Love is in the air on Valentine’s Day, and while some lobbyists may cry into a beer on “Singles Awareness Day,” other lobbyists may be out on romantic dates with congressional Members or staff. Yet dates may go awry between lobbyists and congressional employees not because of bad conversation or a case of being “just not that into you,” but because of ethics rules. Some tips are below from the Lobbying Compliance Handbook that will ensure that your date does not end up becoming a scandal.
Even before the changes to the ethics rules, lobbyists and Members/staffers had to face and answer to the myriad of social and personal customs, concerns, and expectations that come with being involved in a relationship. However, lobbyists and Members/staffers also now must factor in the application of the House and Senate ethics rules. There is no general exception in the rules for “dates.” The rules and the exceptions must be applied to the stages of dating:
- Getting acquainted dates
- Personal friends
- Significant others
- Fiancé or fiancée
There are exceptions under the gift rules that allow for gifts and entertaining for the advanced stages of dating. But for first dates, blind dates and the beginning stages of any dating relationship, the rule is simply Dutch treat, period.
|Stages of Dating||House||Senate|
|First dates, blind dates, initial stages of dating||Dutch treat||Dutch treat|
|Significant Others||Personal friendship rule applies; no specific exception||Senate Ethics Committee has granted a waiver which generally permits a Member / staffer to accept gifts from an individual with whom s/he enjoys a significant, personal, dating relationship.|
|Fiancé or fiancée||Considered a gift from a relative and exempt but a letter to House Ethics upon receipt of an engagement ring valued at $250 or more is required to avoid disclosure of the ring as a gift||Considered a gift from a relative and exempt but a letter to Senate Ethics upon receipt of an engagement ring valued at $250 or more is required to avoid disclosure of the ring as a gift|
|Married||Gifts from spouses are exempt||Gifts from spouses are exempt|
While the Senate has recognized and codified the permissibility of gifts from significant others short of a formal engagement, the House has not done likewise. Essentially, the personal friendship exception will apply in both instances, but it is important to note that there are always factors that must be present in order for either exception to apply.
You may ask, “at what point does the ‘personal friendship’ exception kick-in between people who are dating?”
And the answer is…who knows? Just be prepared to answer that question under penalty of perjury if anyone with a badge ever asks. Until and unless the dating relationship has moved past the “initial phase” into the “personal friendship phase,” Members and staff must treat a lobbyist-date more as a lobbyist than as a date, which means paying his or her own way.
For more information or to purchase the Lobbying Compliance Handbook click here.