State ethics officials are warning gambling regulators not to accept gifts from Iowa communities that want a new riverboat casino. The warning comes after last week’s meeting when more than one community presented members of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission with inexpensive goodies. One group gave cookies. Kim Miller, executive director of Worth County Development, gave commissioners t-shirts.Miller told the commission she knows there’s a three-dollar limit on gifts to state officials, so she wore each of the lime green t-shirts she presented commissioners to knock down the value of the t-shirts to “about a buck.” Iowa’s gift law prohibits state officials from accepting anything worth more than three dollars from someone who may be in a position to profit from that state official’s decision-making. Even though Miller did try to reduce the value of the t-shirts by wearing them, the gesture was enough to make the executive director of Iowa’s Ethics Board uneasy. Charlie Smithson says with the white-hot spotlight on gambling, even the appearance of impropriety could be damaging.Smithson says while people may joke about the gift law, a violation could throw a serious “monkey wrench” in a community’s bid to land a riverboat. Any person who gives illegal stuff and the public official who accepts it can be penalized. Smithson says the Ethics Board has a variety of punishment options. A fine of up to two-thousand dollars could be levied. The board could recommend that someone be removed from office and since it is a crime, a violation could be prosecuted in the courts as a misdemeanor. Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission administrator Jack Ketterer says it’s unlikely commission members can be swayed by t-shirts or baked goods, and he says commissioners accepted the items in the spirit they were given — as an attempt to show community pride, not to bribe. But Ketterer says the commission is “very sensitive” about ethics rules and commissioners do not allow anyone to buy them lunch or even a cocktail.
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