New Congressional Ethics Rules and Lobbying Disclosure Act Changes

(From a memo dated 12/ 21/2007 from Cynthia Wilbanks, Vice President for Government Relations)

When Congress first passed the Lobbying Disclosure Act in 1995, a task force was created by University President Duderstadt to establish guidelines to be followed by University employees in order to comply with the Act. I have included a link to a PDF (101kb) of the original memo for background information: Original Lobby Disclosure Act letter

This year Congress updated both the Lobbying Disclosure Act and the Congressional Gift Rules to tighten ethics and lobbying rules to address the various scandals to counter public perception of institutional corruption on Capitol Hill.

The biggest change for the University will be that we now have to file our lobbying report quarterly instead of semi-annually. Our Washington, DC office will make the same request for lobbying information from you and any staff that have engaged in lobbying activities. In previous years the requests have been made around January 1 & July 1. Starting this year, additional requests for the information will be made around April 1 and September 1.

Additionally, next year the University, as a registered lobbying entity, must certify that employees (not just the registered lobbyists and others engaged in lobbying activities) have read and are familiar with the rules of the House and Senate regarding gifts and travel. To that end, I am providing you with basic information on the new rules and ask that you share this with any member of your staff that would engage in lobbying on behalf of the University.

As a reminder lobbying activities include:

Contacts (in person, written or by phone) with covered executive branch and legislative branch officials made on behalf of the University of Michigan regarding legislation; legislative proposals; rules; regulations; executive orders; programs, policies or positions of the government; administration or execution of federal programs or policies (including federal contracts and Grants - grants officers are not covered executive branch officials); and, nomination or confirmation of a person for a position subject to confirmation by the Senate. It is not considered a lobbying activity if you were asked by a Member of Congress or Congressional Committee to testify or respond to a request for information.

Gift Rules

The term "gift" is used broadly to include meals, entertainment, and anything else of value. Members of Congress and their staff may never solicit a gift from any person who has interests before Congress; accept a gift that is linked to any official action that the individual has taken, or is being asked to take; or accept any other gift, unless specifically allowed under one of the provisions of the House gift rule.

General Rule - A Member of Congress or their staff may not accept gifts from organizations, associations or businesses that employ lobbyists.

As a public university (considered a state government entity), the University of Michigan and its employees have a broad exemption from the rules when giving a gift or providing travel when acting on behalf of the University. There are other exemptions under the gift rules when an individual is giving on their own behalf or in a capacity other than as a university employee (i.e. on behalf of a professional association).

Members of Congress and their staff may not accept a gift from a government agency (the University) where the gift was donated to the agency by a third party, and the agency is merely acting a conduit. In addition, Members and staff may not accept a meal or other gift that is paid for by an outside consultant or lobbyist for a government agency.

If an individual is giving a gift on their own behalf:

A Member or their staff may accept a gift of a value less than $50, and a cumulative value from one source during a calendar year of less than $100. No gift with a value below $10 shall count toward the $100 annual limit.

If an individual is giving a gift in the capacity other than as a university employee, such as on behalf of a professional association (AMA, ADA, ASPH, etc) that employs a lobbyist, the following exemptions are in place:

An individual may give a gift based on a personal friendship. However, the gift is subjected to a $250 pre-clearance rule; it cannot be paid for on a corporate credit card, charged to the firm or business or used as a business tax deduction; and there should be a history of a personal relationship and reciprocal gift giving.

Members of Congress and their staff may attend widely attended events

Any event/reception that at least 25 people other than Members of Congress and their staff; and open to individuals from throughout a given industry or profession. The invitation must come from the sponsor of the event (contributors are not sponsors); and the attendance must be related to the person's official duties. A widely attended event includes a reception, convention, conference or briefing. There is no limit on the cost of the meal as long as it is not lavish, unsolicited and from the sponsor of the event, not an entity that merely donated money or bought a table. They may also attend receptions offering "food or refreshments of nominal value."

Members and their staff can also accept item of nominal value which would greeting cards, baseball caps and t-shirts and informational materials - books, videotapes, DVD's.

Travel rules

Each participant (Members of Congress and staff) in officially-connected travel paid for by a private source must get approval in advance from the appropriate ethics committee. All travel will now be subject to public disclosure and increased scrutiny. In all cases, the trip must be connected to a meeting, speaking engagement, fact finding trip, or similar official event, and funding cannot include recreational activities Institutions of higher education and any entity that does not employ or retain a federally-registered lobbyist or foreign agent (House Rules) and any qualifying charitable institution (Senate Rules) may sponsor short-term travel (up to four days for domestic) to attend conferences and events. Other entities employing lobbyists are restricted to provided one-day trips, provided lobbyist involvement in requesting or planning trip is de minimis.

Additional information

You can contact Cindy Bank in our Washington Office at bankc@umich.edu for more information on the changes in the lobbying and gift and travel rules.

You can also read the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct advisory memorandum on the changes to the rules at:

Lobbying Disclosure Act Guidance

And the Standing Rules of the Senate at:

Standing Rules of the Senate, Rule XXXV, Gifts