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Davidson: May Members and Staff Accept 'VIP' Discounts?

Of course, there can be other indicia of special treatment or using one’s position for personal gain. For example, the committee said that its “greatest concern” in its review of the Countrywide loans was evidence that some staffers directly contacted in-house lobbyists at Countrywide for assistance with their personal loans.

This the committee did not like. It is improper, the committee said, for a member or staffer to meet with a representative of an organization seeking action or assistance from the member of staffer, and then make a request for assistance with one’s own personal finances at the same meeting. “This conduct is not made any less improper,” the committee said, “merely because there is some separation in time between a past or future meeting and the personal request.”

This last warning is particularly noteworthy. It means that members and staffers should take special care when dealing with in-house lobbyists and other business employees or representatives.

Many of us outside Congress are accustomed to seeking help from friends who might be able to help to facilitate a major purchase. The committee’s warning implies that members and staffers should think twice about doing so, particularly where the “someone you know” is an in-house lobbyist or similar official for a company with interests before the member or staffer.

As the committee puts it: “when your relationship with a representative of a particular business or outside organization is based on your power to affect that person’s organization, and their efforts to influence you or your office in the exercise of that power, that is a relationship that should never be used for your personal benefit.”

C. Simon Davidson is a partner with the law firm McGuireWoods. Submit questions to cdavidson@mcguirewoods.com. Questions do not create an attorney-client relationship. Readers should not treat his column as legal advice.

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