Archive for the ‘Ethics Tip’ Category
Wednesday, January 4th, 2017 by Matthew Barnes
On Monday, during a closed-door meeting the House Republican Conference voted to adopt an amendment to the proposed House rules package, which was set to be voted on Tuesday. The amendment put forward by Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte’s (R-Va.) would move the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) watchdog under the oversight of lawmakers through the House Ethics Committee.
The OCE is an independent, non-partisan entity charged with reviewing allegations of misconduct against Members, officers, and staffers of the United States House of Representatives. The office was first created in 2008 under then Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. According to Politico, “Congress had created the office in the wake of Jack Abramoff scandal, which included the GOP lobbyist’s admission that he tried to bribe lawmakers. At the time, lawmakers hoped to stop anything like that from ever happening again.”
By Tuesday however, there was widespread outcry from both democrats on the Hill and outside groups about Chairman Goodlatte’s amendment. In a statement House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said, “Republicans claim they want to ‘drain the swamp,’ but the night before the new Congress gets sworn in, the House GOP has eliminated the only independent ethics oversight of their actions. Evidently, ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress. The Office of Congressional Ethics is essential to an effective ethics process in the House, providing a vital element of transparency and accountability to the ethics process. The amendment Republicans approved tonight would functionally destroy this office. Congress must hold itself to the highest standards of conduct. Instead, the House Republicans Conference has acted to weaken ethics and silence would-be whistleblowers.” Similarly, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) released a statement saying, “Undermining the independence of the House’s Office of Congressional Ethics would create a serious risk to members of Congress, who rely on OCE for fair, nonpartisan investigations, and to the American people, who expect their representatives to meet their legal and ethical obligations…If the 115th Congress begins with rules amendments undermining OCE, it is setting itself up to be dogged by scandals and ethics issues for years and is returning the House to dark days when ethics violations were rampant and far too often tolerated.”
By Tuesday afternoon House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was forced to call an emergency House Republican Conference to reverse the decision on the amendment. However, Politico reports that “McCarthy’s motion to restore the current OCE setup was adopted by unanimous consent after Trump himself got involved” tweeting “With all that Congress has to work on, do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog, as unfair as it ……..may be, their number one act and priority. Focus on tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance! #DTS.”
Minority Leader Pelosi released another statement following the House Republican Conference’s removal of Chairman Goodlatte’s amendment saying, “House Republicans showed their true colors last night, and reversing their plans to destroy the Office of Congressional Ethics will not obscure their clear contempt for ethics in the People’s House. Once again, the American people have seen the toxic dysfunction of a Republican House that will do anything to further their special interest agenda, thwart transparency and undermine the public trust.”
Some Republican members praised President-Elect Donald Trump’s involvement in the issue. According to The Hill, “Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said late Tuesday that President-elect Donald Trump “deserves a lot of credit” for House Republicans ditching a plan to weaken the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE). “I think he deserves a lot of the credit. Look, I think it’s absolutely the right thing to do,” Cole told CNN’s Erin Burnett OutFront.
Following the Republican’s decision to remove the amendment from the House rules package (H.R. 5), the House of Representatives, approved the rules of the 115th Congress in a vote by the Yeas and Nays: 234 – 193.
Much of President-Elect Trump’s electoral campaign focused on “draining the swamp” and cleaning up Washington through ethics reforms, particularly around lobbying. During the election President-Elect Trump’s campaign released a plan for a lobbying reform package and implemented strict rules about lobbyists serving during the transition and in President-Elect Trump’s administration. Lobby Blog will continue to monitor ethics regulation changes under the 115th Congress and Trump Administration.
Posted in Ethics Tip, Lobbying News | Comments Off on GOP’s Ethics Blunder on Day 1
Wednesday, January 13th, 2016 by Matthew Barnes
In the latest change to state lobbying requirements, last week in Missouri, Representative Bart Korman (R-Mo. 42nd District) introduced legislation that defines sex between lobbyists and lawmakers as a gift. This means lobbyists in the state will have to report any “sexual relations” with state legislators as a “gift” in their state ethics commission disclosures. According to the bill, (House Bill No. 2059), “the term “gift” shall include sexual relations between a registered lobbyist and a member of the general assembly or his or her staff. Relations between married persons or between persons who entered into a relationship prior to the registration of the lobbyist, the election of the member to the general assembly, or the employment of the staff person shall not be reportable under this subdivision. The reporting of sexual relations for purposes of this subdivision shall not require a dollar valuation.”
