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One Last Reminder on Convention Parties

Some habits can be hard to break, so when it comes to the fast-approaching Democratic and Republican conventions, it appears that members of Congress need lots of reminding about just what kinds of parties they can and can't attend under the new regime of stricter gift rules.

The House and Senate ethics committees have already issued lots of memos providing guidance on the subject, and just to make sure no party-loving lawmaker can use the old "the dog ate my memo" excuse, the Senate panel on Friday sent out a fresh "Dear Colleague" letter telling senators again which kinds of soirees are off-limits.

"What has changed?" the letter asks, and answers: "Under the new rule, a Member may not participate in an event honoring that Member if it is paid for directly by a lobbyist or private entity that retains or employs a lobbyist. This includes events where a specific Member or Members are identified by name or title, and events honoring a group composed solely of Members. This does not include an event where a Member is a featured speaker. In addition, Members and staff may not accept gifts of any value (including free attendance at an event) from registered lobbyists, agents of a foreign principal, or private entities that retain or employ them, except as permitted by one of the specific exceptions to the Gifts rule."

But don't feel sorry for those party-starved Senators just yet. They'll still be able to attend parties and accept some gifts from national and local convention host committees and federal, state and local governments. They can still be feted at a party designed to honor an entire state's slate of convention delegates, and they can still attend charity events. They can still attend campaign fundraisers. They can still go to good old "widely-attended" events (like some of these) and they can accept a "T-shirt or baseball cap of reasonable value."

So all is not lost. The ethics panel advises that senators and staff with further questions should call the committee. Perhaps the panel should just send some lawyers to all the parties in Denver and St. Paul to make sure the rules are being enforced. It's tough work, but someone's gotta do it.

By Ben Pershing  |  July 28, 2008; 11:40 AM ET
Categories:  Ethics and Rules  
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