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Interpretative Opinion 09-06: Conflict of Interest

April 15, 2009

Sarah Livingston
1616 Marlon Street, N.W. #334
Washington, DC 20001

Re: Potential Conflict of Interest

Dear Ms. Livingston:

This responds to your request for an opinion concerning whether you may loan a personal computer to an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for a period of six months to a year to enable her to send and receive e-mails to her fellow commissioners, her constituents and the D.C. government..

D.C. Official Code § 1-1106.01(a) (2001 Edition) states “[t]he Congress declares that elective and public office is a public trust, and any effort to realized personal gain through official conduct is a violation of that trust.”

D.C. Official Code § 1-1106.01(b) (2001 Edition) states “[n]o public official shall use his or her official position or office to obtain financial gain for himself or herself, any member of his or her household or any business with which he or she or a member of his or her household is associated; other than compensation provided by law for said public official.”

D.C. Official Code § 1-1106.01(i) (2) defines the term “business with which he or she is associated” as “any business of which the person or member of his or her household is director, officer, owner, employee, or holder of stock worth $1000 or more at fair market value, and any business which is a client of that person.”

D.C. Official Code § 1-1106.01 (c) states “[n]o person shall offer or give to a public official or member of a public official’s household, and no public official shall solicit or receive anything of value, including a gift, favor, service, loan gratuity, based on any understanding that such public official’s official actions or judgement 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 pursuant to D.C. Official Code § 1-1102.06 and transactions made in the ordinary course of business of the person offering or giving the thing of value.”

D.C. Official Code § 1-309.10 (l) states “ [n]o Commission may solicit or receive funds unless specifically authorized to do so by the Council, except that receipt of individual contributions of $1,000 or less need not be approved by the Council. No person shall make any contribution, nor shall a Commission receive any contribution from any person which, when aggregated with all other contributions received from that person exceeds $1,000 per calendar year. Each Commission shall file with its quarterly reports to the District of Columbia Auditor required pursuant to § 1-309.13 (j) details of all contributions received during the relevant period of time.”

The conflict of interest provisions, represented in part by §§ 1-1106.01(a), (b), (c) and (i) (2), listed above, address a conflict or apparent conflict faced by an individual public official. Based upon your representations, your loan of a personal computer to a single Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner would benefit a specific public official. Therefore, the conflict of interest provisions appear to be applicable to your proposal.

In addition, §§ 1-1106.01(c) specifically prohibits public officials from soliciting or receiving anything of value, including a gift, favor, service, loan gratuity where it could reasonably be inferred that the thing of value would influence the public official in the discharge of his or her duties. Although there is no indication that the public official you refer to would be influenced in the discharge of her duties by the acceptance your loan of a personal computer, nonetheless, there is no provision in the statute that allows for such a transaction.

Therefore, based upon the information you have provided it is the opinion of the Office of Campaign Finance that a conflict of interest would arise from your loan of a personal computer to and Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner.

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, Senior Staff Attorney at (202) 671-0550.