CEO 85-76 -- October 24, 1985
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
STATE REPRESENTATIVE EMPLOYED BY STATE SAVINGS AND LOAN ASSOCIATION OWNED IN PART BY PARTNERS IN LAW FIRM WHICH ENGAGES IN LOBBYING
To: The Honorable Samuel P. Bell, III, State Representative, District 28, Daytona Beach
No prohibited conflict of interest would be created were a State Representative to be employed by a State savings and loan association which is owned in part by senior partners in a law firm which engages in lobbying before the Legislature, and were he to retain an interest in a limited partnership which owns an office building leased to the law firm. Section 112.313(7)(a)2, Florida Statutes, exempts the potential conflict of a Legislator's employment with a State savings and loan association, as the regulatory power exercised by the Legislature is exercised strictly through the enactment of laws. As the Commission has found the lobbyist registration requirements of Section 11.045(2), Florida Statutes, to control over the general prohibition of Section 112.313(7), Florida Statutes, that provision would not preclude the Legislator's employment with the savings and loan association or his interest in the limited partnership.
Would a prohibited conflict of interest be created were you, a State Representative, to be employed by a state savings and loan association which is owned in part by senior partners in a law firm which engages in lobbying before the Legislature, and were you to retain an interest in a limited partnership which owns an office building leased to the law firm?
Your question is answered in the negative.
In your letter of inquiry you advise that you serve as a member of the Florida House of Representatives and that you are an attorney with a law firm which has represented a state savings and loan association. The association has entered into an agreement to merge with another savings and loan association. The major stockholders of the second association are the two senior partners of a law firm which engages in a lobbying practice through its Tallahassee office.
In conjunction with the merger of the two savings and loan associations, the two law firms intend to merge. As you are prohibited from being a member of a law firm which is engaged in lobbying while you serve as a member of the Legislature, you intend to resign from the law firm at the time of the merger of the two firms. It is your intention to become a full-time employee of the new savings association, with your income consisting of a salary for your services to that association.
In addition, you advise that you own an interest in a limited partnership which owns the office building now occupied by your law firm. The new, merged law firm will continue to occupy this building and will assume the obligations of the pre-existing lease without change. Other than the lease arrangement, there will be no business connections between you and the new law firm.
Initially, we note that your inquiry raises no issues concerning the Sunshine Amendment, Article II, Section 8, Florida Constitution. Although Article II, Section 8(e), prohibits a member of the Legislature from personally representing any entity for compensation before State agencies other than judicial tribunals, your letter does not indicate any intent to do so.
The Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees provides in relevant part:
CONFLICTING EMPLOYMENT OR CONTRACTUAL RELATIONSHIP. -- No public officer or employee of an agency shall have or hold any employment or contractual relationship with any business entity or any agency which is subject to the regulation of, or is doing business with, an agency of which he is an officer or employee . . . ; nor shall an officer or employee of an agency have or hold any employment or contractual relationship that will create a continuing or frequently recurring conflict between his private interests and the performance of his public duties or that would impede the full and faithful discharge of his public duties. [Section 112.313(7)(a), Florida Statutes (1983).]
The first part of this provision prohibits a public officer from being employed with a business entity which is subject to the regulation of his agency. However, Section 112.313(7)(a)2, Florida Statutes, exempts potential conflicts under this provision for members of legislative bodies where the regulatory power over the business entity resides in another agency or where the regulatory power is exercised strictly through the enactment of laws or ordinances. See CEO 82-35 and CEO 83-17 for previous examples of the application of this exemption. Therefore, we conclude that there would be no conflict of interest per se in your employment with a state savings and loan association.
The remaining issue presented by your inquiry concerns the possibility that a conflict of interest may arise by virtue of the fact that the new law firm will be engaging in lobbying activities. In previous opinions CEO 78-56 and CEO 82-35 we advised that the lobbyist registration requirements of Section 11.045(2), Florida Statutes, control over the general prohibition contained in Section 112.313(7), Florida Statutes. In CEO 78-56, we advised that the Code of Ethics would not prohibit a State Representative from sharing office space with a law firm where one member of the firm lobbied before the Legislature. In CEO 82-35, we advised that no prohibited conflict of interest would be created were the corporation of a State Senator to subcontract with a firm which is contracting with the Association of County Commissioners or the League of Cities. Therefore, we are of the opinion that neither your employment with the new savings and loan association nor your interest in the limited partnership which will be leasing the office building to the new law firm would be precluded under the Code of Ethics because of the lobbying activities of the law firm.
Accordingly, we find that no prohibited conflict of interest would be created under the Code of Ethics were you to be employed by the new savings and loan association and were you to retain your interest in the limited partnership which will be leasing the office building to the new law firm. As the rules of the House of Representatives may apply to the situation you have referenced, you may wish to contact the House Committee on Ethics and Elections for its advice.