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Interpretative Opinion 04-03: Conflict of Interest

March 02, 2004

Charlotte Brookins-Hudson
General Counsel
Council of the District of Columbia
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW. Suite 4
Washington, DC 20004

Re: Conflict of Interest

Dear Ms. Brookins-Hudson:

This responds to your request for an opinion concerning whether a potential conflict of interest exist for an elected official if he accepts a set of golf clubs which cost $1,000, as a 50th birthday gift from a group of individuals, who are personal friends of the elected official. You further state that each individual contributed $100 toward the gift and none of the contributors are District government employees, although one serves on the board of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission.

D.C. Official Code §1-1106.01(b) (2001 Edition) states in pertinent part that, “[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 that compensation provided by law for said public official.”

D.C. Official Code § 1-1106.01(c) provides, “[n]o person shall offer or give to a public official or a 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, discount, hospitality, political contributions, or promise of future employment, based on any understanding that such public official’s 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 …”.

D.C. Official Code § 1-1106.02(a) (5) requires the disclosure of “all gifts received in an aggregate value of $100 in a calendar year by such person from any business entity (including sole proprietorships, partnerships, and corporations) transacting any business with the District of Columbia government …”.

District Personnel Manual (DPM) § 1803.2 provides, “[e]xcept as noted in § 1803.3, a District employee shall not solicit or accept either directly or through the intercession of others, any gift, gratuity, favor, loan, entertainment, 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 D.C. government;

(b) Conducts operations or activities that are subject to regulation by the D.C. government; or

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

DPM §1803.3 states “[t]he restrictions outlined in § 1803.2 do not apply to the following:

(a) Obvious personal relationships such as those that exist between an employee and his or her parents, children or spouse, when the circumstances make it clear that the motivating factor in these relationships is the individual’s close family ties rather than the business of persons concerned;

(b) The acceptance of food and refreshments of nominal value on infrequent occasions in the ordinary course of a luncheon or dinner meeting or while on an inspection tour where an employee may properly be in attendance;

(c) The acceptance of loans from banks or other financial institutions on customary terms to finance proper and usual activities of employees such as the acquisition of a car, home or appliance;

(d) The acceptance of unsolicited advertising or promotional material such as pens, pencils, note pads, calendars, and like items of nominal value; or

(e) The acceptance of a voluntary gift of nominal value or of a cash donation in a nominal amount which is presented on a special occasion such as marriage, illness or retirement. “

Based upon your representations that on the occasion of the elected officials 50th birthday a group of ten individuals have decided to each contribute $100 towards the purchase of a $1,000 set of the golf clubs solely for the purpose of celebrating the occasion, it does not appear that the contributions of the nine individuals who are not District government employees and do not represent any interests which are seeking to, or are currently conducting business with the District government, would violate any of the prohibited activity outlined above in the applicable provisions of D.C. Official Code § 1-1106 and DPM § 1803.

However, in view of the fact that the tenth contributor serves on the board of the D. C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, which is governed by the Council Committee on Economic Development and the council member in question is a member of the Economic Development Subcommittee, it would not be appropriate for the board member to contribute $100 towards the purchase of a gift for the council member.

In accordance with D.C. Official Code §1-1106 and DPM § 1803, members of Boards and Commissions must adhere to the Standards of Conduct.

DPM § 1803.4 states “[a]n employee shall not solicit a contribution from another employee for a gift to an official superior, make a donation as a gift to an official superior, or accept a gift from an employee receiving less pay. This subsection does not preclude the presentation or acceptance of a voluntary gift of nominal value or of a cash donation in a nominal amount when given on a special, infrequent occasion such as marriage, illness, or retirement.”

DPM § 1803.5 provides “ [f]or the purposes of § 1804.4, the term nominal means an individual cash donation of no more than $10 or an individual voluntary gift of no more than $10 in market value.”

Therefore, it is the opinion of the Office of Campaign Finance that it would not be inappropriate for the council member to accept the set of golf clubs from nine of the ten contributors but, the council member would be required to refund $90 to the member of the Sports and Entertainment Commission if that individual also contributed $100 towards the purchase of the Council members gift because it would exceed the $ 10 cash donation allowable under DPM § 1803.5.