limitations.

--Increases penalties for bribery convictions to up to 10 years in prison, a $100,000 fine, or both.

--Codifies obstruction of justice and increases penalties (up to $10,000 and 5 years in prison or 2 ½ years in a house of correction in civil cases; and up to $25,000 and 10 years in prison or 2 ½ years in a house of correction in criminal cases).

--Increases the penalty on all ethics law violations from $2,000 to $10,000 per violation.

--Allows the Attorney General to convene a statewide grand jury.

Lobbying

--Defines “lobbyist” as anyone paid to promote, oppose or influence, or to attempt to influence the decision of any officer or employee of the executive or legislative branch.

--Reduces the minimum threshold for “incidental lobbying” for executive agents from 50 hours/$5,000 to 25 hours/$2,500

--Reduces the minimum threshold for “incidental lobbying” for legislative agents from 50 hours/ $5,000 to 25 hours/$2,500

--Expands the definition of what constitutes a “client” for lobbying purposes, and requires lobbyists to annually complete a certification course conducted by the secretary of state.

--Provides the Secretary of State with civil enforcement authority over the lobbying laws, including authority to subpoena documents and testimony; conduct adjudicatory proceedings; impose civil fines of up to $10,000 per violation; and suspend and revoke a violator’s license.

--Expands the disclosure requirements for lobbyists.

--Increases the criminal penalties for violations of lobbying laws from $5,000 to $10,000 or imprisonment for up to 5 years in state prison or 2.5 years in county jail.

--Closes a loophole in existing law related to so-called “success fees” (fees paid only when something specific, like the awarding of a contract, takes place).

--Expands the revolving door restriction on executive branch lobbying to a one-year waiting period the same as the Legislature.

--Increases late filing penalties to $50 per day for first 20 days and $100 per day thereafter.

--Increases criminal penalties for registration violations to up to 5 years imprisonment, $10,000 fine, or both, and mandates suspension of license for 10 years from date of conviction for those convicted of a felony.

Campaign Finance

--Eliminates “special committee” arrangements between state political parties and elected officials, allowing only individual contributions up to $5,000 to a political party.

--Requires the disclosure of expenditures and sources of funding for any “electioneering communications” (third-party mailings and ads that support or criticize a candidate or campaign).

--Raises the threshold for reporting independent expenditures from $100 to $250, but requires disclosure before an election.

--Prohibits individuals from making committee checks payable to themselves.

--Prohibits the use of campaign funds for payment of fines due to ethical violations.

--Requires that legal defense funds are maintained separately from campaign funds.

--Prohibits the name of candidates from appearing on a state ballot if a civil action has been initiated against the person for failure to file reports or statements.

--Increases penalties for late-filed reports from $10 per day and not more than $2,500 to $25 per day and not more than $5,000.

--Requires candidates for mayor in cities with populations over 40,000 who can reasonably expect to raise or spend more than $5,000 to file with OCPF.

--Increases number of reports filed by political candidates (twice in non-election year; three times in election year).

--Requires candidates for governor and lt. governor to file one week prior to candidates for other statewide offices.

--Requires that income derived from bribes, corrupt gifts and illegal activity counts as gross income for tax reporting purposes.

Other

--Gives authority to the Attorney General to regulate and enforce the Open Meeting Law.

--Requires a study to report on the potential benefits of a consolidated ethics, lobbying and campaign finance oversight unit.

Summary provided by the House Speaker's office.

This program aired on June 25, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

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