Home Virginia Politics Would a $10,000, All-Expenses-Paid Trip to France Be Kosher in Other States?

Would a $10,000, All-Expenses-Paid Trip to France Be Kosher in Other States?

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Since this whole issue came up regarding whether it’s cool for state legislators to accept an all-expense paid trip from to France from a uranium company, I’ve been curious to know how other states treat this type of situation. I started with the state I grew up in, Connecticut, because I have a good friend who’s a state legislator there and also because I lived there for 15 years or so. The short answer from my friend is that, no, Connecticut legislators are not allowed to do this. I also checked the Connecticut “Guide to the Code of Ethics for Legislators”; here are the relevant provisions:

*”As a legislator, there are rules in place regarding accepting gifts from both restricted and

non-restricted donors. In general, you may not accept gifts from restricted donors.”

*Restricted donors include “Registered lobbyists,” “Individuals or entities doing business with the legislative branch,” “Individuals or entities seeking to do business with the legislative branch,” and “Individuals or entities engaged in activities regulated by the legislative branch.”

This uranium company is certainly engaged in, or attempting to engage in, “activities regulated by the legislative branch.” Hence, it’s clearly a “restricted donor” under Connecticut ethics guidelines.

*”A gift is defined as anything of value that you (or a member of your family or your staff)

directly and personally receive unless you provide consideration of equal or greater value

(e.g., pay for the item).”

Like, perhaps, a $10,000 trip to France?

*”You may receive payment or reimbursement for necessary expenses if you, in your official capacity, actively participate in an event; for example by giving a speech or presentation, or

running a workshop.”

In this case, based on what I’ve read and heard, the legislators going to France are not giving speeches or presentations, running the event, or anything like that. They are simply guests of the uranium company, with a tour of a “closed mine in western France where uranium was mined for 50 years until the late 1990s” and “several days in Paris” (no uranium mine there!).

Bottom line: this trip would clearly not be legal for a state legislator in Connecticut. Of course, the tradeoff there is that they’ve got public financing of campaigns, which almost everyone participates in. They’ve also got nearly 90% contested races for their state legislature, but that’s another issue for another discussion…

OK, so that’s Connecticut, where it’s definitely not legal to take a $10,000, all-expense-paid trip from a corporation. What about another state? How about Wisconsin? See the “flip” for more (short answer: no way this would be legal there).

*”The lobbying law imposes numerous restrictions on lobbyists and principals.  In particular, it prohibits lobbyists and principals from furnishing any of the items listed below to legislators or to other elective state officials, agency officials, legislative employees, or candidates for elective state office:

* Lodging.

* Transportation.

* Food, meals, beverages, or money.

* Any other thing of pecuniary value”

Clearly, in Wisconsin, this trip would not be legal.

*An exception: “A principal may give and a legislator may accept anything of pecuniary value which is also made available to the general public.”

In other words, if the uranium company offered all 8 million Virginians a $10,000, all-expense-paid trip to France, then it would be ok for the legislators to go. Of course, the company would also be bankrupt many times over, but whatever…

*Another exception: “A legislator may receive reimbursement or payment of actual and reasonable expenses from a lobbyist or principal for a published work or for the presentation of a  talk or participation in a meeting, under certain circumstances authorized under the Ethics Code.”

Doesn’t seem to apply in the case of a $10,000 trip to France with several free days in Paris, etc.

*Also, “A lobbyist or principal may provide educational or informational material to legislators.”

Let’s just put it this way: if Wisconsin interprets “educational or informational material” as including a $10,000, all-expense-paid trip to France, then their ethics code is a complete joke.

Bottom line: There’s essentially no conceivable way that this trip would be legal in Wisconsin.

Also of relevance, in California, “Public officials may not accept gifts of more than $390 from any single source per calendar year. (Reg. 18940.2.)” Also, “most payments by a third party for a public official’s travel will count as a gift to the public official subject to the $390 gift limit.” Finally, “If a for-profit corporation wishes to pay an official’s airfare or other transportation to a foreign country, the rules are very strict. There is no exception for speeches. Generally, the payment is a gift subject to the applicable limit.” End of story – this trip would be ILLEGAL in California.

  • Distantantennas

    Also illegal just over the river in Maryland. Like Wisconsin, the MD state legislators aren’t allowed to accept gifts from anybody doing business before the General Assembly. There are exceptions like travel to a conference where the legislator is speaking, but nothing that would appear to exempt this type of trip.

