May 12, 2015
Appeals Court Hears Arguments in Ex-Gov. McDonnell's Case
Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell's fate is in the hands of three federal appeals court judges. A panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in McDonnell's public corruption case Tuesday. The court usually takes a few weeks to rule.
McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, were convicted of taking more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from a wealthy businessman in exchange for promoting his company's dietary supplements. The former governor was sentenced to two years in prison, his wife to one year and one day.
Tuesday's arguments focused on two major issues - whether McDonnell was convicted based on an overly broad definition of what constitutes an "official act'' and whether jurors were properly questioned about whether they were influenced by news reports about the case.
May 01, 2015
OGE Issues Legal Advisory on the Treatment of Gift Cards under the $20 De Minimis Gift Exception
The Office of Government Ethics (OGE) has issued a Legal Advisory discussing the treatment of prepaid gift cards under the $20 de minimis gift exception found at 5 C.F.R. § 2635.204(a). The Legal Advisory describes common types of prepaid gift cards and explains which are considered to be cash equivalents, and are therefore categorically prohibited under the de minimis exception.
For more information, please see Legal Advisory LA-15-04, dated April 30, 2015,
February 25, 2015
Rep. Schock announces internal spending review
Cnn.com reports: Rep. Aaron Schock's lavish tastes and penchant for Instagram collided Monday in a way that's bound to cause him more headaches after an already rough month for the Illinois Republican.
After sifting through flight records, travel expenses and location data on Schock's Instagram photos, The Associated Press reported Monday that Schock has spent taxpayer dollars to fly on private jets owned by some of his own political donors since mid-2011.
House ethics rules changed in January 2013 to allow members of Congress to fund private flights with taxpayer dollars as long as they pay for just their share of the cost. But Schock paid for private flights with his House account before that rule changed and it's not clear if Schock only paid for his portion of the flight after the rule change, according to The Associated Press investigation.
Schock billed taxpayers more than $24,000 for eight private flights in 2011 and 2012 on a plane owned by Schock donor Darren Frye. Frye donated $10,200 to Schock's reelection campaign and political action committee, GOP Generation Y Fund, in 2013 alone according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
February 11, 2015
Three admirals censured in Navy corruption investigation
The Navy announced Tuesday it censured three admirals in connection with a fraud and bribery investigation that has already led to convictions of three other Navy officers.
Rear Admirals Michael Miller, Terry Kraft and David Pimpo were censured by the Secretary of the Navy on Tuesday after an investigation found that they "improperly accepted gifts from a prohibited source" from 2006 to 2007. All three officers have now submitted retirement requests.
The investigation also revealed that two of the officers had "improperly endorsed a commercial business" and one solicited "gifts and services" from an unauthorized source, according to a Navy press release. All are violations of U.S. Navy ethics regulations.
"All Navy officers, particularly our senior leadership in positions of unique trust and responsibility, must uphold and be held to the highest standards of personal and professional behavior," Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said in a statement. "These three officers, whose actions were revealed during the GDMA investigation demonstrated poor judgment and a failure of leadership in prior tours."
The investigation revolves around a corruption case involving several Navy officers and defense contractor Glenn Defense Marine Asia, referred to as GDMA in the investigation.
Three other Navy officers pled guilty to federal charges in the corruption case involving Glenn Defense Marine Asia and its head, Malaysian national Leonard Glenn Francis. A fourth Navy officer, Commander Michael Vannak Khem Misiewicz has pleaded not guilty to federal charges in the bribery case. The officers allegedly traded classified information in exchange for luxury travel and and hotel stays as well as prostitution services.
January 06, 2015
Former Virginia Governor is Sentenced to Two Years in Prison for Public Corruption
A federal judge has sentenced former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell to two years in prison, followed by two years of supervised release, for 11 convictions on public corruption charges.
He'll start his prison term Feb. 9. He also must pay $1,100 -- which is $100 per charge.
His sentencing ends the dramatic downfall of the Republican governor once heralded as a rising star -- tapped to give the party's 2010 rebuttal to President Barack Obama's State of the Union, and a fixture on short lists for national office.
Now, McDonnell has another distinction: He's the first Virginia governor ever convicted of public corruption.
December 30, 2014
MSPB Upholds VA Official's Removal Based on Inappropriate Gifts
The Washington Post reports:
The government agency charged with making sure federal employees are treated fairly upheld this week the Department of Veterans Affairs decision to “formally remove” Sharon Helman, director of the Phoenix Department of Veterans Affairs’ Health Care System and the leader at the center of the biggest scandal in the agency’s history.
But the ruling by the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) could not substantiate that Helman knew or should have known that employees at her hospital lied about health-care wait times for former troops seeking treatment for everything from cancer to post-traumatic stress disorder.
Instead, as the basis for upholding her removal, the judge named other charges against her by the VA, which said she accepted “inappropriate gifts,” such as a trip to Disneyland “in excess of $11,000 for what appears to be six of her family members for an 8-night stay,” and $729.50 for five tickets last year and parking to a Beyonce concert on Aug. 24, 2013.
