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Q. I do not work on the Hill, but I have several friends who do, and I have a question about when itís okay to buy them a meal. I had lunch the other day with a chief of staff of a member of the House of Representatives. He forgot his wallet and so asked if I could by lunch. I donít know anything about government ethics rules, but he said it was fine because the rules allow staffers to accept meals and gifts worth less than $50 from anyone other than a lobbyist, and our tab was $40 after tip. I went ahead and paid based on this, but I later asked another staffer, and he said it was probably not okay for me to have done so. What gives?
Q. As a resident of New Jersey, I have seen many different perspectives on the recent indictment of Bob Menendez. Some here in New Jersey are supporting him, while others have called for his resignation. What I want to know is what exactly the charges are against Menendez and what the government needs to prove. Iíve generally heard it referred to as a bribery case, but are there any other charges against Menendez?
Q. I read that Rep. [Edward] Whitfield, R-Ky., is under investigation for allowing his wife to lobby his office on behalf of her employer. Is it illegal for someone to lobby their spouse? And if so, does that mean lobbyists who are married to Members of Congress cannot discuss policy with their spouse or have any contact with their spouseís staff? That sounds like a difficult rule to follow. Is it really the case?
Q. I read that Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., may face an ethics investigation for selling his house for too high a price. As a longtime House staffer, this worried me. Iíve sold several big-ticket items over the years ó cars, a boat, houses, and while Iíve always tried to make sure that the selling price is not too low, it never occurred to me to ensure that the price is not too high. Can it really be an ethics violation to get too good of a deal on something I sell?
Q. I read about a recent court case where a lobbyist was sent to jail for arranging for a large group of people to make contributions to the campaign of Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev. I had always thought that it was okay for someone to help organize a big group of campaign donors. Isnít this known as ďbundling,Ē and isnít it legal?
Q. I worked on the campaign of someone who has just been elected to the House of Representatives for the first time, and I expect to work for him in the House as well beginning in January. I recently met with some experienced staffers to learn the ins-and-outs of working on the Hill. One thing they filled me in on is how strict the gift limitations are, but what really stuck out was that the permissibility of a gift supposedly can depend somehow on the language of the tag or card that comes with it. I had trouble wrapping my head around this. Is this really true?
Q. I heard that Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wis., may face ethics discipline because he assisted companies in which he owned stock. I know that Members are not supposed to use their position for their own personal gain, but I didnít realize that meant they are disqualified from taking action on behalf of any companies in which they might own stock. Is that really the rule?
A famous Tacitus quote about government corruption raises a chicken and egg question. One common translation is: ďThe more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws.Ē But it is also sometimes cited as, ďThe more numerous the laws, the more corrupt the state.Ē
Q. I have a question about your recent article on how House ethics rules could be affected by the Supreme Courtís decision on the Defense of Marriage Act. I am in a same-sex marriage with a House staffer that the law recognizes in our state. My question concerns the financial disclosure forms my spouse must file each year with the House. I know that these forms generally ask for information concerning the filer and the filerís spouse but that this has never applied to same-sex spouses. I am a private person and donít like the idea of the public knowing about my financial affairs. While my spouse and I of course were elated about the Supreme Court decision, I am concerned that it might mean he must start including my information on his disclosure forms. Does it?
Q. I am a House staffer in a same-sex marriage, and I have a question about the effect of the Supreme Courtís decision regarding the Defense of Marriage Act upon House ethics rules. For example, the law firm my spouse works for hosts an annual retreat where attorneysí spouses are invited to attend as well. But, as I understand the gift rules, it might violate the rules if I allowed the law firm to pay for my expenses to attend the event. While the rules allow staffers to have their expenses paid for at spousesí events such as these, I have generally not qualified as a ďspouse.Ē Does the DOMA ruling change things with respect to House ethics rules like this one?
Q. I am a lobbyist with a question about lobbying disclosure forms. Technically, I know am supposed to file these forms a few times each year, and I always do. But sometimes I wonder why I bother. I know of other lobbyists who often miss the deadline for filing their forms and some who donít file them at all, and they never seem to face any consequences. Am I wasting my time by filing the forms? Or does the requirement to file them actually have teeth?
Q. I have a question about the fines recently levied against former Sen. John Ensign and his parents by the Federal Election Commission. I thought that the FEC dropped its case against the Ensigns years ago. If thatís right, what changed between then and now that resulted in fines?