Last year Missouri went through several sexual scandals involving its lawmakers. According to the Associated Press, in July 2015 “Missouri state Sen. Paul LeVota submitted his resignation…following allegations that he made unwanted sexual advances toward interns.” This followed hot on the heels of a scandal in May, when a sexually charged relationship between House Speaker John Diehl and an intern was uncovered. Politico reported that “Missouri House Speaker John Diehl resigned Thursday, the day after a report surfaced that he had exchanged sexually charged messages with a 19-year-old intern in his office at the Capitol in Jefferson City.”
Explaining his decision to report sexual relations as a gift Rep. Korman has said, “We’ve already got a lobbyist gift reporting requirement and so that’s how I worked it in there, by treating it as a definition of gift…I hope it deters any of that activity, but that if activity does occur, it’s at least transparent.”
Posted in Ethics Tip, Lobbying News | Comments Off on Missouri & A Different Meaning of Gift
Wednesday, December 16th, 2015 by Matthew Barnes
Ever since President George W. Bush signed the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act (HLOGA) into law in 2007, lobbyists have been banned from giving gifts to Members of Congress and their staffs. Moreover, every lobbyist and lobbying entity must now certify under penalty of perjury, twice yearly that she/he/it has read the House and Senate Ethics rules regarding gifts and travel and has not made or directed any gift to any member, officer or employee of the House or Senate. However, the gift rules do include 23 exceptions on the House side and 24 exceptions on the Senate side. One such exception is the exemption of public universities. The Wall Street Journal reports, “University lobbyists alone among Washington’s power players can provide lawmakers and aides tickets to collegiate sporting events.”
With college bowl season fast approaching, this exception is sure to be put to good use, providing universities an edge in the lobbying game and the value of having a member attend a game cannot be overstated. Bryson Morgan, a former congressional ethics investigator said, “A president’s box is a pretty effective place to make a pitch. Getting one-on-one time with a member of Congress is pretty hard. Yet if you give a member of Congress a ticket to a suite, you can get three to four hours of incredibly valuable time.”
According to the gift rules the lawmakers are not supposed to ask for tickets to university sporting events unless they are invited, and should avoid accepting them “repeatedly,” however, according to the Wall Street Journal’s report, this stipulation is often ignored. One such example from the report is featured below.
“‘So sorry for the late notice,’ an aide to Sen. Bill Nelson (D., Fla.) wrote to University of Florida officials on Oct. 15, 2012, a few days before the fourth-ranked Gators hosted the third-ranked University of South Carolina Gamecocks. ‘Would Bill and his son Bill Jr. be able to sit in the President’s Box for the game this weekend (and usual parking at President’s house)?’ Nelson sat in the presidential suite at least seven times between 2012 and 2014, records show. The senator’s spokesman said ‘accepting a college president’s invitation to about two sporting events a year is one way Sen. Nelson expresses his support of the states’ universities.”
Public universities have different policies for giving tickets to lawmakers. The Wall Street Journal reports, “The University of Florida offers lawmakers blanket invitations to attend as many football games as they wish…The University of Alabama delivers two tickets to the offices of a half-dozen Alabama lawmakers before each game,” and the “Ohio State University doesn’t hand out free tickets, but lawmakers can buy tickets to sold-out games through its lobbying office.”
No matter what how the university takes advantage of this exemption, it clearly provides a unique tool for public university lobbyists to gain access to lawmakers.
For more information on the House and Senate’s ethics rules for gifts and travel check out Lobbyists.info’s “The Lobbying Compliance Handbook” or tune in to the “LD-203 Filing Boot Camp: Compliance Training & Filing Preparation” webinar on January 19, 2016.