The ruling finds she accepted a total of nine gifts offered by a consultant whose “very business is to assist its clients in securing favorable government contracts, particularly with the Department of Veterans Affairs, including five airline tickets between Phoenix and El Paso, Texas, Portland and Vancouver and entry fees for the Mississippi Blues marathon, according to the ruling.
October 30, 2014
Lobbyists, Bearing Gifts, Pursue Attorneys General
The New York Times reports:
When the executives who distribute 5-Hour Energy, the popular caffeinated drinks, learned that attorneys general in more than 30 states were investigating allegations of deceptive advertising — a serious financial threat to the company — they moved quickly to shut the investigations down, one state at a time.
But success did not come in court or at a negotiating table.
Instead, it came at the opulent Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel in California, with its panoramic ocean views, where more than a dozen state attorneys general had gathered last year for cocktails, dinners and fund-raisers organized by the Democratic Attorneys General Association. A lawyer for 5-Hour Energy roamed the event, setting her sights on Attorney General Chris Koster of Missouri, whose office was one of those investigating the company.
The quick reversal, confirmed by Mr. Koster and Ms. Kalani, was part of a pattern of successful lobbying of Mr. Koster by the law firm on behalf of clients like Pfizer and AT&T — and evidence of a largely hidden dynamic at work in state attorneys general offices across the country.
Attorneys general are now the object of aggressive pursuit by lobbyists and lawyers who use campaign contributions, personal appeals at lavish corporate-sponsored conferences and other means to push them to drop investigations, change policies, negotiate favorable settlements or pressure federal regulators, an investigation by The New York Times has found.
A robust industry of lobbyists and lawyers has blossomed as attorneys general have joined to conduct multistate investigations and pushed into areas as diverse as securities fraud and Internet crimes.
But unlike the lobbying rules covering other elected officials, there are few revolving-door restrictions or disclosure requirements governing state attorneys general, who serve as “the people’s lawyers” by protecting consumers and individual citizens.
September 04, 2014
Former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell Found Guilty of 11 Corruption Counts
The Washington Post reports: A federal jury Thursday found former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, guilty of public corruption — sending a message that they believed the couple sold the office once occupied by Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson to a free spending Richmond businessman for golf outings, lavish vacations and $120,000 in sweetheart loans.
After three days of deliberations, the seven men and five women who heard weeks of gripping testimony about the McDonnells’ alleged misdeeds acquitted the couple of several charges pending against them--but nevertheless found that they lent the prestige of the governor’s office to Jonnie R. Williams Sr. in a nefarious exchange for his largesse.
The verdict means that Robert McDonnell, who was already the first governor in Virginia history to be charged with a crime, holds an even more unwanted distinction: the first ever to be convicted of one. He and his wife face decades in federal prison. Sentencing is set for January 6.
August 15, 2014
Prosecution Rests in Former VA Governor McDonnell Trial
The Washington Post reports:
The prosecution rested its federal corruption case against former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, on Thursday with a final dramatic display of luxury goods the couple accepted from the onetime chief executive of a dietary supplement company.
An FBI agent testified that he had tallied the majority of gifts and loans provided to the couple by Jonnie R. Williams Sr. over two years and found that their value reached more than $177,000.
Special Agent David Hulser then stood in the witness box and, one by one, held aloft for jurors the dresses, shoes, golf shirts and more — all purchased by Williams for the couple who until January had occupied the governor’s mansion.
Over three weeks of testimony from 45 witnesses, prosecutors tried to convince jurors that the McDonnells conspired to lend the prestige of the governor’s office to the wheeling-and-dealing nutritional supplement executive.
Jurors have yet to hear from the defense, which on Monday will begin pressing a strong counterpoint: The governor’s alleged official help got Williams nowhere and — they say — he was promised nothing. His product, never studied at state universities as he sought nor introduced in the state health plan as he desired, was pulled from the shelves this week.
August 07, 2014
Washington Post lists the Gifts Given to Former VA Gov. McDonnell and Spouse
A full list may be seen here.
August 01, 2014
Gift of Rolex Watch Focus on 4th Day of McDonnell Trial
The Wasington Post reports: Prosecutors on Thursday unveiled what could be a critical new piece of evidence in their case against former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell and his wife, Maureen: a photograph of the governor, grinning and holding up his wrist to display a watch.
Testifying during the McDonnells’ federal corruption trial, businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. said he received the photo by text message in December 2012 in response to one he sent the governor. The watch on McDonnell’s wrist appeared to be the Rolex that Williams had purchased for the governor at the first lady’s request a year earlier.
The picture could shatter any assertion that the governor was unaware that Williams — who was then the chief executive of a dietary-supplement company — had provided the expensive timepiece. McDonnell (R) has previously said the watch was a Christmas gift from his wife.
