Archive for the ‘Ethics Tip’ Category
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.