    I’m just curious – is this type of ‘gift’ wildly out of line with what usually happens in Richmond, or was it just not kept quiet well?

  • glennbear

    NJ, which has a less then stellar reputation for legislative ethics says the following……….

    No member of the legislature may accept, directly or indirectly, any compensation, reward, employment, gift, honorarium or other thing of value from each lobbyist or legislative agent as defined in 52:13C-18, totalling more than $250 in a calendar year. This does not apply if the lobbyist is a member of the legislator’s immediate family. This section applies to members of the legislator’s household.

    “Gift” means any money or thing of value received other than as income, and for which a consideration of equal or greater value is not received, but does not include any political contribution reported as otherwise required by law, any loan made in the ordinary course of business, or any devise, bequest, intestate estate distribution or principal distribution of a trust or gift received from a member of a person’s household or from a relative within the third degree of consanguinity of the person or his spouse, or from the spouse of that relative;

    Exceptions: Section doesn’t apply if the legislator makes a full reimbursement to the giver within 90 days.

  • The Richmonder

    It’s time for us to lay down a marker and make our views crystal clear.  

    It’s too late to challenge incumbents in primaries in 2011–no doubt that explains the timing of the trip–they waited until after the deadline for primary challenges passed before announcing the trip.  Democrats who go on this trip and don’t pay their own way will be primaried in 2013 (in the case of delegates) and 2015 in the case of senators.  

    These “Democrats” are counting on us to forget in two or four years.  They don’t understand that many of Virginia’s Democratic bloggers have been around since 2005 or 2006.  We’ve survived for five or six of seven years and we’ll be around in 2013 and 2015.  They’ll pay for this trip, one way or another.

    Will you commit to helping to recruit candidates to primary Democrats who go on this trip and don’t pay their own way?

  • ethics code here: “A public official should not solicit, receive, or accept a gift, favor, or service from any entity or individual which has a matter before the public official or the public official’s direct authority, under circumstances where it could reasonably be inferred that such gift would influence the official in the discharge of his or her duties.”

  • Randy Klear

    It’s not party rules that let the incumbent choose the method of nomination. That is actually enshrined in state law (Code of Virginia § 24.2-509, subsection B).

  • clark

    1. As Chair of the Alexandria Democratic Committee, when I read about the “establishment” making decisions, it always kinda gets me. Our committee- and most committees- need more volunteers, need more officers, need more folks rolling up their sleeves and helping w/ voter registration, outreach, etc. It takes a ton of time to help run these committees, and I am anything but insular in the way I chair the committee. Whenever I have read a comment about my committee on this site and others, I have specifically followed up and asked those commentors to touch base with me as I’d like to hear their ideas, get them engaged, etc. I have never received a follow up email- not one. Making our committees more effective is a lot of work- pointing out our areas of weakness is not difficult.

    2. I am the Chair of the 45th HOD nominating committee, and David Englin requested a primary for his race. I feel, as do many others, that primaries are much more democratic as they result in higher turnout and aren’t as viewed as an “insiders game”. I encouraged and will continue to do so that anyone interested in running for office should do so…

    3. Next week the Alexandria Democratic Committee will be hosting its third Candidates Training- a school I’ve put together with top notch campaign and political consultants for anyone interested in running for office, managing a campaign, or being in a position of leadership in the party. We have had over 40 people attend each session thus far— folks from Fairfax County, Alexandria, Arlington, Williamsburg, and Abington. The “establishment” is very much behind this with our elected officials helping run some of these sessions and it being run right out of our committee’s headquarters.

    4. I’d be remiss to point out that it was just a few years ago that Delegate Englin ran in a 5-person primary for the House of Delegates (where he ran against folks some viewed as “establishment” candidates). The new energy, volunteers, and ideas his campaign brought into the party has had a lasting positive effect in our community- his campaign and outreach exemplifies what grassroots campaigning and issue advocacy is all about.

    5. As for the issue of uranium mining, I’ll reserve my comments about positions that others have on this until I hear from them what their positions are.

    6. Re: the issue of gift giving. If folks feel passionately about it, then put together a concerted campaign to change the law. The same goes with redistricting (see the documentary Gerrymandering on the years-long effort in California that concerned citizens undertook to change the law through referendum). I’d be down to help with these types of efforts- they take a lot of time and sweat equity to get changed and it won’t happen overnight.

    -Clark

    Chair, Alexandria Democratic Committee