The Office of Government Ethics has announced proposed amendments to the current ethics guidelines applicable to federal employees. A few of them actually relax what the government has been practicing for the past year, but overall, the proposed changes would put stricter limitations on some political activity.
American League of Lobbyists president Howard Marlowe says, “The proposed rule would prevent federal employees from having even casual social contact with registered lobbyists. There is no evidence that the current overly-restrictive rules are being abused or are inadequate[, and t]he American League of Lobbyists strongly objects to this proposed rule. Unfortunately, it is another in a long series of moves by this Administration to reduce the mutual flow of information and expertise between lobbyists and friendly employees.”
Among those amendments:
- Excluding from the definition of registered lobbyist or lobbying organization the following types of organizations, even if these organizations are registered under the LDA: “nonprofit professional associations, scientific organizations, and learned societies.”
- Abolishing the requirement that an invitation to an event not come directly from a registered lobbyist. In other words, if the gift of the invitation comes from a 501(c)3, even if the organization is registered under LDA, the gift is allowed.
- Limiting the use of the gift exceptions for all government employees; formerly these applied to political appointees. No government employee would be able to use the following electronic cigarette comparison exceptions for gifts from registered lobbyists or lobbying entities: the $20 de minimus exception, the widely attended gathering exception and the social invitation exception.
-The widely attended gathering exception applies to training and professional development activities; it should not apply to purely social events, such as gala dinners, fundraisers, parties, etc.
- Trade associations would be excluded from the list of organizations that can extend invitations to government employees to attend widely attended gatherings. In its reasoning, OGE states that, “Trade associations may sponsor educational activities for their members and even the public, but the primary concern of such associations generally is not the education and development of members of a profession or discipline, which is the focus of the proposed exclusion.”
- The proposed rules seem to allow attendance at such activities held by professional societies, though both trades and professional groups are organized under 501 (c)6 tax code.
- If the government employee is speaking at an association event, attendance in that instance is permitted, because a speaking engagement is not considered a gift.
The association community is also upset about the proposal, and some have referred to it as “a call to arms” for the business community. ASAE has requested a meeting with OGE acting director and general counsel Dawn Fox to express concerns and gain clarity on the issue.
OGE is accepting comments through Nov. 14.