EXECUTIVE BRANCH LOBBYING
EXECUTIVE BRANCH AGENCY RECEIVING REIMBURSEMENT FOR
EMPLOYEE'S TRAVEL FROM PRINCIPAL OF LOBBYIST
To: Mr. Thomas Congdon, Assistant General Counsel, Division of Emergency Management (Tallahassee)
Section 112.3215(6)(a), Florida Statutes, would not be violated when an executive branch agency is reimbursed for an agency employee's travel expenses, where the employee travels in his public capacity and at public expense to speak to the members of an organization, even though the organization is the principal of an executive branch agency lobbyist.
Would Section 112.3215(6)(a), Florida Statutes, be violated were an executive branch agency to accept reimbursement for an agency employee's travel expenses from a principal of an executive branch agency lobbyist?
Your question is answered in the negative.
In your letter of inquiry, you advise that an executive branch agency employee has been invited to speak before the members of a principal's organization to discuss emergency management best practices as it relates to the principal's membership. The principal has offered to reimburse the executive branch agency for its employee's travel expenses, and you question whether this would be permissible under Section 112.3215(6)(a), Florida Statutes.
The pertinent statute reads:
Notwithstanding s. 112.3148, s. 112.3149, or any other provision of law to the contrary, no lobbyist or principal shall make, directly or indirectly, and no agency official, member, or employee shall knowingly accept, directly or indirectly, any expenditure.
The term "expenditure" is defined in Section 112.3215(1)(d), Florida Statutes, to mean
a payment, distribution, loan, advance, reimbursement, deposit, or anything of value made by a lobbyist or principal for the purpose of lobbying. The term "expenditure" does not include contributions or expenditures reported pursuant to chapter 106 or federal election law, campaign-related personal services provided without compensation by individuals volunteering their time, any other contribution or expenditure made by or to a political party, or any other contribution or expenditure made by an organization that is exempt from taxation under 26 U.S.C. s. 527 or s. 501(c)(4).
This is the first opportunity we have had to interpret the "expenditure ban" in this context, but in CEO 91-21, we opined that a supervisor of elections had not received a gift under Section 112.3148, Florida Statutes, when the county paid for his travel to visit a voting machine manufacturer and the manufacturer subsequently reimbursed the county for his expenses. More analogous is CEO 92-12, Question 3, where we opined that a PSC Commissioner had not received an honorarium or honorarium-related expenses when he traveled at public expense to speak at a conference and where the sponsor later reimbursed the PSC for his expenses. There, we said that Section 112.3149, Florida Statutes, did not apply to situations where an agency is reimbursed for the expenses it incurred in sending one of its officials to speak at a function.
It is our view that Section 112.3215(6)(a), Florida Statutes, leads to the same conclusion. When an executive branch agency employee travels at public expense, his or her agency has expended public funds to pay for the travel, and whether or not the agency is reimbursed for the employee's travel expenses does not change the nature of the transaction that took place between the agency and its employee. The prohibition against accepting expenditures in Section 112.3215(6)(a) is directed to executive branch agency officials and employees, not to their agencies. In addition, there is a very important policy that is furthered by this interpretation: it places the cost of the executive branch agency employee's travel expenses on the organization benefiting from the agency's and the employee's specialized knowledge and expertise, a vital consideration during these times of budget cuts and economic belt-tightening.
Accordingly, we find that Section 112.3215(6)(a), Florida Statutes, is not violated where an executive branch agency is reimbursed for its employee's travel expenses when its employee travels at public expense to address an organization, even though the organization is the principal of an executive branch agency lobbyist.
ORDERED by the State of Florida Commission on Ethics meeting in public session on October 17, 2008 and RENDERED this 22nd day of October, 2008.
Cheryl Forchilli, Chair