Many of Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Dry’s questions for Williams appeared designed to prove that Robert McDonnell was in the loop about what the businessman wanted from the first couple — and was aware of many of the gifts Williams gave them to curry favor.
July 28, 2014
Trial for Former VA Governor McDonnell Begins
The Washington Post reports:
In their much-anticipated federal corruption trial set to begin Monday, former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, will seek to win acquittal on multiple charges and restore their honor in the eyes of the law. But over the course of the trial in a Richmond courtroom, expected to last five weeks, the McDonnells also will submit themselves to a potentially humiliating spectacle that will showcase an intimate view of their frayed marriage and odd personal relationships.
“It’s going to be ugly,” said L. Douglas Wilder, another former governor, who is friendly with McDonnell and has followed the case. “The more you read, the more sleaze develops. It’s not going to be nice for anyone.”
McDonnell, 60, a Republican who until January held the same office once occupied by Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry, is the first Virginia governor to be charged with a crime.
McDonnell and his wife are fighting 14 criminal charges of public corruption and lying on financial documents. Prosecutors have charged that in exchange for private plane rides, golf outings, expensive apparel and $120,000 in loans, the couple helped promote a businessman’s company, setting up meetings for chief executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr. with state officials and even once letting him use the Executive Mansion for the launch of his new product.
June 24, 2014
McDonnell prosecutors allege undisclosed gifts from people other than Williams
The Washington Post reports:
Federal prosecutors have alleged that former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell (R) and his family accepted an expensive island vacation from a Henrico hotelier with University of Virginia ties and intentionally omitted the gift on his annual state disclosure forms, according to new court filings. The May 2012 trip — a $23,000 getaway to Kiawah Island Golf Resort in South Carolina, paid for by U-Va. Board of Visitors Vice Rector William H. Goodwin Jr. — does not seem to have any direct connection to Jonnie R. Williams Sr., another Richmond-area businessman, whose relationship with McDonnell and his wife is at the heart of the federal corruption case against the couple.
But prosecutors argued in a court filing made public recently that the vacation was just one example of undisclosed gifts given to the McDonnells by people other than Williams. They said those gifts are “intrinsic” to the case and might be used to convince jurors that McDonnell’s alleged crimes were no innocent mistake.
McDonnell and his lawyers have contended that the former governor followed state disclosure laws, which they say are vague and open to interpretation. They argue that evidence of undisclosed gifts that don’t involve Williams shouldn’t be allowed at trial, saying those gifts are irrelevant to the government’s allegation that McDonnell illegally agreed to trade state favors for Williams’s largesse.
Legal experts said the judge’s decision could be a turning point in the case, because of the potent effect of testimony suggesting that the McDonnells were collecting gifts and luxury vacations while in office.
June 23, 2014
Ethics panel: Alaska Rep. Don Young misused funds
Longtime Alaska Rep. Don Young improperly used campaign funds for personal use, accepted “impermissible” gifts and failed to report those gifts, the House Ethics Committee announced Friday. Young, a Republican, has to repay nearly $60,000 to his campaign, and donors, the Ethics Committee said. He has also been reproved by the committee.
The Ethics Committee said that Young, who has represented Alaska in the House since 1973, accepted improper “gifts and expenses related to” 15 hunting trips. The trips occurred between 2001 and 2013, the Ethics Committee said.
Eight trips that Young took were improperly paid for, or were paid for by his campaign improperly. Young also did not disclose any of these gifts on his financial disclosure. There are relatively stringent rules dictating gifts members of Congress can receive, and how a member of Congress can use his campaign funds. Members of Congress cannot accept gifts from entities that employ lobbyists, and can only accept gifts that are worth less than $50. All gifts must be disclosed. Members of Congress cannot use campaign money for their own use.
May 20, 2014
Former Va. Governor, Wife's Request for Separate Trials Denied in Corruption Case
A judge ruled Tuesday that the federal corruption charges against former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, will not be dismissed. The McDonnells' request for separate trials was also denied.
U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer heard arguments Monday in Richmond from attorneys for McDonnell and his wife, Maureen.
The McDonnells had sought the dismissal of most of the corruption charges filed against them, as well as separate trials. A court order released Tuesday says that defendants who are indicted together should be tried together, unless a joint trial "would be so unfairly prejudicial that a miscarriage of justice would result."
The Republican and his wife are charged in a 14-count indictment with accepting more than $165,000 from Jonnie Williams, the former CEO of dietary supplements maker Star Scientific Inc. In exchange, they would help promote his products, according to prosecutors.
Their defense lawyers, as well as five former state attorneys general, have argued that the federal government is trying to criminalize politics by pursing its case against the former governor.
May 09, 2014
Gifts from the White House Press Correspondents Dinner
The Washington Post gave us a peek into the gift bags attendees at the 2014 White House Press Correspondents Dinner received- reported here.
