UUP Fined $5,000 for Legislative Luncheon

UUP Fined $5,000 for Legislative Luncheon

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 22, 2010
CONTACT: Walter C. Ayres

ALBANY – The New York State Commission on Public Integrity today announced that it has imposed a civil penalty of $5,000 on United University Professions (UUP) finding that the organization “knowingly and willfully violated Legislative Law §1-m by providing complimentary attendance, food and refreshments to public officials” at a legislative luncheon in the “Well” of the Legislative Office Building in Albany that UUP held on February 12, 2008.

The Public Employee Ethics Reform Act of 2007 significantly changed the law by prohibiting lobbyists and clients from offering, and public officials and State officers and employees from accepting, gifts of more than nominal value, which the Commission has determined to be no more than the cost of an ordinary cup of coffee. UUP and the Commission agreed that the total average cost per person for UUP’s event was $50.53. Gifts of $75 or less had been allowed in the past, and receptions such as this often were permissible and common.

The Hearing Officer noted, “To agree that a lobbying client may, at will, wine and dine public officials while plying them with information favorable to the client’s interests and be totally free of liability under the gift ban, merely because other folks also were wined and dined, and a quid pro quo was not clearly articulated, is to make a mockery of the Lobbying Act and of all attempts to establish an ethical government environment.”

UUP also claimed that the term “nominal” does not have a clear meaning and that the law contravenes UUP’s rights under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. The Commission rejected those arguments and accepted the decision of the Hearing Officer, but reduced the penalty from the recommended $20,000.

Copies of the Decision and relevant documents are available on-line at http://www.nyintegrity.org/enforcement/