Posted in Ethics Tip, Lobbying News, Regulations | Comments Off on Tickets To The Game
Wednesday, April 15th, 2015 by Matthew Barnes
RELATIONSHIPS ON THE HILL can be a tricky thing. The House Ethics Committee has launched an investigation into whether Rep. Edward Whitfield (R-Ky.) violated any rules because of his staff’s work with his wife, Constance Harriman-Whitfield, a senior policy adviser for the Humane Society Legislative Fund, who is a registered lobbyist.
According to a Politico report, “The Office of Congressional Ethics found that Whitfield’s office helped set up “as many as 100 meetings” for his wife’s organization and that he “conducted joint meetings with her “to promote [the HSLF’s] legislative priorities.” The Ethics Committee has formed a special subcommittee for the investigation and it will begin looking into whether Rep. Whitfield “violated the Code of Official Conduct or any law, rule, regulation, or other applicable standard of conduct in the performance of his duties or the discharge of his responsibilities, with respect to allegations that he failed to prohibit lobbying contacts between his staff and his wife, improperly used his official position for the beneficial interest of himself or his wife, and dispensed special favors or privileges to either his wife, the Humane Society Legislative Fund, or the Humane Society of the United States.”
Both Rep. Whitfield and his wife have denied any wrongdoing.
The investigation has prompted questions over government officials and their interactions with people they are in relationships with and family members who are lobbyists. Roll Call reports, “Data is scant, but a 2014 report by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington identified 30 senators who have family members who lobby or work in government affairs. The most recent House data is from 2012, when a CREW report found 44 members who have family members working as registered lobbyists or in government relations.”
With interactions between lobbyist and government officials under such strict scrutiny, lobbyists must ensure their compliance with all of the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act (HLOGA) regulations and requirements, which cover a huge array of interactions, including dating. Lobbyists.info provides lobbyists with a clear guide on the dating rules between a lobbyist and a government official in chapter 6 of The Lobbying Compliance Handbook.
Tags: lobbying compliance handbook
Posted in Ethics Tip, Lobbying News | Comments Off on Proceed With Caution! – Relationships Involving K St. & Capitol Hill
Tuesday, June 7th, 2011 by Vbhotla
HLOGA was birthed out of a desire to decrease corruption in politics by increasing the ethical standard to which lobbyists, in their dealings with elected officials, were held. While some of the reporting requirements are cumbersome, most lobbyists agree with being held to an ethical standard, because most lobbyists are not doing anything questionable. Anything to “remove the red ‘L’ from our lapels,” as American League of Lobbyists executive director Gina Bancroft put it. Here are some cues to follow to make sure that even if the current laws don’t cover it, your actions are ethical and you are in good shape to continue lobbying successfully in the long-term:
1) Visceral reaction – What is your gut telling you? If you’re calling on counsel, because it just doesn’t feel right, it might be because it’s not. Sometimes your stomach indicates more than indigestion.
2) The Washington Post test – Will this land you in the Washington Post (or other publication)? If so, in what light could it be portrayed? A negative story, whether the actions detailed are against the law or not, will affect business.
3) Try to separate lobbying from campaign donations. Discussing issues at fundraisers or while dropping off an envelope of campaign donations is not unethical, but it is distasteful. Avoid the appearance of impropriety: talk about family, hunting, the Nats/Caps (the Skins/Wizards might just make people angry), vacations, or anything else that is not relative to either of your jobs.
Tags: campaign donations, fundraisers, HLOGA, lobbying at fundraisers, lobbying code of ethics, Washington Post
Posted in Ethics Tip | Comments Off on Ethics Tuesday: Beyond Laws and Codes
Tuesday, April 19th, 2011 by Vbhotla
It’s a great time of year: the NBA and NHL are both officially in playoff season! And while Washington basketball aficionados may have little to cheer for (let’s be honest, Wizards fans are used to it), Caps fans can revel in the fact that despite the game one loss, the 2nd Seed Capitals may have a legitimate chance at the Stanley Cup (assuming they can get it together and make it out of the first round).
Previous Lobby Blog posts have portrayed certain members of Congress as big sports fans. But if you’re hoping to cozy up to hockey fans Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Reps. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), Mike Quigley (D-Ill.)—who is often touted the biggest hockey fan in Congress, Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.), Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.), Pat Meehan (D-Penn.), or basketball guys House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), and Reps. Andre Carson (D-Ind.), Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) and Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), you may want to re-visit the gift rules.
