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Interpretative Opinion 98-03: Solicitation of Funds

August 12, 1998

The Honorable Marion S. Barry
Mayor of the District of Columbia
Office of the Mayor
441-4th Street, NW
Suite 1100
Washington, DC  20001

Re: Tribute on October 22, 1998

Dear Mr. Mayor:

This is in response to your request on August 10, 1998, for an opinion as to the parameters within which a Farewell Tribute may be planned in honor of your many years of public service in the District of Columbia.  You state that the affair will be held at the MCI Center, at a proposed cost of either $50 or $25 to members of the public, and that a portion of this amount may include a contribution to a gift to be presented to you.  In addition, it has also been considered whether guests may earmark contributions up to $1,000 for the non-profit organization which has offered you a position upon your departure from Office.  I will assume the potential guest list includes both District Government employees, as well as entities which do business with the District Government.

Sections 1803.2 and 1803.4 of the DC Personnel Regulations, Chapter 18, “Employee Conduct”,  generally prohibit District Government employees from soliciting gifts from a person transacting business with the District Government, or from other employees for a gift to an official supervisor.  Notwithstanding, Sections 1803.3 and 1803.4 of the Personnel Regulations expressly except from this prohibited conduct, 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 occasion such as marriage, illness, or retirement.”  The exception clearly would permit gifts of nominal value, including cash donations, to be given on a special occasion, such as your Tribute.

Further, in determining what constitutes a “nominal amount”, it has been the policy of the Office of Campaign Finance to refer to DC Code § 1-1462(a)(5)(1992 Repl. Vol.), for guidance.  This provision requires public officials to disclose on their annual financial disclosure statements, all gifts received in an aggregate value of $100 in a calendar year from any business entity transacting any business with the District Government.  Therefore, we construe the value of the gift allowed  under  the  exception  of  the  Personnel  Regulations,  as   not  to  exceed $100 from each  government employee participating, or from any business entity transacting business with the District Government.

With respect to guests of the aforementioned affair earmarking contributions for the benefit of a prospective employer, we are guided by DC Code § 1-1461(b).  This statute states, “[n]o public official shall use his or her 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 . . .”.  DC Code § 1-1461(I)(3) defines the term, “[b]usiness with which he or she is associated”, to mean “any business of which the person . . . is a director, officer, owner, employee, . . .”.

The contributions you reference of up to $1,000 would be prohibited if solicited during your tenure as a public official and in conjunction with a special activity in your honor; and then directed to a prospective employer who has offered you employment upon your termination of government service.  Any financial benefit to the prospective employer would inure ultimately to your personal  financial gain as you would be paid from revenues obtained by the employer.

Therefore, it is the opinion of  the Office of Campaign Finance that the proposed affair at the MCI, with its projected costs of $25 - $50 to members of the public, where some portion of this cost will be attributed as a [personal] gift, is permissible.  However, the solicitation of contributions earmarked for a prospective employer would be prohibited.