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Interpretative Opinion 02-16: Contributions to the DC Government

November 6, 2002

The Honorable Harold Brazil
Councilmember At-Large
Council of the District of Columbia
The John A. Wilson Building
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20004

Re: Funding for a Public Event

Dear Councilmember Brazil:

This responds to your request for an expedited opinion concerning your involvement in a public event, where funding for the event will be sponsored by a private source. Specifically, you state that you will present an "Economic Development Action Agenda" at George Washington University, and that a continental breakfast will be provided for approximately 200 guests. You state the event will be underwritten by a private organization, and that the University will be paid directly by that entity. Consequently, there will be no financial exchange on the part of the District Government and the University relative to this event. Therefore, you ask whether you have complied with the regulations requiring "arms length distance" in this instance.

DC Official Code § 1-1106.01(c) states in pertinent part, "[n]o person shall offer or give to a public official…, and no public official shall solicit or receive anything of value, including… a hospitality…, based on any understanding that such public official's official actions or judgment or vote would be influenced thereby, or where it could reasonably be inferred that the thing of value would influence the public official in the discharge of his or her duties…".

18 DPM § 1803.2 states, "a District employee shall not solicit or accept, either directly or through the intercession of others, any gift, gratuity, favor,… or other like thing of value from a person who singularly or in concert with others: (a) Has, or is seeking to obtain, contractual or other business or financial relations with the DC government; (b) Conducts operations or activities that are subject to regulation by the DC government; or (c) Has an interest that may be favorably affected by the performance or non-performance of the employee's official responsibilities."

As you are aware, the District's conflict of interest laws, as well as personnel regulations relative to employee conduct, were drafted to ensure that employees and public officials maintain the highest standards of ethical conduct. As Chairperson of the Council of the District of Columbia's Committee on Economic Development, the event you describe is clearly a programmatic initiative that is directly related to your Subcommittee's mission. As such, the event may be properly characterized as a public or government-sponsored event.

After exploring the event and its sponsorship further with your office, we have gleaned that among the sponsors of the breakfast are the DC Builders Association and the DC Restaurant Association, organizations that are regulated by the District of Columbia Government. Notwithstanding, so long as you are sponsoring this event as part of your governmental responsibilities, your conduct falls outside of the Standards of Conduct; thus, the sources named would not be prohibited from sponsoring the breakfast associated with the event. Conversely, if your involvement in the event was to further a personal or private interest, the prohibitions in the conflict of interest statute and in the employee conduct regulations would apply.