Gifts to Members and Criminal Law

Robert Walker, former Chief Counsel for the Senate Ethics Committee and now at Wiley Rein, criticizes the Public Corruption Prosecutions Improvements Act in this Roll Call piece.

First, criminalizing gift rules and regulations would accelerate the politicizing of the ethics process by dramatically escalating the stakes in the perennial Washington game of gotchaplayed by the press and political opponents alike.

Second, while the new gratuities statute might deter gifts to individuals because of their official positions, it likely would deter otherwise qualified and willing individuals from taking on such positions: It‘s one thing to face administrative proceedings for an inadvertent gift rule violation, another thing to face arraignment.

Third, criminalizing the gift rules would further isolate public officials from the public. The proposed amendment of the gratuities statute doesnt eliminate the long-standing exceptions to the rules that permit attendance at receptions, widely attended events connected with official duties or bona fide charity events. But many potential sponsors will decline to pay for such legitimate events, and many officials will decline to attend if they believe that just by doing so they may invite law enforcement interest.

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