CEO 87-53 -- July 30, 1987
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
COUNTY SUPERVISOR OF ELECTIONS CONDUCTING SEMINAR
To: (Name withheld at the person's request.)
No prohibited conflict of interest would be created were a county supervisor of elections to receive compensation for conducting a seminar regarding how to run a campaign for public office. Sections 112.313(4), (6), (7) and (8), Florida Statutes, would not be violated as it does not appear that the supervisor of elections would be disclosing or using information not available to members of the general public and gained by reason of his official position and as the focus of the seminar is not on matters for which the supervisor of elections is responsible in his official capacity.
Would a prohibited conflict of interest be created were you, a county supervisor of elections, to receive compensation for conducting a seminar regarding how to run a campaign for public office?
Under the circumstances presented, your question is answered in the negative.
In your letter of inquiry you advise that you are the Supervisor of Elections for Monroe County. Prior to your appointment, you derived the majority of your income from your work as an advertising and public relations consultant. In this capacity you specialized in running campaigns and analyzing public issues for private groups. During this time, you conducted a seminar which was sponsored by the League of Women Voters on how to run campaigns for public office. Participants in the seminar were charged a fee, and you shared any profits with the League according to a formula.
You further advise that the League has asked you to organize and conduct a similar seminar with the same compensation arrangement. Potential candidates in local elections and their supporters are likely to participate in the seminar. As Supervisor of Elections, you will be conducting the election itself. You question whether a prohibited conflict of interest would be created were you to conduct the seminar for compensation.
The topics covered in the seminar would include organizing a campaign, campaign techniques, campaign fund raising, dealing with the media, campaign advertising, and compliance with the law. In addition, the seminar would include discussions on campaign strategy and tactics and a "hands-on" experience in designing and developing a campaign using a discussion group approach. The information presented in the seminar is based on personal knowledge and experience gained from 17 years of involvement in politics and campaign activities, as well as on publications available in the private sector. None of the information would be gained by reason of your position as Supervisor of Elections, you advise, with the exception of amendments to the elections laws. You have advised that the portion of the seminar dealing with compliance with election law would constitute less than 10 percent of the seminar materials, and is based on the materials provided to all candidates.
The Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees provides in relevant part:
UNAUTHORIZED COMPENSATION. -- No public officer or employee of an agency or his spouse or minor child shall, at any time, accept any compensation, payment, or thing of value when such public officer or employee knows, or, with the exercise of reasonable care, should know, that it was given to influence a vote or other action in which the officer or employee was expected to participate in his official capacity. [Section 112.313(4), Florida Statutes (1985).]
This provision prohibits a public official from accepting anything of value when he knows, or with the exercise of reasonable care should know, that it was given to influence an official action in which he was expected to participate. However, given the nature of your duties with respect to those who would attend the seminar and the fact that it would be sponsored by the League of Women Voters, it does not appear that any compensation you might receive for conducting the seminar would be given to you to influence any official action.
The Code of Ethics also provides:
CONFLICTING EMPLOYMENT OR CONTRACTUAL RELATIONSHIP. -- No public officer or employee of an agency shall have or hold any employment or contractual relationship with any business entity or any agency which is subject to the regulation of, or is doing business with, an agency of which he is an officer or employee . . . ; nor shall an officer or employee of an agency have or hold any employment or contractual relationship that will create a continuing or frequently recurring conflict between his private interests and the performance of his public duties or that would impede the full and faithful discharge of his public duties. [Section 112.313(7)(a), Florida Statutes (1985).]
DISCLOSURE OR USE OF CERTAIN INFORMATION. -- No public officer or employee of an agency shall disclose or use information not available to members of the general public and gained by reason of his official position for his personal gain or benefit or for the personal gain or benefit of any other person or business entity. [Section 112.313(8), Florida Statutes (1985).]
Our primary concern relates to the question of where and to what extent a public official may receive compensation for efforts which are related in some way to the performance of his official duties. Section 112.313(8), Florida Statutes, would prohibit an official from receiving compensation for imparting information which both was gained through his official position and was not available to members of the general public. Even if the information is available to the general public, however, an official's receipt of compensation privately for performing a function that is part of his official duties could violate Section 112.313(7)(a), or could constitute a misuse of public position in violation of Section 112.313(6), Florida Statutes.
In a previous opinion, CEO 82-66, we advised that a county property appraiser could receive a fee for participating in an informal seminar regarding the appraisal of condominium conversions sponsored by persons who were not involved in such conversions within the county. As the information to be imparted included only the application of statutory and state administrative guidelines to condominium conversion, we concluded that such information was available to members of the general public.
We are of the opinion that Section 112.313(8), Florida Statutes, does not apply to the circumstances you have described, as the information you will be imparting was not gained by reason of your official position. Rather, you acquired this knowledge through your experience and were responsible for a similar seminar prior to taking office. In addition, to the extent that the seminar relates to the election laws, that information would be available to the general public.
Generally, the duties of a supervisor of elections are to register voters, to maintain the registration rolls, to conduct elections, and to retain certain documents filed by candidates and public officials. As you have observed, the focus of the seminar is not on these types of matters but rather is on how to secure voter turnout for the candidates. Under the circumstances presented, therefore, we conclude that your participation in the seminar would not result in a conflicting contractual relationship which would violate Section 112.313(7)(a), Florida Statutes, or in a misuse of public position in violation of Section 112.313(6), Florida Statutes.
Accordingly, based on the circumstances presented, we find that no prohibited conflict of interest would be created were you to receive a fee for conducting a seminar regarding how to run campaigns for public office while serving as the Supervisor of Elections for Monroe County.