The Small Business Legislative Committee’s (SBLC) board has highlighted the unique impact a proposal issued by the U.S. Office of Government Ethics will have on trade associations that represent small businesses. The proposed changes affect the rules regarding interactions between federal government employees and lobbyists.
Current rules include restrictions on the attendance of federal government employees at events and activities sponsored by organizations of various kinds including trade associations that lobby the government. Providing “free” attendance is considered a gift. There are exceptions, however, including instances when the government employee is a speaker.
Another exception permits attendance at “widely attended gatherings.” The current rule states that when there has been a determination that the federal government employee’s attendance is in the interest of the agency to further agency programs and operations, an employee may accept an unsolicited gift of free attendance at all or appropriate parts of a widely attended gathering of mutual interest to a number of parties from the sponsor of the event or, if more than 100 persons are expected to attend the event and the gift of free attendance has a market value of $335 or less, from a person other than the sponsor of the event. A gathering is widely attended if it is expected that a large number of persons will attend and that persons with a diversity of views or interests will be present, for example, if it is open to members from throughout the interested industry or profession or if those in attendance represent a range of persons interested in a given matter.
This new proposal would not allow federal government employees to attend “widely attended gatherings” held by trade associations. They would still be allowed to attend to speak at functions. Professional societies and other entities would still fall within an exclusion from the prohibition.