ocf

Office of Campaign Finance
 

DC Agency Top Menu


-A +A
Bookmark and Share

Interpretative Opinion 11-01: Conflict of Interest

March 16, 2011
 

Joseph L. Askew, Jr., Esquire
Chairman, Board of Trustees
University of the District of Columbia
4200 Connecticut Avenue, N.W., 3rd Floor
Washington, D.C. 20008

Dear Chairman Askew:

This is in response to your request dated March 3, 2011, for an Interpretative Opinion regarding, whether you, as a registered lobbyist in the District of Columbia for Verizon, may serve on the Board of Trustees for the University of the District of Columbia or on any Board or Commission. You are currently serving as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the District of Columbia. On January 18, 2011, you registered with the Office of Campaign Finance as a Lobbyist working for Verizon-Washington, District of Columbia, Inc.

By way of background, D.C. Official Code Section 1-1105.01 (7)(A) (2001 Edition) defines “lobbying” to mean “communicating directly with an official in the legislative or executive branch of the District of Columbia government with the purpose of influencing any legislative action or an administrative decision.”

D.C. Official Code Section 1-1105.01 (8) defines “lobbyist” to mean “any person who engages in lobbying. Public officials communicating directly or soliciting others to communicate with other public officials shall not be deemed lobbyists for the purposes of this chapter, so long as such public officials do not receive compensation in addition to their salary for such communications or solicitations and make such communications and solicitations in their official capacity.”

As used in the lobbying provisions, the term “official in the executive branch” is defined to include “members of boards and commissions designated in § 1-1106.02 (a)”, and the term “public official” means “any official in the executive, judicial, or legislative branch of the District of Columbia government.” See D.C. Official Code Sections 1-1105.01 (9) and (11). Further, D.C. Official Code Section 1-1106.02 (a) specifically cites “each member …. of the Board of Trustees of the University of the District of Columbia, established by § 38-1202.01” as public officials under the umbrella of the Financial Disclosure Statute.

D.C. Official Code Section 1-1105.06 (e) prohibits a public official from being “employed as a lobbyist while acting as a public official, except as provided in § 1-1105.03”. The exception found in D.C. Official Code Section 1-1105.03 (a) (1) exempts a public official from registering as a lobbyist with the Office of Campaign Finance “if such person is…..a public official or an employee of the United States acting in his or her official capacity”.

In sum, it has been the long standing opinion and policy of the Office of Campaign Finance that the foregoing statutes when read in harmony apply to the activities of public officials while “on duty”, and do not preclude public officials from serving as paid lobbyists when “off duty” and not otherwise engaged in their roles as public officials. See Interpretative Opinion No. 07-07 (June 5, 2007). Simply stated, the lobbying provisions clearly prohibit a public official from being employed as a lobbyist “while acting as a public official” except where the public official, while “in their official capacity”, communicates directly or indirectly with other public officials, and receives no compensation other than their salary for such activity. The phrases “while acting as a public official” or “in their official capacity” both convey action which is taken in the course of, or during the discharge of, official duties.

Therefore, as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, you are prohibited from being employed as a lobbyist while acting in your official capacity. See D.C. Official Code Section 1-1105.06 (e). You represent that as a Member of the Board of Trustees, you have not, nor have you ever, acted as a public official when carrying out the duties of your lobbying employment relationship with Verizon. You state: “My official acts as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the University of the District of Columbia do not conflict with the parameters of my employment with Verizon. I am not nor have I ever been compensated by Verizon for any acts performed pursuant to my official capacities as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the University of the District of Columbia”.

You are cautioned to remain vigilant to ensure that your prospective actions as a lobbyist for Verizon do not coincide in any manner with your position as a public official, such that a person may believe or have reason to believe that you are lobbying for Verizon, while acting as the Chairman or a Member of the Board of Trustees. When lobbying for Verizon, there must be a clear firewall and visible separation in your status as a lobbyist for Verizon and your role as a public official, Chairman of the Board of Trustees.

Correspondingly, on those occasions when you, in your official capacity as the Chairman or Member of the Board of Trustees, must communicate directly or solicit others to communicate directly with other public officials, you will not be deemed a lobbyist as long as you do not receive compensation for such actions other than your salary, if any, as a public official.

The foregoing is an Interpretative Opinion of the Director of the Office of Campaign Finance. Pursuant to D.C. Official Code Section 1-1103.05, you are entitled to request an Advisory Opinion from the Board of Elections and Ethics on this transaction or activity.

Should you have any further questions, please contact William O. SanFord, the General Counsel for the Office of Campaign Finance at (202) 671-0549.