Except Braley, each of these Congressmen has a home state team in either the NBA Playoffs, the NHL Playoffs, or both (while Maryland doesn’t have a hockey team, the Caps’ broadcast ratings in Maryland, and the number of Maryland fans is high for the neighboring district team, so we’ll let Hoyer slide by claiming Caps fan constituency).
It is okay to give the following gifts to any of these Congressmen (or others) without fear of reproach:
- A baseball cap with the logo of the Congressman’s favorite team – a baseball cap is considered of nominal value, and is therefore an acceptable gift. T-shirts are also acceptable, even if the actual value of the t-shirt or baseball cap exceeds $10, these items are considered “gifts under $10.”
- “2011 Championship season” commemorative team books – books, publications, and software are permitted as long as they are sent to the Member’s office, do not require specialized reporting service, and are not sent for the Member’s unrestricted use. The Member should display the book in the office. These are not permissible under the home state exemption, unless the books are produced within the Member’s state (not likely).
Obviously, if there is a history of personal friendship around being lifelong Chicago Bulls fans, gifts are unrestricted under the personal friendship exemption, as long as the cost of the gift is not reimbursed by the employer.
We would steer clear of giving tickets to any games to Members or spouses, unless the personal friendship or Relative exemptions apply.
Tags: Gifts to members, HLOGA gift rules, NBA playoffs, NHL playoffs, personal friendship exemption, sporting events
Posted in Ethics Tip | Comments Off on Tuesday Ethics Tip: The Commemorative Hat Edition
Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011 by Vbhotla
Last week, Politico ran a story about “A Second Stimulus for K Street,” in which the author discussed the profitability of lobbying regulatory agencies in this climate (which Dom Ruscio of Cavarocchi, Ruscio, Dennis & Associates, LLC referenced when he quipped “Regulation is the new earmarks” in a January Lobbying Certificate Process).
The SEC, like many other government agencies, is scrambling to write and enact rules to enforce recent legislation. But don't be deceived: contacting SEC officials is still lobbying.
The story suggests that “unlike traditional lobbying, regulatory work is part of the largely unreported influence economy, like political intelligence, grass roots and research.” This is only partly true. While lobbying regulatory agencies is indeed lucrative, a lot of regulatory agents are executive branch appointees, and thus lobbying these individuals is subject to HLOGA rules and LDA reporting. Obama defines “Executive agency” as including each “executive agency” defined by section 105 of title 5 of the United States Code (read: all of the regulatory agencies), plus employees of the US Postal Service and Postal Regulatory Commission, but excluding employees of the GAO.
“Appointees” include “every full Online Pokies time, non career Presidential or Vice Presidential, non career appointee in the Senior Executive Service (or other SES type system), and appointee to a position that has been excepted from the competitive service by reason of being a confidential or policymaking character (Schedule C and other positions excepted under comparable criteria) in an executive agency. It does not include any person appointed as a member of the Senior Foreign Service or solely as a uniformed service commissioned officer.”
Under President Obama’s Executive Order, these officials cannot accept any gifts of any value from lobbyists. Additionally, contacts made with these officials should be reported on the LDA filings, if the thresholds for lobbying are met. Any firm or individual receiving $3,000 or more per quarter from a particular client, makes a second lobbying contact on behalf of said client, and spends 20% or more of the time for that client (not comprehensively, this is evaluated on a per-client basis) must file an LD-1 registration. Any lobbying contacts made on behalf of that client, including contacts to regulatory agencies and other Executive Branch officials, must be subsequently reported on future LD-2 forms.
Tags: lobbying contacts, lobbying ethics, lobbying political appointees, lobbying regulators, lobbying the executive branch, obama's lobbying ban, president obama's executive order, regulatory agency lobbying
Posted in Ethics Tip | Comments Off on Fact Check: Lobbying Regulatory Agencies
Tuesday, March 1st, 2011 by Vbhotla
Former U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) left his perch on the powerful Senate Banking Committee with the conclusion of the 111th Congress, and today was named chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America. For some, this is an eyebrow raiser; does Dodd’s new position with MPAA pit him in conflict with the Senate’s revolving door rules?
