Having a Party?

April 29, 2008

The Republican and Democratic parties hold their national presidential nominating conventions this year. The Democrats meet in Denver in August. The Republicans gather in Minneapolis in September. Many of the convention delegates also serve as elected officials at the federal, state and local level. Thus, many are subject to limitations and prohibitions on the gifts they may accept from lobbyists. How do these restrictions apply to events at the conventions that are paid for, in whole or part, by registered lobbyists and their clients? Today’s post summarizes the requirements for Members of the U.S. Congress. Future posts will address relevant requirements for officials in New York and New Jersey. Registered lobbyists and entities that retain or employ lobbyists may not give gifts to Members of Congress and Congressional staff. The acceptance of such gifts is also banned. Exceptions permit Members and staff to: • Attend and have refreshments at receptions where no sit-down meal is served. • Have a formal meal at a “widely attended event” when invited by the event sponsor (including registered lobbyists and lobbying firms), and other conditions set forth in the House or Senate rules, as applicable, are satisfied. The Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 (HLOGA) prohibits Member participation at an event held during a national political convention honoring that Member, other than in his or her capacity as a candidate for President or Vice President, if such event is directly paid for by a registered lobbyist or by a private entity that retains or employs such a registered lobbyist. The House and Senate have adopted different interpretations of this prohibition. House. If Member attendance is otherwise permitted under the general gift rule exceptions, the Member may participate in any event organized to honor a delegation or caucus – regardless of size – so long as no specific Member is named or provided any special benefit or opportunity. The prohibition covers events “directly paid for” by a lobbyist or by a private entity that retains or employs lobbyists. The fact that a private organization received some of its funding from such a prohibited payor, by itself, would not disqualify a Member from participating in the organization’s event Senate. The Senate interpretation extends the prohibition to events where a specific Member or Members are identified by name or title and to events honoring a group composed solely of Members of Congress. Thus, an event honoring a state’s “Congressional Delegation” is prohibited, but one honoring a state’s “Delegates” is permitted. Another distinction is that the Senate interpretation would allow Members to appear as a featured speaker, whereas the House interpretation does not permit a Member to have an “exclusive” speaking role. Finally, the Senate interpretation explicitly extends the prohibition to events for which a lobbyist or entity donates money to a non-lobbyist entity and earmarks the funds to be spent in connection with an event honoring a Member. But the prohibition would not apply if the lobbyist or entity gives funds to a non-lobbyist entity without earmarking the funds to honor a Member. Next up: New York

Tag: Federal