EXECUTIVE BRANCH LOBBYING
AGENCY EMPLOYEE ENGAGED TO MARRY A LOBBYIST
To: Name withheld at person's request (Tallahassee)
An "agency employee" for purposes of Section 112.3125, Florida Statutes, as amended by Chapter 2005-359, Laws of Florida, would be prohibited from accepting an engagement party or wedding gifts paid for by lobbyists who are registered to lobby the Executive Branch. Although the prohibition would not extend to the agency employee's fiancee, who is employed by a law firm as a lobbyist, expenditures for the personal benefit of the agency employee would be considered to be for the purpose of obtaining his goodwill, and, therefore, prohibited lobbying expenditures.
Would you, an "agency employee" covered by the Executive Branch lobbying law - Section 112.3125, Florida Statutes, as amended by Chapter 2005-359, Laws of Florida - and who is engaged to marry a "lobbyist," be prohibited from accepting an engagement party and, later, receiving wedding gifts given by Executive Branch agency lobbyists?
Your question is answered in the affirmative.
In your letter of inquiry, you explain that you are the Chief of Staff for the Office of Insurance Regulation, Florida Department of Financial Services, and also are registered to lobby the Florida Legislature on behalf of your agency. You are engaged to marry a woman who works for a private law firm as a lobbyist before the Florida Legislature and Executive Branch agencies. Long-time friends who are also lobbyists wish to host an engagement party for you and your fiancee. You ask whether it would be permissible if the hosts pledge to spend only their personal funds and not be reimbursed by their clients or principals. You also ask if lobbyists can give you and your fiancee wedding gifts under the same condition - they use only their personal funds and are not reimbursed for the gifts by their clients or principals.
Section 112.3125(6)(a), Florida Statutes, as amended by Chapter 2005-359, Laws of Florida, provides:
Notwithstanding s. 112.3148, s. 112.3149, or any other provision of law to the contrary, no lobbyist or principal shall make, directly or indirectly, and no agency official, member, or employee shall knowingly accept, directly or indirectly, any expenditure.
Section 112.3125(1)(d), Florida Statutes, as amended by Chapter 2005-359, Laws of Florida, defines "expenditure" to mean
a payment, distribution, loan, advance, reimbursement, deposit, or anything of value made by a lobbyist or principal for the purpose of lobbying. A contribution made to a political party regulated under chapter 103 is not deemed an expenditure for purposes of this section.
The definition of "lobbies" in Section 112.3125(1)(f), Florida Statutes, includes "an attempt to obtain the goodwill of any agency official or employee."
We are in the process of promulgating rules to implement Chapter 2005-359, Laws of Florida. However, existing rules contain guidance on the issue of "engendering goodwill." Rule 34-12.180, Florida Administrative Code, provides:
(1) Activities by a lobbyist which do not involve directly attempting to influence a specific decision of an agency in the area of policy or procurement may nonetheless be considered "lobbying" pursuant to Section 112.3125, Florida Statutes, and this Rule Chapter, where an expenditure is made by a lobbyist or principal for the personal benefit of an agency official or employee. Such expenditures will be considered to have been for the purpose of engendering goodwill, unless the agency official or employee is a relative of the lobbyist or principal paying for the expenditure.
(2) For purposes of this rule, "relative" means a person who is related to an agency official or employee as father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, first cousin, nephew, niece, husband, wife, father-in-law, mother-in-law, stepfather, stepmother, stepson, stepdaughter, stepbrother, stepsister, half-brother, half-sister, grandparent, great grandparent, grandchild, great grandchild, step grandparent, step great grandparent, step great grandchild, engaged to be married to the agency official or employee, or who otherwise holds himself or herself out as or is generally known as the person whom the agency official or employee intends to marry or with whom the agency official or employee intends to form a household, or any other natural person having the same legal residence as the agency official or employee.
Initially, we observe that these statutes and rules only pertain to you as an "agency employee" who is required by law to file disclosure of your financial interests, but not to your fiancee, a lobbyist for a law firm. Therefore, there is nothing to restrict your fiancee from being feted at a bridal shower by hostesses who are lobbyists or from receiving gifts intended solely for her. However, you may not accept a party given for you as a couple or wedding gifts intended for both the bride and groom if from an Executive Branch lobbyist. This is because Section 112.3125(6)(a), Florida Statutes, prohibits you as a covered "agency employee" from accepting any expenditure made by an Executive Branch lobbyist for the purpose of lobbying, and engendering goodwill is considered to be lobbying. It matters not whether the engagement party or wedding gifts are paid for out of an Executive Branch lobbyist's personal funds because the law prohibits lobbying expenditures made by lobbyists as well as by their principals.
We concede that this result is harsh, but the Legislature made it clear that agency officials are not to accept goodwill-engendering expenditures made by Executive Branch lobbyists with few exceptions. One exception, described in Rule 34-12.180(1), prohibits such expenditures unless the agency employee is a "relative of the lobbyist or principal paying for the expenditure." "Relative" is defined in Rule 34-12.180(2) to include one's fiancee. Because of the familial relationship between you and your fiancee, expenditures she makes for your personal benefit would not be prohibited.
Accordingly, we find that you, as an "agency employee" may not accept an engagement party or wedding gifts paid for by lobbyists who are registered to lobby the Executive Branch but that Section 112.3125(6)(a), Florida Statutes, would not prevent your fiancee, a lobbyist with a private law firm, from being honored at a bridal shower or accepting gifts intended solely for her, given by Executive Branch lobbyists.
ORDERED by the State of Florida Commission on Ethics meeting in public session on April 21, 2006 and RENDERED this 26th day of April, 2006.
Thomas P. Scarritt, Jr., Chairman