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Interpretative Opinion 99-14: Contributions to the DC Government

October 28, 1999
 

Jim Giandelia, Program Manager
Department of Health
Preventive Health Services Administration
825 North Capitol Street, NE
3rd Floor
Washington, DC  20002

Re: Contribution to District Government from Greeting Card Company

Dear Mr. Giandelia:

This responds to your request for an opinion concerning the propriety of the District of Columbia Immunization Program’s (Program) acceptance of a contribution, in the form of greeting cards, for distribution to District of Columbia parents.  Specifically, you state that the District of Columbia’s Immunization Program is participating in an initiative with Hallmark Greeting Cards (Hallmark) to encourage parents to immunize their children.  You advise that the “Hallmark Immunization Greeting Card Program” is designed to “support the efforts of the District of Columbia to promote early and complete immunization for preventable childhood diseases.”  You are concerned whether the District’s participation in the Hallmark initiative violates the DC Campaign Finance Reform and Conflict of Interest Act, as amended, and/or other regulations enforced by this office.

  DC Code § 1-1401(6)(A)(i) defines the term, “contribution”, as a “gift, . . . or anything of value, made for the purpose of financing, directly or indirectly, the election campaign of a candidate . . .”.  The contribution by Hallmark that you describe has no connection with the election of a candidate to office; and, therefore, would not violate the campaign finance provisions of the statute.

Pursuant to DC Code § 1-1451(7)(A), the term, “lobbying” means “communicating directly with any 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.”  According to your representation to Hallmark, by letter dated  October  22,  1999,  the  immunization  card  program  is  not intended to influence
legislation in the District of Columbia.  We further glean from the documents you submitted that the card program targets its distribution to parents of newborns “to reinforce the importance of timely immunization.”  Consequently, we conclude that the Hallmark program would not constitute lobbying in this jurisdiction.

Finally, pursuant to 18 D.P.M. § 1803.2 (The Employee Conduct Regulations), “a District employee shall not solicit or accept, either directly or through the intercession of others, any gift, gratuity, . . . 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.”

The District of Columbia Government employs many residents who live within its borders.  Therefore, we assume that some District employees may be parents of newborns who will be among the beneficiaries of the Hallmark Program.  Assuming, en arguendo, that Hallmark either has or seeks business with the District of Columbia; or, is subject to regulation by the DC government; or, has an interest that may be affected by an employee’s performance or non-performance of an official duty, the acceptance of the card could be viewed as violative of the Regulations.  However, 18 D.P.M. §§ 1803.3 (d) and (e) respectively provide exceptions to the foregoing by permitting “the acceptance of unsolicited advertising or promotional material . . . and like items of nominal value; and “the acceptance of a voluntary gift of nominal value . . . which is presented on a special occasion such as a marriage, illness, or retirement.” (Emphasis added).  In our opinion, although not enumerated, the birth of a child would fit within this exception, thus certain District employees, who are under the jurisdiction of this agency pursuant to DC Code § 1-1462(a),  would not be restricted from accepting the “gift” for these purposes.