CEO 91-53 -- September 13, 1991
LEGISLATIVE DELEGATION RECEIVING
TELEPHONE SERVICE FROM COUNTY
To: The Honorable Ron Glickman, Chairman, Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation (Tampa)
Telephone service and equipment provided by Hillsborough County to members of the local legislative delegation for a public purpose and used in their District offices constitutes a "gift" as defined by Section 112.312(9)(a), Florida Statutes, and amended by Chapter 90-502, Laws of Florida. Although Section 112.3148(4) prohibits the acceptance of gifts valued in excess of $100 from principals of lobbyists who lobby the reporting individual's agency, and where three individuals are registered as legislative lobbyists on behalf of Hillsborough County, Section 112.3148(6)(b) would permit the acceptance of the gift from the County because a public purpose can be shown for the gift. As a gift, the telephone service and equipment must be reported by each member of the delegation annually, under Section 112.3148(6)(d).
Is the telephone service and equipment that Hillsborough County provides to members of the Hillsborough County legislative delegation a gift which must be reported pursuant to Section 112.3148, Florida Statutes?
Your question is answered in the affirmative.
In your letter of inquiry you advise that Hillsborough County has provided telephone service and equipment to members of the legislative delegation from that county for over 20 years. With the enactment of Chapter 90-502, Laws of Florida, which substantially changed gift acceptance and reporting requirements for public officers and certain employees in the State of Florida, you wish to fully comply with the requirements imposed by law. You advise that the County has provided the legislators with telephone lines and equipment, including installation and change orders, and that the State pays for the costs of any calls made on the Suncom long-distance telephone network. You further advise that the costs for telephone service and equipment are eligible to be paid from the intradistrict expense money that the Legislature provides each member, and that the State, not the member personally, would pay the expense if the County did not provide it. Finally, it is your view that this service provides the legislators with immediate access to state and county telephone networks, enhances the legislators' ability to communicate with their constituents and vice versa, and clearly serves a public purpose. You believe that this benefit accrues to the State because it provides Hillsborough legislators with the flexibility to use the intradistrict allowance for other office expenses. Each member of your delegation questions whether this service is, in fact, a gift which must be disclosed pursuant to the Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees.
Section 112.312(9), Florida Statutes, as amended by Chapter 90-502, Laws of Florida, provides in relevant part:
'Gift,' for purposes of ethics in government and financial disclosure required by law, means that which is accepted by a donee or by another on the donee's behalf, or that which is paid or given to another for or on behalf of a donee, directly, indirectly, or in trust for his benefit or by any other means, for which equal or greater consideration is not given, including:
3. Tangible or intangible personal property.
4. The use of tangible or intangible personal property.
13. Other personal services for which a fee is normally charged by the person providing the services.
14. Any other similar service or thing having an attributable value not already provided for in this section.
We are of the view that the telephone equipment and services which are given to each member of the legislative delegation by Hillsborough County would come under the definition of a "gift" as provided above. The question then becomes one of whether the gift can be accepted by members of the delegation, who are "reporting individuals" as defined by Section 112.3148(2)(d), Florida Statutes.
Section 112.3148(4), Florida Statutes, provides:
A reporting individual or procurement employee or any other person on his behalf is prohibited from knowingly accepting, directly or indirectly, a gift from a political committee or committee of continuous existence, as defined in s. 106.011, or from a lobbyist who lobbies the reporting individual's or procurement employee's agency, or directly or indirectly on behalf of the partner, firm, employer, or principal of a lobbyist, if he knows or reasonably believes that the gift has a value in excess of $100; however, such a gift may be accepted by such person on behalf of a governmental entity or a charitable organization. If the gift is accepted on behalf of a governmental entity or charitable organization, the person receiving the gift shall not maintain custody of the gift for any period of time beyond that reasonably necessary to arrange for the transfer of custody and ownership of the gift.
This provision prohibits a reporting individual from accepting a gift valued in excess of $100 from a lobbyist who lobbies the reporting individual's agency or from a principal of such a lobbyist. We are advised that three individuals who lobby the Legislature on behalf of Hillsborough County are registered with the Legislative Lobbyist Registration program administered by the Joint Legislative Management Committee. Although it could be argued that the telephone service and equipment are accepted by the legislators on behalf of the State since the State would pay for the equipment and service if the County did not provide it, Section 112.3148(4) does not really address this situation as it would require the legislators only to maintain custody of the equipment and service until it could be transferred to the State. However, Section 112.3148(6)(b), Florida Statutes, provides in relevant part:
Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (4), a reporting individual or procurement employee may accept a gift having a value in excess of $100 from an entity of the legislative or judicial branch, a department or commission of the executive branch, a county, a municipality, or a school board if a public purpose can be shown for the gift; . . . .
The need for the public to be able to communicate by telephone with elected State officials is clear, as is the need for legislators to be able to communicate with their constituents and other public officials. We are therefore of the view that a public purpose is served by the provision of telephone equipment and services by Hillsborough County to members of the local legislative delegation, and the "gift" may be accepted by the members of the delegation.
In valuing the gift for purposes of reporting it, we assume that the County pays for telephone service and equipment on a monthly basis. Therefore, each month of service would constitute a separate gift and should be valued by the County on a monthly basis. Pursuant to Section 112.3148(6)(c), Florida Statutes, the County would be required to itemize the gifts it has provided to each legislator and their costs and provide each member of the delegation with a statement by March 1st of each year. Where a month's service is valued at less than $100, it would not have to be reported by either the County or the legislator. The legislator then would report the receipt of such gifts by July 1 for the previous calendar year, as provided in Section 112.3148(6)(d).
Your question is answered accordingly.