Ethics rules designed to undercut the influence of lobbyists in Washington, D.C., have implications for meetings and events held by groups that are registered lobbying organizations.
The lobbyist gift ban, signed in January by President Obama, prohibits noncareer political appointees from accepting gifts from registered lobbyists or their employers, including free registration to "widely attended gatherings" such as receptions or conferences. Previously, free admission to these events did not violate Office of Governmental Ethics regulations.
However, appointees may accept free registration if they are presenting information in an official capacity, or if they are attending events produced by media organizations or nonprofit, 501(c)(3) groups. They also can attend events produced by groups that do not employ an in-house lobbyist, even if they pay for outside lobbying services.
"All of this rulemaking restricting access is likely to make administration officials reluctant to accept any offer to meet or attend a program, even if there is legitimate value in their attending," warned Chris Vest, director of public policy for the American Society of Association Executives, which has been pushing the OGE and White House lawyers to clearly define exceptions to the ban.
Members of Congress and their employees can accept travel and free admission from lobbyists for certain one-day events. Organizations that don't employ or retain lobbyists can pay for multiday trips, but politicians must receive permission from their respective ethics committees to attend.