Bah, humbug!

Published 7:09 pm Saturday, December 22, 2007

By Staff
Lobbyists should be barred from giving anything of monetary value to legislators and other government officials in exchange for preferential treatment such as getting favorable legislation passed.
But banning the sending of Christmas cards by lobbyists to legislators and government officials may be carrying things a bit too far.
According to The Associated Press, that’s what’s happening this Christmas.
The state Ethics Commission has informed lobbyists they are no longer allowed to send Christmas cards or other season’s greetings to any of the more than 4,000 people covered by the state’s overhauled ethics law. The governor, judges, cabinet-level officials and people appointed to boards and commissions come under that law.
That law was modified last year to do away with the perception that lobbyists influenced legislators and other state government officials with expensive gifts, meals and trips.
The modified law defines a gift as “anything of monetary value given or received,” reads the AP story.
Unless there’s money, a check or some other “monetary value” included with a Christmas card, it’s difficult to understand how that card can be considered a gift with monetary value. By the time it reaches its recipient, it’s a used card.
The Ethics Commission “based its informal advice on the 2006 ethics changes and amendments this year that banned those persons from accepting nearly all gifts from lobbyists,” according to the AP story.
To some lobbyists, Newson is no better than the Grinch who stole Christmas.
As many problems as some lobbyists have experienced and caused in North Carolina in recent years, it’s understandable why the state’s ethics law was revised. It’s also understandable why lobbyists are frustrated with the ruling by the Ethics Commission.
Come on, now. Is there really anything wrong with lobbyists sending Christmas cards to lawmakers and state officials? Even Santa Claus wouldn’t have a problem with lobbyists sharing Christmas greetings with legislators and government officials, as long as Christmas greetings are all they are sharing.
There’s at least one entity that believes the ban on lobbyists sending greeting cards to lawmakers and government officials may be unconstitutional. The AP report notes the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is contemplating legal action after the holidays.
Jennifer Rudinger, the chapter’s executive director, believes the policy is “a bit extreme.”
For a change, it’s a bit heartening to see the ACLU backing something to do with Christmas. Usually, the ACLU has some fight going against Christmas being connected with government.
Even Newson acknowledges it’s debatable whether a signed holiday card has monetary value to the person who received it, especially since it generally can’t be reused.
Because Newson’s advice about the cards isn’t a formal, written opinion, it’s unlikely anyone will be punished for failing to follow his advice.
Perhaps state Rep. Deborah Ross, a Wake County Democrat, who helped move this year’s ethics amendments through the Legislature, has the right view on the matter.
Santa Claus, a lobbyist if there ever was one, needs to leave some common sense and Christmas cards at the Ethics Commission’s offices this Christmas.