EXCLUSIVE: Dinner, with a Side of Ethics Violation

Is this guy even old enough to drink?Ah, how quickly they forget the rules when there is free food! Last week, the Federal Communications Bar Association held their annual FCC Chairman's Dinner to roast and then listen to the incredibly young-looking Kevin Martin (sample one-liner: "Kevin looks so young even Mark Foley would throw him back"). But what Kevin probably didn't know is that some of the companies sponsoring the event were playing a little fast and loose with the ethics rules that night.

So, since the FCBA is a non-profit and the event would be considered "widely-attended" (meaning it wasn't only lobbyists and Hill staff, and was reasonably policy-related), it was completely fine under House and Senate ethics rules for Hill staffers to accept the FCBA's invitations to attend. However, it is completely violative of those ethics rules to accept an invitation from a dinner sponsor to sit at their table (since those seats costs hundreds of dollars, it's considered an illegal gift).

For those not wise to the way these things work, companies and firms "buy" tables for thousands of dollars and leave a couple of seats unfilled for the host of the event to fill with Hill staffers (which is allowed). But lobbyists, being competitive types, prefer to have the most senior staff at their tables and aren't necessarily as concerned as the host with the event being ethics-compliant. And so it happened that a couple of competitive and (apparently) ethically-challenged phone company lobbyists went to all their favorite Hill staffers to invite them to the event directly -- which is a direct violation of ethics rules for the companies to do and the staffers to accept.

Naturally, those seats didn't go empty that night. And, sadly, the only people likely to face any punishment are the poorly-paid Hill staffers that accepted the invitations. But, I'll bet they served filet mignon! Yummy! Welcome to the new "ethics" environment: keeping Hill staff away from free food and Congress Members rolling in campaign cash since 2007!

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin Roasted, Then Jabs At Cable [Multichannel News]


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