April 02, 2014
New minimal value under the Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act ($375)
Today the Federal Register published the new minimal value which is now $375 for purposes of accepting a gift under 5 U.S.C. 7342, the Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act.
March 26, 2014
Attorneys ask judge to try former Va. governor and his wife separately
Former Virginia Governor Robert F. McDonnell and his wife want separate trials on the federal corruption charges they both are facing, saying in court filings late Tuesday that a joint proceeding would prevent Maureen McDonnell, in particular, from taking the witness stand to exonerate her husband.
The filings — which came on the same day that the couple’s attorneys asked a judge to toss the charges against them outright — suggest that Maureen McDonnell is willing to testify that her husband was largely in the dark about her interactions with Richmond businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr., and that the couple could not have engaged in a conspiracy to lend the prestige of the governor’s office to Williams’s struggling dietary supplement company, Star Scientific.
Prosecutors alleged such a conspiracy in January, when the McDonnells were charged in a 14-count indictment that accused them of receiving gifts and loans from Williams totaling at least $165,000. In exchange, prosecutors alleged, Robert McDonnell hosted a product launch for Star’s dietary supplement, Anatabloc; promoted it at public events; arranged meetings between Williams and senior state health officials; and worked with his wife to encourage state researchers to consider conducting trials of the product. The McDonnells have pleaded not guilty and a trial is scheduled to begin in July.
January 24, 2014
Judge sets July trial for former Va. governor McDonnell
The Washington Post reports: RICHMOND — Former Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, entered not guilty pleas Friday to charges that they engaged in conspiracy and fraud, trading on his office to provide assistance to a businessman in exchange for luxury gifts and loans.
The couple entered U.S. District Court about 9:15 a.m., holding hands as they walked past reporters and others waiting to watch the proceedings. Robert McDonnell hugged a priest who was in line. After a brief first appearance, the couple again held hands as they entered a second courtroom for an arraignment.
A federal judge set a trial date of July 28. The couple can remain free pending the trial.
Authorities allege that for nearly two years, the McDonnells repeatedly asked Richmond businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. for loans and gifts of money, clothes, golf fees and equipment, trips and private plane rides. The gifts and loans totaled at least $165,000. In exchange, authorities allege, the McDonnells worked in concert to lend the prestige of the governor’s office to Williams’s struggling company, Star Scientific, a former small cigarette manufacturer that now sells dietary supplements.
January 21, 2014
Former Va. Gov. McDonnell and wife charged in gifts case
Former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell and his wife Maureen were charged Tuesday with illegally accepting gifts, luxury vacations and large loans from a wealthy Richmond-area businessman who sought special treatment from state government.
Authorities alleged that McDonnell and his wife received gifts from executive Jonnie R. Williams again and again, lodging near constant requests for money, clothes, trips, golf accessories and private plane rides.
In exchange, authorities alleged that the McDonnells worked in concert to lend the prestige of the governorship to Williams’s struggling company, a small former cigarette manufacturer that now sells dietary supplements.
The two were charged with 14 felony counts, including wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, obtaining property under color of their official office and conspiring to the do the same.
They were also charged with making false statements to a federal credit union.
McDonnell was also charged with making a false statement to a financial institution, and Maureen McDonnell was charged with obstructing the investigation.
January 02, 2014
Ethics Reform in Local Government
In an effort to bring more sunshine to the Old Dominion, state Del. Rob Krupicka has crafted legislation that would limit the amounts of gifts local and state officials could accept and require regular disclosure in a searchable, online database. It's part of what Krupicka expects to be a larger, bi-partisan move toward ethics reform in Virginia sparked in no small part by the Star Scientific scandal involving outgoing Gov. Bob McDonnell.
Krupicka's bill would require lawmakers and local elected officials, along with state and local government officers and employees, to electronically file a monthly gifts reports and quarterly economic interest reports. The reports would be available to the public online in a searchable online database maintained by the Secretary of the Commonwealth's Office.
Further, the legislation would prevent any state or local officer or employee from accepting a single gift worth more than $100 or a combination of gifts with a total value of more than $500 from a single donor within a single filing period.
December 20, 2013
In probe of Va. Gov. McDonnell, prosecutors agreed to delay decision on charges
Federal prosecutors told Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell last week that he and his wife would be charged in connection with a gift scandal, but senior Justice Department officials delayed the decision after the McDonnells’ attorneys made a face-to-face appeal in Washington, according to people familiar with the case.
Dana J. Boente, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, told the McDonnells’ legal teams that he planned to ask a grand jury to return an indictment no later than this past Monday, people familiar with the conversations said.
McDonnell (R) and his wife, Maureen, would have been charged with working together to illegally promote a struggling dietary-supplement company in exchange for gifts and loans from its chief executive, the people said.
The plan to seek the felony charges this week changed, however, after attorneys for the state’s first couple met with Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole on Dec. 12. The attorneys argued that the governor had done nothing improper to assist businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. In particular, they focused on the credibility of a key witness, said a person familiar with the presentation. They also argued that if prosecutors proceeded with charges, they should wait until after McDonnell left office Jan. 11 to allow a smooth transition of power to Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe (D).
