Don’t get caught red-handed this orange cone season

It’s summer time, which for commuters means one thing…orange cone season. That’s right, with warmer weather comes an increase of construction, groundbreaking and ribbon cutting ceremonies.

These ceremonies are an ideal way for companies to generate positive earned media by highlighting new projects and developments. These events also tend to feature food and some sort of memento or tchotchke to commemorate the occasion.

Because a ribbon cutting or groundbreaking ceremony usually attracts one or more government officials, potentially triggering issues with  Ohio’s ethics laws, it’s important to plan for and acknowledge the rules leading up to the event.

Ohio law prohibits giving a gift of “substantial value” to a public official or employee if the giver is a “prohibited source.” A prohibited source is anyone that is regulated by, doing business with or seeking to do business with/interested in matters before the official/employee’s agency or political subdivision. While substantial value is not defined, the Ohio Ethics Commission has provided guidance that acceptable gifts should be of a nominal value – generally around $20.

If you’re planning an event, our compliance team is always ready to help you err on the side of caution and avoid any ethics violations.

Ethics

Fair season reminder: Reporting the value of passes

As fair season approaches, public officials must remember that accepting fair passes (for themselves or their immediate family) totaling in excess of $25 must be reported. Likewise, lobbyists must “track the value of any gifted tickets/passes” and be aware of the different levels of the passes or packages they give. While fair admissions are easy to overlook, this type of gift does count toward the $75 in gifts that a legislator or staff member may receive in a calendar year. Read more >>

Ethics

Helpful ethics tips for the public-private partnerships

The latest edition of "The Voice of Ethics," provided by the Ohio Ethics Commission, contains many good reminders for private sector companies that do business with state or local government. See pages 3-7 for a helpful outline of public-private partnership restrictions related to economic aid, gifts, donations or compensation, recruitment and board service. 

Ethics

What went wrong? Campaign telemarketer fined by FTC

While false statements are no longer actionable in the election arena, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) can, and recently has, targeted telemarketers involved in allegedly deceptive solicitations. The FTC recently announced that Infocision, an Ohio-based telemarketing company, misled consumers by falsely saying it was not calling to solicit contributions. The company has agreed to pay a $250,000 fine to resolve the FTC complaint. According to NBC News, Infocision solicited contributions for Ben Carson’s political campaign and a number of conservative political groups, in addition to charitable organizations.

Campaign Finance, Ethics

Avoiding conflicts of interest

Most public officials, especially those at the local level, hold private employment, own businesses and have family in the community. This can make avoiding conflicts of interest a challenge when asked to vote on an ordinance or resolution to provide grants, make budget appropriations or take other actions that benefit a large number of constituents. Withdrawing from a vote is generally sufficient to avoid a conflict, but it can leave a public entity at a standstill if multiple officials have conflicts and must withdraw. One possible solution that is recognized by the Ohio Elections Commission is to sever the action and place the matter that creates a conflict into a separate legislative action, such as a supplemental appropriation. Public officials should work closely with their statutory counsel to determine whether such an action is possible and would be sufficient to avoid ethical violations.

Ethics

OEC releases spring newsletter

The Ohio Ethics Commission (OEC) recently released its Spring 2017 “The Voice of Ethics” publication. This edition spotlights whether an elected official is permitted to also serve as a volunteer firefighter and what conflicts of interest may exist. Also, the OEC has debuted its short online e-course, titled “The Ohio Ethics Law: Travel, Meals and Lodging.” The e-course is free and can be accessed from any device. 

Ethics

What went wrong? BGSU professor loses job over “erotic literature”

According to a recent Ohio Inspector General report, Alan Atalah, a professor and associate dean at Bowling Green State University, was investigated after “erotic literature” was found on his state-owned computer. Atalah, who was engaged in a research project with the Ohio Department of Transportation, mistakenly submitted a USB drive containing lewd files to ODOT as an attachment to his research report. Not surprisingly, a review of Atalah’s computer subsequently occurred.

After investigation by BGSU Police and the FBI, the content of the literature found on Atalah’s state-owned computer was not considered illegal. However, he did violate the policies regarding the proper use of a public-owned device and ethics laws prohibiting conducting private business on the government’s time. Although he escaped criminal charges related to the pornography, Atalah was dismissed from his position at the university.  

The moral of this story is evident: don’t conduct “personal business” using public resources.  And absolutely don’t attach evidence of your activity to an official report that you send to the state. 

Ethics, General News

Scam PACs

A new kind of “political” entity that is leaving potential contributors skeptical and disappointed has recently emerged. A “Scam PAC” is a registered political action committee that often uses a name that mirrors a more-established organization but essentially defrauds its donors. Scam PACs present many dangers to donors, causes, candidates and more. Read more >>

Campaign Finance, Ethics, General News

Ohio Supreme Court adopts new judicial contribution limits

The Supreme Court of Ohio announced several changes to the Code of Judicial Conduct. One noteworthy change permits candidates to solicit and accept larger donations from individuals and organizations. It officially went into effect on January 1, 2017. Read more >>

Ethics, General News

Top 5 enforcement trends from 2016

The Council on Governmental Ethics Laws (COGEL) recently held its annual conference, and one panel presented a survey of reported compliance issues from 2016. The top five enforcement actions reported in 2016 were revealed and discussed. Read more >>

 

Ethics
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