Bottom feeders: Forget those New Year's resolutions coming from our nation's Capitol. Not ten days into 1996--and new rules governing gifts to members of Congress--Representative Scott McInnis and Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell have eaten their words. Both lawmakers accepted US West's invitation to sit at the Baby Bell's table at the $250-a-plate Citizen of the West dinner on January 8; Campbell's chief of staff, Ginnie Kontnik, and her husband sat at the Coors table, chatting it up with Peter Coors. In order to prevent such corporate coziness (isn't the telecommunications industry still lobbying for changes in proposed regulations?), both houses of Congress voted last year to change their "gift rules." As of January 1, U.S. senators and their staffers are not allowed to accept gifts or meals exceeding $50 in value--and they can't accept more than $100 annually from any one source. Campbell, who voted for the restrictions, consulted the ethics committee before agreeing to appear in those Banana Republic ads--but apparently was out to lunch on the Citizen of the West dinner. The total "gift" to the senator, his staffer and her spouse: $750.
The House rules are even stiffer: No representative or House staffer is allowed to accept any gift or meal. Nada. Zip. And in case that isn't clear, the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct spells out the rules in a memo, offering examples of formerly acceptable practices that are now illegal. "Example #22: MegaCorporation buys a table at the Do-Gooders' annual charity dinner. Ron Representative may not accept the invitation of MegaCorporation's CEO to sit at its table."
McInnis's aide says that his meal ticket was legal since it was donated by a friend (former legislator and current lobbyist Frank DeFilippo). But other Colorado representatives are pickier eaters. Had the Sixth District's Dan Schaefer received a ticket, "he would have sent it back," says aide Andree Krause. The Third District's Wayne Allard did get a ticket--and he declined it. "It was clear it would violate the rules," says Allard aide Sean Conway.
Ethics questions stretch further down the food chain. A few days before Christmas, attorney Stephen Berken dropped off a bag of bagels at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in downtown Denver, telling the marshal at the front desk that he wanted the food to be an anonymous gift to all the hardworking, underappreciated clerks. But when Berken returned to the courthouse the next day, he says the marshal reported that the court supervisor had threatened to suspend the clerks for accepting the food and told them if it happened again, they would be suspended for three days without pay. Berken was astonished. In the first place, he notes, "a silly rule prohibiting holiday gifts does not eliminate the possibility of partiality." And in the second: "Does a supervisor truly believe that someone could ingratiate a court's staff with a few bagels? We're talking about bagels with cream cheese, folks...not an envelope with 50 Large."
Yeah, yeah. Tell it to the judge.
He shall overcome: Six years ago, HBE's Fred Kummer, then on the board of the University of Missouri's St. Louis campus, voted against making Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday a holiday. Last year, Kummer lost a $5 million racial-discrimination suit stemming from the firing of a black employee by his Adam's Mark Hotel in St. Louis.
But last Friday, hundreds of community leaders gathered at the Adam's Mark Hotel in downtown Denver for a King luncheon. The state's MLK Holiday Commission is headed by Wilma Webb--whose husband, Mayor Wellington Webb, supports DURA's $25 million subsidy for Kummer's hotel.
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