December 10, 2013
It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year! Hill Staffers Receive Holiday Poem as a Reminder of the Gift Rules
Check out the poem at the following link
November 19, 2013
House Ethics Committee ends Peter Roskam, Bill Owens reviews
The House Ethics Committee will end its reviews into whether Reps. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) and Bill Owens (D-N.Y.) violated congressional rules during privately funded trips to Taiwan. However, the secretive panel found that Owens’ December 2011 trip to Taiwan was an improper gift because a New York lobbying firm was closely involved in putting the excursion together. But because Owens has already repaid the $22,000-plus cost of the trip, he will not be sanctioned by the Ethics Committee.
The Office of Congressional Ethics, the independent ethics watchdog, had called for broader probes into both Roskam and Owens. The Ethics Committee did not agree to those requests. The Ethics Committee looked into whether Roskam, a top member of the House GOP leadership, accepted an impermissible gift when he and Elizabeth Roskam traveled to Taiwan in October 2011. The Ethics Committee approved the Roskams’ trip beforehand, but OCE believed the Taiwanese government and not the Chinese Culture University — the official sponsor — “was conducting and organizing his trip.”
Under the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act, foreign governments are allowed to pay for such trips. However, a lawmaker cannot accept travel expenses for a spouse or family member. The Roskams’ daughter was also staying in Taiwan at that time, and OCE noted that the Roskams sought to include her as part of their itinerary for the $24,000-plus trip.
September 12, 2013
House Ethics Committee Decides Against Full-Scale Investigations of Four Lawmakers
The House Ethics Committee won’t move forward with full-scale investigations into four lawmakers — Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), John Tierney (D-Mass.) and Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.) — but will continue to review three of those cases, the secretive panel announced on Wednesday. The panel voted to end outright its review of the allegations against Tierney. The Ethics Committee’s announcement that it will continue to look into Roskam, Bachmann, and Bishop but not launch full-scale investigations is the latest in a growing trend by the panel.
The committee has declined to empanel special investigative subcommittees to handle these matters, but then also has refused to end their investigations outright. The cases then sit in limbo, although based on past practice, the members face little chance of sanction by the committee. The Office of Congressional Ethics, the independent watchdog agency, recommended full investigations of all four lawmakers over the alleged violations. The Ethics Committee reviewed the cases for a three-month period before its Wednesday announcement.
August 22, 2013
Law Review Article on Emoluments Clause
Mr. Jeff Green, Senior Attorney at the Department of Defense Standards of Conduct Office recently published a law review article that summarizes the Emoluments Clause and its applicability to retired military. It also discusses the remedy of debt collection. You can view the article at the following link:
August 14, 2013
McDonnell Returns "Tangible" Gifts from Donor
Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell said he has returned all “tangible” gifts that were given to him and his family members by a wealthy political supporter but declined to detail a list of those items.
Rich Galen, a spokesman for McDonnell’s legal team, said Tuesday that McDonnell did not intend to release an itemized accounting of the items returned to Jonnie R. Williams Sr., the chief executive of a dietary supplement company whose relationship with McDonnell is the subject of state and federal investigations.People familiar with the situation have said Williams’s gifts to the governor’s family included $15,000 worth of high-end clothing purchased for McDonnell’s wife, Maureen, at Bergdorf Goodman in New York and a $6,500 Rolex watch, engraved with the words “71st Governor of Virginia,” that Williams bought for the governor at Maureen McDonnell’s urging. Galen said Tuesday that the Rolex watch, as a tangible gift, was one of the items the governor returned.
August 08, 2013
U.S. Army general improperly accepted gifts in South Korea, report says
A three-star Army general improperly accepted gold-plated Montblanc pens, a $2,000 leather briefcase and other gifts from a South Korean citizen while commanding U.S. troops in that country, newly released documents show.
Joseph F. Fil Jr., the former commander of the U.S. Eighth Army in South Korea, also failed to report a $3,000 cash gift to a member of his family from the unnamed South Korean benefactor, according to a confidential investigative report by the Pentagon’s Office of Inspector General.
July 31, 2013
VA Governor McDonnell says he will return other gifts
Gov. Robert F. McDonnell said Tuesday that he will return all the gifts from businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. and indicated for the first time that he was not aware of everything the Star Scientific executive had given to his family.
McDonnell (R) made the comment in a radio interview one week after announcing that he had repaid $120,000 in loans that Williams had made — $70,000 to a real estate company owned by the governor and his sister and $50,000 to first lady Maureen McDonnell.His remarks were his first since last week’s announcement, which was made in a written statement as the governor was en route to Afghanistan to visit Virginia troops. McDonnell said his first priority was to repair the trust with Virginia citizens that may have been lost as a result of the loans and gifts.