Though the chairman/CEO does not actually lobby the government, there is no question that Dodd will have some influence over the association’s lobbying activities, which makes this case a little tricky to hold up to the rules light. The rule says that a Senator may not lobby any Member, officer, or employee in either chamber for two years , and may not assist with any official actions by U.S. government officials on behalf of foreign governments. It also says a senator is prohibited from engaging in any discussions to accept such a position until after his successor has been named (which, in Dodd’s case, has happened), including positions that could involve a former senator in “indirect lobbying” — activities in support of other people’s lobbying, but which do not involve actions that would trigger registration.
Sen. Dodd’s acceptance of the position, which was made public today, is not in direct violation of the rules, assuming Dodd does not lobby Congress on any issues until the 113th Congress. The Senate does not have the specific guidelines on “advocacy contacts” that the House details. So, as long as Dodd does not directly contact a Member of Congress with the intent to influence action, he is not in violation of any Senate revolving door guidelines, but he should probably tread lightly.
Tags: CEO, chairman MPAA, chris dodd, lobbying restrictions, Motion Picture Association of America, Revolving Door, sen. dodd, Senate
Posted in Ethics Tip | Comments Off on Tuesday Ethics Tip: Dodd’s Revolving Door
Thursday, January 13th, 2011 by Vbhotla
Tuesday, lobbyists.info hosted the semi-annual ethics boot camp to prepare you to sign the LD-203 “under penalty of perjury.” Here are the basic things you will need to know ahead of the January 30 deadline:
- Every lobbyist must file the LD-203, whether you have contributions or expenditures to report or not.
- Sole practitioners must file on behalf of the business and as an individual lobbyist.
- Registrants include both entities that employ lobbyists and every individual listed on an LD-1 or LD-2 form.
- The report covers July 1-December 31 2010 and must be filed electronically.
- Contributions of $200 or more from individual registrants or PACs controlled by an individual registrant to federal candidates, leadership PACs, federal party committees AND contributions of $200 or more to presidential inaugural committee or library must be reported as FECA contributions.
- Payments AND expenditures are subject to reporting
- Your signature certifies that, beyond just HLOGA rules, you have read both the House and Senate Gift and Ethics rules and exceptions, and have in no way violated them.
- If an event honors, recognizes covered official, costs are subject to disclosure on LD-203 of sponsor – but not donor unless donor participates in honoring Member
Review filings and supporting documents closely before you sign. Remember the “perjury trap.”
Tags: ethics rules, Ethics Tip, LD-203, under penalty of perjury
Posted in Ethics Tip | Comments Off on The LD-203: Compliance for Campaign Finance Disclosure
Tuesday, January 11th, 2011 by Vbhotla
You have probably heard by now that Paul Magliocchetti, the founder of the now-defunct PMA Group, was sentenced to 27 months behind bars for his role in organizing a campaign finance scheme. In addition to the prison sentence, which will be served at a North Carolina federal prison hospital, the former House Appropriations Committee staffer was fined $75,000.
The sitting judge, the Honorable T.S. Ellis, issued the sentence as a warning to other lobbyists, and simultaneously expressed his displeasure with prosecutors who seek only fines in similar cases. He did not grant the 57 month prison term and $629,000 fine the prosecutors sought initially, and told Magliocchetti that his good works were not obliterated, he was not responsible for a PMA Group-favorite donor’s suicide in light of the investigations, and said he should make amends with his son, who plead guilty to charges related to the case.
So what can be drawn from the Magliocchetti case? First, people are seeking to make examples of lobbyists, so tread lightly. Make sure you are in compliance with HLOGA and all of its developments, and be sure to carefully review your LD-203 filings for errors, remembering that your signature is “under penalty of perjury.”
Make sure that you disclose any campaign donations, be they to PACs, independent expenditure groups, political parties, or candidates and their election committees, on the form.
Bundle with care. You will need to be aware of the limits and follow them closely. Citizens United opened the door for unlimited giving, but did not take away the reporting requirements.
A good rule of thumb: if you can’t report it, don’t give it. Recent cases have shown that prosecutors are looking and will find any missteps. Repercussions may not be immediate, but they are coming. US News & World Report found that only 20% of companies properly disclose their political donations, and only 14% actually have indirect disclosure policies.
