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Congress And Gift-Giving

It is becoming increasingly difficult to find an appropriate Christmas or Chanukah gift for your favorite Congressman that falls within the Rules of the U.S. House of Representatives on Gifts and Travel ethics guidelines which say, in part:

5. (a)(1)(A) A Member, Delegate, Resident Commissioner, officer, or employee of the House may not knowingly accept a gift except as provided in this clause.

(B) A Member, Delegate, Resident Commissioner, officer, or employee of the House may accept a gift (other than cash or cash equivalent) that the Member, Delegate, Resident Commissioner, officer, or employee reasonably and in good faith believes to have a value of less than $50 and a cumulative value from one source during a calendar year of less than $100. A gift having a value of less than $10 does not count toward the $100 annual limit. Formal record keeping is not required by this subdivision, but a Member, Delegate, Resident Commissioner, officer, or employee of the House shall make a good faith effort to comply with this subdivision.

(2)(A) In this clause the term "gift" means a gratuity, favor, discount, entertainment, hospitality, loan, forbearance, or other item having monetary value. The term includes gifts of services, training, transportation, lodging, and meals, whether provided in kind, by purchase of a ticket, payment in advance, or reimbursement after the expense has been incurred.

So, there is basically a $50 limit on any one gift that can be accepted by a Congressman, with a $100 annual limit from any individual. This means is that if you take a Congressman out for dinner, you will not be eating at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, unless you forgo everything but the entree - no wine, no appetizer, no salad, no cheesecake, and certainly no after dinner drink. If you include the tip, you may not even be able to afford the entree. McDonald's must be the place where all the power brokers are dining.

Of course this rule is a joke. It costs a lot more than $100 annually to buy influence in Washington, D.C.

Sadly, Congressman Randy 'Duke' Cunningham (R-CA), who plead guilty to charges of conspiracy and tax evasion while admitting he took bribes from Pentagon contractors and a New York businessman through illegal real estate transactions and gifts, obviously didn't bother to read the aforementioned rules or merely ignored them.

Representative Cunningham knew what his price was - $2.4 million, and I'm sure, based on preliminary evidence, that the lobbyists thought that was a bargain. From SignOnSanDiego.com:

He admitted he took more than $2.4 million in bribes and agreed to forfeit $1.8 million in cash, his share of the proceeds from the sale of his Rancho Santa Fe mansion and a variety of items bought with bribe money.

The 64-year-old Cunningham will be sentenced on February 27, 2005. He could be sentenced to as much as 10 years in prison and faces up to $350,000 in fines. (Expecting only a lump of coal, bad boy Cunningham has only one thing on his Christmas wish list this year - he would like the same judge that sentenced former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger, who plead guilty to removing highly classified documents from the National Archives and intentionally destroying some of them, to two years probation, 100 hours of community service, and had to surrender his access to classified government materials for three years. Berger was also ordered to pay a $50,000 fine as well as $6,905 for the administrative costs of his two-year probation. Ouch!)

Most congressmen have figured out that they will be able to sell their influence when they leave office, and make an effort to not look too corrupt while in office. Duke Cunningham just didn't want to wait.

Note: If you have any interest in obtaining any of Congressman Cunningham's ill-gotten goods, you can learn more about it here.

Posted by Rick | December 10, 2005 02:11 PM

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