July 10, 2013
McDonnell’s corporation, wife allegedly benefited from $120,000 more from donor
The Washington Post reports: A prominent political donor gave $70,000 to a corporation owned by Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and his sister last year, and the governor did not disclose the money as a gift or loan, according to people with knowledge of the payments.
The donor, wealthy businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr., also gave a previously unknown $50,000 check to the governor’s wife, Maureen, in 2011, the people said.
June 26, 2013
Donor bought Rolex watch for Virginia Gov. McDonnell, people familiar with gift say
The Washington Post reports: A prominent political donor purchased a Rolex watch for Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, according to two people with knowledge of the gift, and the governor did not disclose it in his annual financial filings. The $6,500 luxury watch was provided by wealthy businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr., the people said. He is the chief executive of dietary supplement manufacturer Star Scientific and the person who paid for catering at the wedding of the governor’s daughter. The people spoke on the condition of anonymity because of an ongoing federal investigation into the relationship between Williams and the McDonnell family.
Williams’s gift came in August 2011 — about two weeks after he met with a top state health official to pitch the benefits of his company’s health products at a meeting arranged by first lady Maureen McDonnell, according to people who know of the meeting. Williams bought the watch at the urging of Maureen McDonnell, who admired Williams’s own Rolex and suggested that he buy her a similar one she could give to her husband, the people said. Her proposal occurred moments before the meeting she had arranged with the state official, according to one person familiar with the request.
The Rolex, engraved with the inscription “71st Governor of Virginia,” represents the first undisclosed gift known to have been used personally by McDonnell among tens of thousands of dollars of undisclosed gifts given to the governor’s family.
May 23, 2013
Change to Rules regarding Acceptance of Gifts from Outside Sources
On 16 May 2013, SECDEF waived portions of DoD Directive 5500.07 and DoD 5500.07-R (Joint Ethics Regulation (JER)) to allow enlisted personnel, E-6 and below, to accept gifts in excess of $20 from charitable and veterans service tax-exempt organizations.
Key points to this new guidance: • No monetary cap on value of gift items that may be accepted. • Gifts may not be in the form of cash. The DoD Standards of Conduct Office (SOCO) has informally opined that gift cards, including gift cards with nearly universal purchasing application (such as VISA gift cards), may be accepted in accordance with the new guidance, so long as the gift card is not redeemable or exchangeable for cash. • Gift items must be from charitable and veterans tax-exempt organizations as defined by section 501 (c)(3), (19), and (23) of Title 26, United States Code (Internal Revenue Code). • Waives "wounded warrior" exception procedures of Section 4 of Chapter 3 of JER (requiring a written ethics counselor determination for gifts exceeding $350 per occasion, or $1000 per calendar year, from any one source) when gift items are provided from said tax-exempt organizations to eligible enlisted personnel. • Does not include gift items intended to influence enlisted member in performance of official duties or as improper salary supplementation. • Gift items may not be solicited.
See SecDEF Memo, dtd 16 May 13, re Gifts to Enlisted Members: Download Gift_exception_waiver_for_enlisted_members_-_secdef_memo_of_16_may_2013
April 25, 2013
President Obama's Gift List Released
As President Obama appeared at the Bush library dedication Thursday, the Federal Register posted a list of presidential gifts that could end up in the President's future library.
The list includes gifts presented to the President, first lady Michelle Obama and their children from numerous foreign dignitaries in 2011.
The gifts were turned over to the National Archives and Records Administration, which runs presidential libraries.
April 04, 2013
A Reminder to Feds About the Emoluments Clause
An obscure provision of the Constitution banning acceptance of compensation or items of value from a foreign government contains traps for unwary federal employees and active or retired military personnel, the Pentagon ethics office has said.
The language, designed to prevent influence by foreign nations over U.S. government decisions, covers various forms of pay as well as travel or gifts, says a March white paper from the Defense Department Standards of Conduct Office.“This little known provision, the ‘Emoluments Clause,’ is still in effect today and applies to Federal civilian employees and active-duty military personnel. It also applies to retired military officers and enlisted personnel from the active and reserve components including military officers, enlisted retirees and retired Reservists,” the white paper says.
January 31, 2013
After Ethics Complaint, Senator Pays $58,000 for Flights to Dominican Republic
U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez this month wrote a $58,500 check to a company owned by a South Florida eye doctor and political fundraiser to reimburse him for two personal flights to the Dominican Republic that the New Jersey Democrat did not report on his Senate financial disclosure form, his office confirmed to NBC News Wednesday night.
The disclosure came as law enforcement sources confirmed that FBI agents searched the West Palm Beach, Florida, offices of the doctor, Salomon Melgen, Tuesday night as part of an investigation that includes agents from the Department of Health and Human Services.
