As the world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic and returns to the new normal, in-person conferences have also returned from their hiatus. Accordingly, it is an appropriate time to review ethics laws regarding public officials and employees at conferences.
Both the Ohio Ethics Commission and the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee provide guidance on ethics laws for public officials and public employees attending conferences covering everything from registration fees, meals, lodging, or gifts and entertainment. Ohio’s ethics laws apply to Ohio public officials and employees regardless if the conference is in Ohio or out of state.
Ohio laws and rules may vary depending on whether the individual is a state legislator that is governed by the Joint Legislative Ethics Commission or other public officials and employees governed by the Ohio Ethics Commission and whether the source of a gift is a lobbyist and/or an improper source.
Generally, your organization, if it is an improper source, cannot provide anything of substantial value to a public official or employee, which could include travel, meals, lodging, gift bags and entertainment at the conference. Honorarium also is not permitted to be given to a public official or employee. Unless the public official is giving a speech or presentation at the conference or another exception applies, conference registration fees cannot be provided to or waived for the public official or employee to attend the conference. Application of Ohio’s ethics laws are fact specific, so remember to check with your legal counsel first.