Watchdogs ruled correctly on gift-giving
Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 6, 2007
The issue: The State Ethics Commission
rules on gifts involving Alabama Power Co.
Our opinion: Restrictions regarding public
officials should apply.
Tis the season of peace on Earth and giving
Some people might believe the State Ethics
Commission members acted more like Scrooge
than Santa Claus after its four member voted
unanimously Wednesday to tell Alabama Power
co. that restrictions on gifts and entertainment
for public officials apply even when friends and
neighbors are involved.
It&8217;s the first opinion given by the commission
on the issue. People hadn&8217;t thought much about
it prior to the issue coming up Wednesday.
And Alabama Power Co. just happened to be
the case. But Hugh Evans, the commission&8217;s attorney,
pointed out the opinion would apply to
any company or individual that entertained
public officials, public employees or their families.
Alabama had asked for the opinion because
the company had entertained Attorney General
Troy King and his family in the Alabama Power
Co.&8217;s skybox at an Atlanta Braves game in 2006.
One thing led to another and questions began
to mount. The power company used an interesting
example: What if power company employees
went to the beach for a week and the child of
the employee asked the child of a public official
or public employee along? Would that constitute
Evans said yes.
The idea of something as extreme as having
your children&8217;s friends toe the line because of
your work might grate on some feelings, but not
Too many times, questions have come up
about relationships between industries regulated
by government and officials. And too many
times, shadows have been cast on important
projects because of the appearance of impropriety,
whether the intent was there or not.
The best rule of thumb is to not to place doubt
in anyone&8217;s mind. Rules are made for a reason.
Our public officials, like it or not, and their families
are held to a higher standard than the rest
of the population. That&8217;s one of the responsibilities,
if you will, of throwing a hat in the ring
and seeking the public&8217;s endorsement of their
The commission hasn&8217;t cut off anybody&8217;s fun,
not even the children&8217;s in the hypothetical.
The law tells people to report to the Ethics
Commission when they spend more than $250
per day on hospitality for a public official, public
employee or family member. That spending
is limited to three consecutive days.
Additionally, the law limits seasonal gifts,
such as Christmas, to less than $100 in value. A
single donor can&8217;t give a person more than $250
in gifts during a year.
That&8217;s pretty reasonable in our view.
Oh, and as far as the children in the example.
If the child of the power company employee
wanted to go, the parents of the public official
or public employee would have to reimburse the
power company employee for the cost.