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Ethics Panel Outlines How Rules Apply to Conventions

The House Ethics Committee released a memorandum today describing how existing gift rules will apply to situations that may arise at the 2012 nominating conventions.

Members and staffers may accept any gifts paid for by the host cities of Tampa, Fla., or Charlotte, N.C., or the federal, state or local government, so long as the city or government is not a conduit for gifts from another person or organization, according to the memo that Ethics Chairman Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) and ranking member Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) wrote to all Members and staffers.

The existing gift rule allows for the acceptance of meals, lodging, entertainment and transportation related to fundraising events hosted by political organizations such as the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee. It likewise allows Members and staffers to accept free attendance and related benefits at events sponsored by state and local party organizations and campaign committees.

From all other sorts of organizations, Members and staffers are permitted to accept “moderate appetizers, beverages, and similar items” but not a meal at receptions and “an offer of free attendance at a ‘widely attended’ event” or a charity event, according to the memo.

Though the acceptance of non-cash gifts valued at less than $50 is permitted, provided that the donor is not a lobbyist or an organization that employs one, the Ethics Committee recommended that such gifts be accepted with caution.

“Members and staff must be especially cautious about accepting invitations to sporting events, shows, recreational activities, or small group or one-on-one meals,” the committee said.

The committee said the memorandum should be read in conjunction with guidance it circulated in January concerning “Member Participation in Certain Events Taking Place During a National Political Convention.”

Bonner and Sanchez said any questions about how to apply the guidance in the memorandum should be directed to the Ethics Committee.

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