Menendez’s office confirmed that the senator — who this week became chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – wrote the check to Melgen from his personal account after aides reviewed his flight schedule in response to a complaint that a New Jersey Republican official filed with the Senate Ethics Committee last November. The complaint alleged that Menendez violated Senate Ethics rules by “repeatedly flying on a free jet to the Dominican Republic and other locations” and that the jet was provided by Melgen.
The full article may be found here.
December 10, 2012
Holiday Season Gift Guidance from OGE
OGE issued a reminder about the gift rules during the holiday season. The attachment to the Legal Advisory reprises the rules in a poem, as revised in 2009 to address gifts from lobbyists and updated to reflect the current limit on gifts from foreign governments. You may access the Legal Advisory on OGE’s website at: http://www.oge.gov/OGE-Advisories/Legal-Advisories/Legal-Advisories/
December 27, 2011
Alabama Restrictions on Teacher Gifts Raise Questions
NPR reports on the controversy over a new Alabama law prohibiting teachers from accepting gifts. The law allows only "de minimus" gifts, but the state ethics commission interprets this to include a ham, turkey, or gift certificate that has any monetary value.
November 15, 2011
DOD IG Audit Finds US Naval Academy Wrongly Accepted over $150,000 in Gifts
An audit released Thursday, conducted by the DOD IG found that, in addition to improperly contracting for the production of recruiting films, the U.S. Naval Academy also wrongly accepted over $184,000 in gifts of wine and crystal from alumnus between 2005 and 2007 and over $300,000 in corporate sponsorship funds. The audit found that the U.S. Naval Academy Foundation acted as a conduit for the academy by receiving gifts from prohibited sources.
OGE extends comment period on proposed rule: Lobbyist gift ban for all
The Federal Register includes an extension of the comment period for the proposed amendment to 5 CFR 2635.203 which would extend the prohibition on acceptance of gifts from registered lobbyists to all Federal personnel (not just Political appointees under the Ethics Pledge). See http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-11-15/pdf/2011-29569.pdf. Comments are now due NLT: December 14, 2011.
November 06, 2011
Use of Private Aircraft by Governor
While governors are not federal officials, the issues explained in news coverage of the governor of Texas might have some value in illustrating the issues raised by federal officials' acceptance of gifts of air travel:
Mr. Perry’s travels adhere to Texas ethics laws, and he is far from alone in accepting gifts of air travel. But among politicians he stands out for taking private flights for activities that are considered part of his job as governor. That is different from campaign travel or the sort of quasi-official trips for which officeholders normally use private planes, like attending a conference or giving a speech.
“It would be unusual for an official to be flown to Washington to testify before Congress by a special interest of some kind,” said Robert M. Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles. “Usually the state would pay for that.”
Ray Sullivan, a spokesman for Mr. Perry, defended the governor’s use of private planes, saying it was part of an effort to save tax dollars. Mr. Sullivan acknowledged “there are critiques to be made” about using state-owned versus private planes, but said “we chose to err on the side of protecting taxpayers.”
When the governor’s staff asks to use a private plane, no promises are made and no consideration is given to whether the owner has an interest in the trip, he said. “Over the years we’ve developed a good feel for supporters and other Texans who own private aircraft that we could ask to use,” Mr. Sullivan said. “The governor bases all of his decisions on his philosophy and on what he believes is best for the citizens of the state.”
September 29, 2011
Discussion on OGE proposal to expand Lobbying Gift Ban to all Federal Employees
Washington Post article discussing the proposed OGE rule to expand lobbying gift ban to all Federal employees. See http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/limits-tighten-for-lobbyist-gift-giving/2011/09/28/gIQAh6RT5K_story.html
September 22, 2011
No more gifts from Lobbyists?
In a September 18, 2011, posting, we alerted you to the proposed OGE expansion of the Ethics Pledge lobbyist gift ban to all career Federal employees. If you did not see it, please note that the proposed rule was published in the Federal Register for notice and comment. See http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-09-13/pdf/2011-23311.pdf. Comments are due before November 14, 2011.
In sum, the proposed rule would make certain exceptions to the general prohibition on gifts from outside sources, 5 CFR 2635.202, unavailable for gifts from registered lobbyists. The exceptions that would be unavailable would include the $20 deminimus & widely-attended gathering exceptions. It would also provide implementing guidance. For example, it defines the lobbysts for these purposes to exclude 501(c)(3) non-profit lobbyists.
September 18, 2011
OGE Proposes to Expand Lobbyist Gift Ban
The Hill reports:
A new regulation proposed this week by the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) would prohibit all federal government employees from accepting any gifts from lobbyists.
Originally, the absolute ban on lobbyist gifts was only applied to political appointees, per President Obama’s executive order on ethics that was signed early on in his administration. But if the proposed rule is finalized, it would expand the order’s tough restrictions on lobbyist gifts to career employees in the federal government as well.
The regulation also would codify the stringent lobbyist gift ban implemented by Obama’s executive order, meaning the strict limits on the interaction between lobbyists and the Obama administration would stay in place after Obama leaves the White House, unless Congress repeals them or the next president initiates another rule-making procedure to amend the regulation. “What this means is that these broader restrictions will go beyond the Obama administration. They will exist even after he leaves office,” Kenneth Gross, a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, told The Hill.
