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Interpretative Opinion 10-06: Acceptance of Gifts

August 04, 2010

David Vladen Zvenyach
Chief of Staff
Office of Councilmember Mary M. Cheh
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Suite 108
Washington, DC 20004

Re: Funding for Conference on Obesity

This responds to your request for an opinion concerning the propriety of a member of Councilmember Cheh’s staff accepting airfare and hotel expenses from the Campaign for Healthy Kids, which is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to attend a legislative conference on August 23, 2010, in Chicago, Illinois. You stated that the group “has invited representatives from state and local governments to discuss the obesity epidemic and share strategies and tools for fighting it”. You additionally requested guidance regarding how the acceptance of the expenses if allowable should be reported.

D.C. Official Code § 1-1106.01(c) (2001 edition) states in pertinent part, “[n]o person shall offer or give to a public official or member of the public official’s household, and no public official shall solicit or receive anything of value including a gift, favor, service, loan gratuity, discount, hospitality, political contribution, or promise of future employment, 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, or as a reward, except for political contributions publicly reported….”

18 DPM § 1803.2 states, “… [a] District employee shall not accept, either directly or through the intercession of others, any gift from a prohibited source.” Prohibited source is defined as “any person or entity that:

"(1) Conducts operations or activities that are subject to regulation by the District government; or

"(2) Has an interest that may be favorably affected by the performance or non- performance of the employee’s official responsibilities.”

Based upon the information you have provided, it appears that the activity the Campaign for Healthy Kids intends to undertake is consistent with the mission of the District government. Therefore, the participation of a member of Councilmember Cheh’s staff in this program does not appear to be outside of the scope activity that can be financed by the District government.

However, in view of the shortage of existing funds through government channels, if the only available source of funding is the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and it is not a prohibited source as defined by 18 DPM § 1803.2, the preferred approach to receiving the funding from an outside source would require the foundation to make a gift to government in the amount required to defray the cost for the staff member to attend the conference. For specific guidance on the procedure for gifts to government, you may consider seeking advice from the Ethics Counselor for the Council, Brian Flowers.

Additionally, pursuant to 18 DPM § 1812.1, you are entitled to a published Advisory Opinion from Mr. Flowers, as the Council’s Ethics Counselor.

The foregoing is an Interpretative Opinion of the Director of the Office of Campaign Finance. Pursuant to D.C. Official Code §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 additional questions, please contact William O. SanFord, Acting General Counsel at (202) 671-0550.