An Executive Branch official has sought our advice concerning whether he and his spouse may permit a private entity to pay for their room and dinner expenses at a workshop where the entity has requested the official to participate in a panel discussion. This request involves a consideration of §3-106 of the Maryland Public Ethics Law (Md. Code Ann., Art. 40A, the Law).
Section 3-106(a) of the Law sets out a strict rule that employees and officials may not solicit gifts. This section also generally prohibits acceptance of gifts from persons who:
1) are doing or seeking to do business with their agency;
2) are regulated by their agency;
3) have financial interests that may be affected specifically by their official actions; or
4) are engaged in lobbying activities subject to Title 5 of the Law.
A gift is defined in §1-201(o) as the "transfer of anything of economic value regardless of form without adequate and lawful consideration." It is not clear whether the donor in this situation would be within one of the four categories of persons from whom gifts could not be accepted. However, even if the donor would ordinarily be covered by the general prohibition, section 3-106(b) establishes certain exceptions which allow acceptance of a gift so long as it would not tend to impair the impartiality or independent judgment of the recipient, or, if it is of significant value, appear to be intended to do so.
One of the exceptions established in subsection (b) concerning the acceptance of unsolicited gifts would permit the acceptance of "reasonable expenses for food, travel, lodging and scheduled entertainment of *an* official and spouse for a meeting which is given in return for participation in a panel or speaking engagement at the meeting. "The situation presented here appears to fit squarely within this exception. Further, nothing in this case indicates that the gift was solicited by the official, or that it would impair or be intended to impair the impartiality or independent judgment of the official. We therefore conclude that the official and his spouse may permit the private entity to reimburse their reasonable room and dinner expenses in connection with his participation in the meeting.
Mr. Calvert was a member when this case was considered and decided, but resigned prior to the issuance of the formal opinion.
Herbert J. Belgrad, Chairman
William B. Calvert
Jervis S. Finney
Reverend John Wesley Holland
Barbara M. Steckel
Date: June 13, 1980