Watch Gifts at Conventions, Ethics Says

Posted May 21, 2008 at 5:15pm

Have a good time at the conventions. But don’t forget to follow the rules while you’re there.

That’s effectively the message the House ethics committee issued in an advisory opinion late Wednesday afternoon reminding Members and aides to adhere to the chamber’s strict gift rules while attending nominating conventions in Denver and St. Paul, Minn., this summer.

“The gift rule prohibits Members and House staff from accepting any gift — including any meal, entertainment, transportation services or anything else having monetary value — except as specifically provided in the rule,” the three-page memorandum states.

The House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, as the panel is formally known, goes on to outline exceptions allowed for the conventions, including “things paid for” by the cities of Denver or St. Paul, as well as things funded by any federal, state or local government body.

In addition, the memo notes that Members or staff can accept meals, transportation, lodging or entertainment from the campaign committees, convention host committees or national committees in connection with the conventions.

Other restrictions continue to apply, however, including prohibitions against gifts from lobbyists, foreign agents or agencies that employ or retain such individuals.

The advisory memo also reiterates restrictions that bar Members from attending events held “in honor” of themselves, a new rule instituted in December.

Jan Baran, an ethics attorney with Wiley Rein, said the advisory appears to be a standard reminder issued quadrennially by the House.

“It’s consistent with the type of memos the committee has released every four years before the convention,” Baran said.