If you find yourself overwhelmed by the LD-203’s reporting requirements, it is not too late to join today’s LD-203 bootcamp, which will be held at 2p.
Tags: Campaign Finance, Disclosure, Ethics Tip, LD-203, lobbyist fined, lobbyist jail, Paul Magliocchetti, pma group
Posted in Ethics Tip | Comments Off on How not to land yourself in jail
Tuesday, January 4th, 2011 by Vbhotla
Lobbying firms and individual registered lobbyists are not permitted to sponsor any trips for Congressional members or staff unless an exception for the payment exists under the gift rules. Typically, the only exemptions are for personal friends, relatives and significant others where significant history of the relationship can be proven.
Organizations that employ lobbyists, however, may sponsor one-day trips for members of Congress or staffers. They may also offer local transportation for “widely attended events” or to the event site. Ground transportation must be only occasional, and must be related to the event, not outside entertainment, and must be provided by the event sponsor, not a lobbyist. Lobbyist involvement in the planning of the trip must be de minimis. A 501(c)(3) organization may sponsor a multi-day trip for a senator, as long as no lobbyist accompanies the senator on any part of the trip. There is no such multi-day provision for House representatives.
Private higher education institutions, whether they employ lobbyists or not, can provide three-day domestic trips and seven-day foreign trips, as long as staff lobbyists do not participate in the trip in any way.
Payment for travel is typically only approved to/from Washington, and not for other stopovers not related to the purpose of the trip. Alcoholic beverages and flights on private or chartered aircrafts are not considered “reasonable expenses,” and therefore cannot be paid for by event sponsors. Senate rules do not allow for payment of travel expenses for aides or assistants, but do allow for spouses and children to travel on the sponsor. The House has similar provisions, but does not specify which “relative” can be paid for.
Tags: paying for congressional travel, sponsoring trips, travel
Posted in Ethics Tip | Comments Off on Ethics Tip: Travel edition
Tuesday, December 28th, 2010 by Vbhotla
New Year’s Eve provides a good fundraiser occasion. Virtually no one wants to sit at home, and people are willing to pay to see and be seen as the ball drops on Times Square.
The gift rules for food and entertainment still apply to members of Congress and their staff at charity events and fundraisers.
For charity and political fundraisers, the value of a ticket for Congressional members is the cost of the meal. Note that invitations should come from the event sponsor and not a lobbyist who is buying a ticket from the sponsor to give to the Member.
Other rules of thumb for charity and political fundraisers:
- When listing Congressmen as honorary hosts, make sure that if a member of the House, other non-House members are also listed as honorary hosts.
- Representatives from the House can neither be honored nor offered an exclusive ceremonial role not offered to others; Senators may be honored if the title as Senator is excluded and the charity is not receiving any money from a lobbying entities earmarked for the event.
- Invitations must come from the organization, not individual lobbyists.
- Meals are allowed.
- Entertainment can be provided, as long as it is offered to all attendees. VIP sessions for the member/staffer are not permissible.
- No tangible gift or goodie bags may be provided.
Tags: HLOGA gift rules, new year's eve fundraiser
Posted in Ethics Tip | Comments Off on Tuesday Ethics Tip: New Year’s Eve Fundraisers
Tuesday, December 21st, 2010 by Vbhotla
This time of year, everyone is throwing parties and receptions to commemorate the holiday season. And, especially in Washington circles where everyone seems to know everyone else, it may be tempting to invite members of Congress or staffers to these functions. As innocent as this may be (not everyone is inviting Hillers with hopes to gain favor, some are just being nice), there are still several things to look out for when planning the functions.
- Follow the “toothpick rule” when planning the menu. If it can’t fit on a toothpick, it may be consider a meal, and therefore members and their staff are unable to eat. The good-intentioned gesture that was the invitation turns sour when invited guests are unable to eat.
- The entertainment should be of a minimal nature. A jazz trio, harpist, etc are acceptable. A headliner concert….probably not.
- Valet, coat check, party favors and gift bags can be accepted by a member or staffer only if the value of the items does not exceed $10.
