Ethics Commission rules: No soup for you!

The first letter ruling issued by the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission Wednesday settled a matter of grave importance — whether lobbyists can override Amendment 41 and buy lunch for a public official at a members-only club.

State voters passed the lobbyist gift ban in 2006 while the Jack Abramoff, Duke Cunningham and Tom DeLay scandals raged nationally.

Though state lawmakers and public officials are not likely to be treated to all-expense-paid trips to St. Andrews or a suitcase full of cash, the draconian ban has evoked some fairly ridiculous scenarios by proponents and detractors alike.

A recent inquiry to the commission posed the following dilemma — can a lobbyist have lunch with a public official at a venue where a non-member is not allowed to pay for his or her own meal?

The requestor explained that the purpose of these lunches “is to educate legislators on issues that are of importance to the State and the business community, as well as to introduce legislators to statewide business leaders.” However laudable and valuable this purpose may be, it is irrelevant in light of the clear and absolute language in the Constitution.

The Commission, however, reiterates its belief that “lobbying as education and persuasion fulfills an important function in government, and that the free exchange of information and argument should be encouraged.” See Position Statement 09-01. There are many venues in which this activity may be accomplished. If membership-style dining rooms, such as the University Club, do not allow for non-members to pay for their own meals, then another type of restaurant may be chosen, or another type of venue where gift-giving, as contemplated by the Constitution, is not involved.

h/t Colorado Ethics Watch