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Last-minute Ethics Reminders for Convention Attendees

July 2016

By Jan Witold Baran and Louisa Brooks

For those traveling to Cleveland or Philadelphia for the national party conventions, we have assembled a few last-minute reminders on some of the applicable ethics guidelines.

1. The conventions are not ethics-free zones.  Members and staff of the U.S. House and Senate attending the conventions are bound by their chamber’s gift rules, which prohibit them from receiving a gift of any value from a federal lobbyist or a private entity that employs or retains a federal lobbyist, unless a gift rule exception applies.  The most common gift rule exceptions in the convention context are for events that meet the criteria for a “widely attended event” or the “reception” exception.  Among several other exceptions, a Member or staffer may also accept attendance at an event or a gift if the same is offered to all convention delegates or all delegates from a particular state or region, when the Member or staffer is also a delegate from that state or region.  For specific questions regarding the House or Senate gift rules and applicable exceptions, please contact us.

2. State and Local Rules may also apply.  State and local officeholders and government employees attending the convention are subject to the lobbying and gift rules of their employing jurisdictions.  These rules vary widely, and it may be wise to review the restrictions in advance if you plan to have discussions with or provide meals or gifts to officials from a specific jurisdiction.

3. Corporate Contributions Prohibited.  Corporations often host and sponsor social events in the convention cities.  As long as such events are merely social in nature, they are not regulated by the FEC.  However, keep in mind that corporations (or entities using corporate funds) may not host a general fundraising event using corporate funds, nor make a contribution in connection with a federal election.

4. New in 2016: Individuals and PACs may contribute to the party convention committees.  As a result of recent statutory changes to how conventions are funded, the party convention committees may now accept up to $100,200 per calendar year from individuals, and up to $45,000 per calendar year from PACs.

5. Corporations may not contribute money to the party convention committees.  While FEC regulations permit corporations to provide certain goods and services at a discount or at no charge to a national party’s convention committee, monetary contributions by corporations are strictly prohibited.  Note that corporations may make monetary or in-kind contributions to the Cleveland and Philadelphia host committees, which are distinct from the convention committees.

If you have questions about these or any other restrictions that may apply to your activities at the convention, please feel free to reach out to us.  We have briefed a number of clients on these issues and are happy to answer any questions.