By M.H. Cavanaugh
Christian Action League
March 18, 2015
RALEIGH – The North Carolina State Ethics Commission ruled in February that sexual favors or sexual acts between lobbyists and government officials do not need to be reported as “a gift” or a “thing of value” in disclosure forms under the state’s lobbying laws.
“Consensual sexual relationships do not have monetary value and therefore are not ‘reportable expenditures made for lobbying’ for purposes of the lobbying law’s expenditure reporting provision,” the commission’s ruling stated.
The ruling came after an inquiry from the North Carolina Secretary of State’s lobbying compliance director, Joal Broun, in December.
Some interpreted the ruling as a green light for lobbyists to offer sex to government officials as a means of getting what they wanted. A Beaufort Observer op-ed asked, “Has the State’s Ethics Commission Made Prostitution Legal in North Carolina?” But the advisory ruling was really in response to a hypothetical request by Broun and failed to go into any particulars about the ethics of exchanging sex for influence.
“You have asked whether consensual ‘sexual favors or sexual acts’ between a lobbyist and a designated individual constitutes a gift or ‘thing of value’ that would trigger the gift ban and reporting requirements,” said the ruling. “You have made this request in a general and largely hypothetical context, with little or no supporting evidence or no supporting facts. The response must therefore be limited.”
“It’s quite clear in our state’s statutes that prostitution is a crime,” said Dr. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “Quite frankly, I think it’s ridiculous to advocate the ethics ruling opened the door for legalizing a form of prostitution. It simply addressed an inquiry that sought to determine if sex could be deemed something of value, which might violate the law prohibiting lobbyists from providing gifts to lawmakers. If sex was deemed something of value, should it be a required listing on the lobbying compliance reporting forms? I don’t mean to make light of the matter, but the inquiry was very confusing and almost laughable. But the good that evolved from the matter is the inquiry revealed greater clarity was needed in the ethics code about romantic relationships between lawmakers and lobbyists and the like.”
A bipartisan group of lawmakers in the North Carolina House is now seeking to provide that clarity by introducing this week, HB 252 Conflict of Interest/Certain Relationships. The legislation has been assigned to the House Rules Committee.
Two Republicans, Rep. Leo Daughtry of Johnston County and Rep. John Faircloth of Guilford County – Two Democrats, Rep. Grier Martin of Wake County and Rep. Rick Glazier of Cumberland County have filed HB 252 to make it abundantly clear that “certain relationships require recusal in the conflict of interest analysis under the state government ethics act.”
In essence: the bill would require legislators or government officials involved in romantic and sexual relationships must recuse themselves from government actions that lobbyists or liaisons personnel would stand to gain from on behalf of their clients.
Rep. Glazier summed up the legislation on Monday when he told the Raleigh News and Observer, “I think most people assume, but it’s not accurate yet, that if you are having a long-term dating relationship or sexual relationship as a legislator with a lobbyist, then you really are conflicted out of or working on that lobbyist’s bill. I think that is what people assume, but it is actually not in our ethics code. This bill is simply an attempt to fill the gap on what I think is pretty clear, and, I hope a very bipartisan discussion and a quick discussion about the ethics issue and to add a little bit of public confidence to the ethics guidelines, after the state ethics opinion on this very difficult issue.”