CEO 84-98 -- October 18, 1984
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
STATE REPRESENTATIVE COMMUNICATING WITH NEWLY REGISTERED VOTERS; USE OF HOUSE SEAL
To: (Name withheld at the person's request.)
So long as the use of official stationery is in accordance with rulings or interpretations of the House of Representatives, the use of such stationery to welcome newly registered voters to a legislator's district would not violate the Code of Ethics. Similarly, the use of a legislator's official title or the House of Representatives seal are matters which should be addressed directly by the House of Representatives.
Does the Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees prohibit a State Representative from communicating with newly registered voters through the use of official legislative stationery?
In your letter of inquiry you advise that you, like many other elected public officials, follow a practice of communicating with newly registered voters to welcome them to the district and to inform them of the existence of your office. This communication takes the form of a letter on official legislative stationery, together with a copy of your most recent legislative newsletter.
You also advise that recently a district office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service has naturalized approximately ten thousand new citizens, most of whom are expected to register as voters before they leave the naturalization site. Because this has occurred during an election year, you seek our opinion as to whether your communication with these newly registered voters on official stationery would constitute an ethical violation. The correspondence you contemplate simply would describe the existence of your office, would contain a welcome to the district, and would not mention the words "election" or "vote."
In a previous opinion, CEO 78-76, a State Legislator inquired concerning the application of the Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees to the use of legislative staff, office, or resources in a campaign for reelection. In response, we referenced the provision of the Code of Ethics which prohibits a public official from corruptly using his official position or property or resources within his trust to secure a special privilege or benefit for himself or others, Section 112.313(6), Florida Statutes. We advised that in order to constitute a misuse of public position, a public official's actions would have to be inconsistent with the proper performance of public duties, and we referenced standards set by the election laws, House and Senate rules, and Chapter 11, Florida Statutes. We concluded that so long as the use of legislative staff, offices, and resources is consistent with these provisions and the interpretations of those governmental bodies which have jurisdiction over them, the Code of Ethics would not be violated.
We note that the Chairmen of the House Committee on Ethics and Elections and of its predecessor, the Committee on Standards and Conduct, as well as those Committees, have issued a number of opinions and interpretations regarding the use of official House stationery. Accordingly, so long as your use of this stationery is in accordance with rulings or interpretations of the House of Representatives, your use of stationery would not violate the Code of Ethics. You also may wish to contact the Division of Elections, Department of State, for information concerning the possible applicability of election laws to this situation.
Does the Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees restrict a State Representative's use of the seal of the House of Representatives, one's title as a member of the Legislature, or similar identifying words in connection with campaign literature?
You also inquire whether there is any ethical restriction upon the use of the seal of the House of Representatives, one's title as a member of the Legislature, or similar identifying words or logos in connection with the mailing of computer produced letters clearly indicating "paid political advertisement" with party identification.
In a previous opinion, CEO 82-47, we advised that the propriety of using the Senate seal lies within the discretion of the Senate, as that seal is designated the "Official Seal of the Senate" pursuant to Section 11.49(1), Florida Statutes. Similarly, although we have not found any statute regarding the House of Representatives seal, we are of the opinion that the use of that seal should be a matter to be determined by the House of Representatives. Regarding the use of one's title as a member of the Legislature, we note that several interpretations of House Rules have dealt with this subject. We would observe, however, that identifying in campaign literature a candidate as an incumbent office holder--information which directly bears on the qualifications of the candidates--clearly is distinguishable from the use of position or resources within an official's trust to promote his reelection.
Accordingly, we suggest that you contact the House Committee on Ethics and Elections regarding the use of the House seal and to insure that the manner in which you propose using your official title would be consistent with House rules.