Thanks to the IEC member who provided this tip.
August 23, 2011
Contractor Contribution Reporting Proposal
Government Executive reports on the status of a proposal to require government contractors to report on their political donations.
August 20, 2011
Gift/Travel Reimbursement Reporting Changes
OGE Legal Advisory LA-11-05 describes a change in the rules on gifts and travel reimbursement reporting thresholds.
July 15, 2011
Soliciting Gifts from Outside Sources
The following pithy notice from an agency ethics office to the workforce struck us as being possibly useful to other agencies as well. We have edited it to remove agency-specific information:
Subject: Reminder On Rules Regarding Solicitation of Gifts from Outside Sources
One of the regular topics of instruction in your annual ethics training is the prohibition on receiving gifts as a result of your status as a federal employee. Gifts include any gratuity, favor, discount, entertainment, hospitality, loan, forbearance, or other item having monetary value. The reason for this rule is to avoid any actions violating the law and ethical standards of public trust or creating the appearance of private gain.
There are limited exceptions when a gift may be accepted, guidance for which is found at the agency's ethics website or by contacting GC.
This notice is a reminder of the specific prohibitions on the solicitation of gifts. Employees shall not, directly or indirectly, solicit a gift or other item of monetary value from a prohibited source; or solicit a gift because of an employee's official position. There are no exceptions to this rule.
A prohibited source includes any person or entity seeking official action from, doing business with, or conducting activities regulated by this agency. This includes, for example, our implementing partners, or other think tanks or entities we interact with in our official positions.
It would also be a violation to solicit a gift based upon your status as an employee of this agency. For instance, soliciting complimentary or "comped" tickets for a dinner or reception hosted by an outside organization would be improper. This also applies even if the goal is to ensure or increase agency participation. The substance or merit of the activity is not a consideration.
Where improper gift solicitation occurs, any solicited gifts must be returned to the donor or the recipient must pay the fair market value. Disciplinary action against the employee making the solicitation may be warranted.
Once again, if you have any questions, please seek guidance at the above web sites or by contacting GC for advice.
July 01, 2011
OGE updates regs for gift reporting
The Office of Government Ethics issued its final rule (technical amendment) increasing the financial disclosure reporting threshold for gifts from $335 to $350, to correspond with the Foreign Gifts & Decorations Act. See 5 CFR 2634.304 and 2634.907(g). The rule is effective July 1, 2011, and retroactive to January 1, 2011. The rule also increases the threshold for exclusion for individual items from $135 to $140. The amendment also increases the gift exception ceiling for non-sponsor gifts of free attendance at widely attended gatherings. See 5 CFR 2635.204(g).
See Fed. Reg. notice at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-07-01/pdf/2011-16642.pdf.
May 31, 2011
GSA final rule for increase in "minimal value" for Foreign Gifts & Decorations Act
GSA published a final rule on 26 May 2011 increasing the "minimal Value" for foreign gifts under the Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act (5 U.S.C. 7342), from $335 to $350, retroactive to January 1, 2011. See 76 Fed. Reg. 30550 (http://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2011/05/26/2011-13028/federal-management-regulation-change-in-consumer-price-index-minimal-value#p-3).
It is anticipated that the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) will in turn issue a final rule amending 5 CFR 2634.304 and 2634.907(g) to increase (1) the aggregation reporting threshold for gifts from a single source on OGE Forms 278 and 450 to $350 and (2) the exclusion for individual items to $140. It is also anticipated that OGE will revise 5 CFR 2635.204(g)(2) to increase to $350 the gift exception ceiling for non-sponsor gifts of free attendance at widely attended gatherings.
May 21, 2011
Does Giving Someone a Free Cup of Coffee Induce Corruption?Washington Monthly essayist Joshua Tucker contemplates the slippery slope of accepting small gratuities. Here's an excerpt:
The problem is, where do you draw the line? If three of the four coffee shops in a neighborhood give out free coffee to the police, does the fourth one have to? And if it is OK to give the policy coffee, then how about a bagel? If a bagel’s fine, what about breakfast? And if breakfast is OK, then how about dinner? And why stop there - surely the copy store and the stationary store will want to show their appreciation as well. Some small businesses may not have an appropriately useful gift from the shop for the local police, so why not just give them money? And of course, why stop with the police? The fire department also provides useful services, as do local building inspectors, and so on. At some point, this begins to resemble a much more corrupt society, where cash is needed to secure services that are supposed to be provided by the state.
May 09, 2011
OGE on YouTube
OGE has training videos at YouTube:
- Criminal conflict of interest statute (18 U.S.C. 208)
- Impartiality (5 C.F.R. 2635,Subpart E)
- Gifts from Outside Sources (5 C.F.R.2635, Subpart B)