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Convention Party Do's and Don'ts

Attention, party planners in Minneapolis-St. Paul and Denver. The Senate Ethics Committee today released its latest guidance on what kinds of events can and can't be held at the Republican and Democratic national conventions this summer, and the advice is ever-so-slightly different from that offered by the House ethics panel two months ago.

Since the sweeping ethics and lobbying reform bill was signed into law last September, members, lobbyists and lawyers have been trying to figure out exactly what kinds of convention parties would be kosher under the new rules. Everyone knew that a lobbyist-sponsored or funded group could not throw a party in honor of a specific member of Congress, but after that things got murky.

In December, the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct released a memo saying that a lawmaker could attend an event "organized to honor a delegation or caucus, without naming any specific member of the delegation or caucus." Most ethics lawyers interpreted that to mean that a trade association or company could throw a party honoring, say "the Nevada Congressional Delegation" as long as the invitation didn't name or honor any specific lawmakers from Nevada.

Comes now the Senate Ethics Committee, which released a memo today specifically saying that "an event honoring the 'Nevada Congressional Delegation' would be prohibited, but one honoring 'Nevada Republican Officials' or 'Nevada Delegates' would be permissible."

Okay, then. What does it all mean? I am a wealthy, party-loving lobbyist, and I want to honor SOMEONE. What can I do?

"It seems to be a distinction without a difference," said Robert Kelner, an ethics law expert at Covington & Burling.

Kelner explained that the use of the word "delegation" was a bit vague in the House ethics memo, and the Senate memo makes it clearer what kinds of parties can be allowed. On a practical level, it shouldn't be too difficult for groups to tweak their invitations to honor "officials" or "delegates" from a state (not just members of Congress) and avoid the wrath of the ethics police.

"It's pretty clear now that both the Senate and the House ethics committee guidance ensures that even a two-year-old could organize a very lavish convention event without running afoul of these rules," Kelner said.

So if you've already sent your invitations to the printer, you might need to get them back. Otherwise, party on.

And one postscript: Senate Ethics released a separate memo today on the Senate gift rule and what exactly is allowed under the exception for "items of little intrinsic value." The memo contains no real new information, but it does note that the gift rule would "allow a Member to accept a cup of coffee while appearing on a Sunday television news program -- otherwise forbidden since the television networks employ lobbyists."

So noted.

By Ben Pershing  |  February 4, 2008; 4:58 PM ET
Categories:  Ethics and Rules  
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Next: Clinton Still Finds Time to Legislate


Who needs Hollywood writers when you've got Washington?

Posted by: egc52556 | February 6, 2008 7:24 PM | Report abuse

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