Campaign Expert Leads CLE Class on Political Participation and Regulations

By John Murph

January 29, 2020

charles_spiesAs the 2020 presidential election approaches, attorneys who counsel politically active lawyers, law firms, and other clients must learn how to navigate the complex regulations involved. Join the D.C. Bar CLE Program on February 19 for the course “Election Year 2020: Understanding the Complex Rules Regulating Political Participation,” the Bar’s second event in advance of its 2020 Conference on June 24 to 26.

Campaign expert Charles Spies of Dickinson Wright PLLC will facilitate the class, bringing with him more than 10 years of experience working in national political campaigns. Spies served as chief financial officer and counsel for Mitt Romney’s 2008 campaign for the Republican nomination. In that capacity, he developed and managed the campaign’s budget and systems for legal compliance with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), the Internal Revenue Service, and various state regulations.

Spies also served as election law counsel to the Republican National Committee and as cofounder and counsel to Restore Our Future, the largest conservative super political action committee (Super PAC) in U.S. history, which supported Romney’s 2012 bid for president. Afterward he cofounded Right to Rise USA, a conservative PAC created to support Jeb Bush’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Since the landmark 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case — in which the U.S. Supreme Court argued that the First Amendment’s free speech clause prohibited the government from restricting expenditures for political communications by corporations, labor unions, nonprofits, and other organizations — more money has been pouring into national political campaigns.

“The increase in super PAC and nonprofit organization political activity means that attorneys will have corporate and individual clients that want to participate in the political process,” Spies says. “But they need to do so with minimum legal risks.”

During the first half of the class, Spies will outline the regulations surrounding political participation. He will discuss the FEC and its jurisdiction, state and local election regulations (including in the District of Columbia), and the distinctions among different types of political organizations such as candidate committees, PACs, Super PACs, 501(c)(4) organizations, nonprofit civic leagues, social welfare organizations, and local associations of employees. Spies will provide guidance on creating a PAC amid current compliance issues, and he will explain why it’s wise to avoid making contributions in the name of another organization.

“National party committees are now accepting record amounts of money, and it’s important to understand what the different accounts are and how joint fundraising works,” Spies says. “Law firms need to remember that hosting political events can trigger political contributions. So it’s best to know how the rules differ if the political events occur at someone’s home, country club, or office.”

The second half of the course will focus on common issues that politically active clients face. Those concerns include in-kind contributions (gifts of goods or services), the use of corporate facilities or staff, and contribution limits and prohibited sources. Spies will also delve into the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s rules concerning pay-to-play practices in the municipal securities market.

In addition, Spies will discuss Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) v. FEC, in which CREW sued the FEC for not investigating a 2014 complaint against a nonprofit that made contributions to various Super PACs without disclosing the sources of its funds.

Election Year 2020” takes place at the D.C. Bar headquarters and is also available by webinar.