The Iowa House Ethics Committee will consider a new rule this week that would forbid House members from accepting trinkets from lobbying groups.
The state’s gift law currently allows legislators to accept gifts worth less than $3 — allowing organizations to give a lawmaker some sort of inexpensive knickknack. But Representative Kevin Koester, a Republican from Ankeny, says it may be time to ban all the gifts.
“There is a climate where public trust of elected officials is on a decline and, for any compromise of the public trust for $3, zero makes sense to me, so we’re just simply going to discuss it,” Koester says.
Koester is chairman of the House Ethics Committee and the panel will consider this change during a meeting on Tuesday.
“The trinkets are beautiful and well meaning, often. The pen can identify the donor’s cause as could a coffee cup or the stationery,” Koester says. “And yet there is a simplicity of not putting somebody to the discussion of, ‘Is that hat worth more than $2.99 because it has flaps?'”
If the new rule is adopted, House members would still be allowed to accept food or drink worth less than $3. That means groups that host receptions for legislators could provide food and snacks, but could not hand a legislator a trinket with the organization’s logo or website printed on it. Koester says it’s just a way to ensure there are no misunderstandings.
“That is not to imply that there has been any legislator in my experience who has compromised a vote over anything with a value of $100, much less $3,” Koester says.
The proposed rule change would apply only to the 100 members of the Iowa House, not the 50 members of the Iowa Senate.
In 1992 the Iowa Legislature passed a “Gift Law” which applies to all public employees as well as to members of the Iowa House and Senate. It prohibits and public employee from accepting a gift from a “restricted donor” if the gift is worth $3 or more. It means, for example, that superintendents can’t accept gifts from companies hoping to do business with their school district unless the gift is worth less than $2.99. And legislators are not to accept pricey gifts or expensive meals from lobbyists.