Personal relationships between lobbyists and government employees can be tricky — especially in Washington where many people work for the government. Lobbyists face many odd questions when managing their personal relationships with government employees. Can you invite old friends to your company suite at Nationals Stadium? Can you bring a gift to a wedding? Can you date?
In North Carolina this summer, two high ranking staffers resigned from the House Speaker’s office after informing the Speaker that they were romantically involved with lobbyists who were trying to influence the General Assembly. The North Carolina Joint Legislative Ethics Committee issued Principles and Guidance that require legislative employees to disclose “dating relationships” with lobbyists.
The U.S. House and Senate do not require lobbyists and staffers to disclose dating relationships. However, the gift rules are still applicable. The Senate Ethics Manual provides helpful guidance on how the gift rules should be applied and possible “significant other” waivers to the rules when a registered lobbyist and Senate staffer date, but there is no such guidance in the House Ethics Manual. Unless there is an applicable exception to the gift rules, such as the personal friendship exception (which does not automatically apply), the gift rules apply until engagement — which in and of itself can be a unique experience for lobbyists. Given that the value of most engagement rings far exceeds $250, a lobbyist planning to pop the question to a House staffer may need to talk to three people before ring shopping — the prospective fiancée’s father, Congressman, and the House Ethics Committee. Hope House Ethics Chairman Bonner says yes!