It is important to note that a holiday reception would not fall under the “widely attended event” exception to the gift rules relative to meals. A widely attended event must be related to the staffer’s official duties. A good way to make sure you’re in the clear is to indicate that “light hors d’oeuvres and cocktails” will be provided on the invitation. Just be sure to make sure the event is not transformed into a lavish party, which could get both you and the member/staffer in trouble.
Tags: gift rules, HLOGA, holiday party, lobbyist-sponsored reception
Posted in Ethics Tip | Comments Off on Tuesday Ethics Tip: Holiday Party Edition
Wednesday, November 24th, 2010 by Vbhotla
Today is the most traveled day of the year. Traffic will be a nightmare, airline waits will be treacherous (especially considering the proposed boycott of airport security scanners), and everyone may be a little more uptight. It may seem like the time to cut corners wherever possible to save time and expense, but beware of the following travel pitfalls, or you could find yourself gobbling for mercy:
- If you’re a lobbyist and your new staffer girlfriend is coming home to meet the parents for the first time, you can NOT pay for her ticket. If you’ve been dating awhile or are engaged, there is a “personal friend” or “significant other” (Senate only) exemption. You will still need to get pre-approval from ethics committee if the trip will cost over $250. The pre-approval is confidential, but very essential.
- The new girlfriend can, however, partake in the Thanksgiving feast — as long as you have a relatively large family — because the holiday meal is a widely-attended event.
- Make sure that any gift you give her while gone is filed on the LD-203! (Unless of course you get engaged over the holiday, in which case fiancees are permitted to give gifts without disclosure.)
- If using the personal friendship exemption for anything, you must be able to prove a history of gift exchange between you, not give any gifts related to any official duties, not submit any expenses for reimbursement by your employer, not count the gifts as an exemption.
Tags: ethics rules, gift rules, gift rules exemptions, thanksgiving, travel, Travel rules
Posted in Ethics Tip, Just for Fun | Comments Off on Turkey Day Tips: A Travel Ethics Crash-Course
Tuesday, November 16th, 2010 by Vbhotla
First of all: are nonprofits allowed to lobby? The answer is very clearly “yes,” although there are some restrictions.
The LDA (as amended by HLOGA) states that in addition to reporting all lobbying expenditures on their Form 990, nonprofits may also be required to register with Congress and report their activities, but only if they meet these two thresholds:
- You have an employee who is a “lobbyist,”* defined as someone who spends 20% or more of his/her time engaged in lobbying activities and the same employee makes one or more lobbying contact in the same quarter
- Your total federal lobbying expenses are expected to exceed $11,500 during a quarter
Q: How should our 501 (c)(3) organization report board members’ contributions when we file?
A: While 501(c)(3) organizations cannot make political contributions, they can be involved in certain lobbying activities. A board member of a 501 (c)(3) can participate in these activities. This would not make them lobbyists, unless there is something else that would trigger a need to register as a lobbyist. If a federally registered lobbyist is a member of the board of a 501 (c)(3) organization and participates in that organization’s event, in the capacity of board member, at which a congressman or senator is honored, that does not need to be disclosed.
Q: Can a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization sponsor travel for members of congress or congressional staffers?
A: Yes, although there are specific guidelines on the amount of time that is appropriate, and the rules differ for Senate and House members.
Q: Can a non-profit make a choice between the lobbying definition used by the LDA and the one used by the IRC?
A: Yes, Congress allows organizations that have to track their lobbying expenditures in accordance with the tax code to use that format with their LDA reporting. You may therefore choose whether you want to just maintain one system for tracking and reporting lobbying expenditures and whether you want to do both. There are pros and cons for both types of filing.
Q: When I decide to use one definition (LDA v. IRC) over the other one, is that decision binding in the future, or can it be changed on a year-to-year basis?
A: It is not binding and you can change it. It would be cumbersome to change it back and forth and back and forth, because you would be changing a lot of what you are tracking. But it is a choice that each organization has to make. If you decide to change, you simply notify the proper people on your LD-2.
Today’s post borrowed heavily from this one! (Thanks, Madiha!)
Tags: 501(c)3, nonprofit lobbying
Posted in Ethics Tip | Comments Off on Tuesday Ethics Tip: Nonprofit Lobbying Edition