REQUESTED BY: Jack Odgaard, Executive Director, Nebraska Water Resources Association, 308 Sharp Building, Lincoln, Nebraska 68508
The request for Advisory Opinion dated December 3, 1979 states that an important activity of the association is education of the citizens of Nebraska on the accomplishments, values of, and need for water resources development. That educational activity includes efforts to familiarize state senators, particularly those of non-rural background, with water, energy and natural resources projects and programs. Among those educational activities, the association would like to be able to conduct field tours throughout Nebraska. Such field tours would involve providing lodging and transportation for state senators consisting of normal overnight housing in motels or hotels and transportation which would consist of private or commercial air travel, bus travel and private automobile travel.
QUESTION: May a principal or a lobbyist provide lodging and transportation for state senators in excess of $25.00 in any one-month period for an educational field tour?
Yes, if the senators are not otherwise required by legislative resolution or other legislative action to investigate or study the subject matter of the "educational field tour."
Section 49-1490, 1979 Supplement, provides that a principal, lobbyist or anyone acting on behalf of either shall not give a gift to any official or member of any official's staff in the executive or legislative branch of state government or a member of an official's immediate family. Subdivision (3) of this section provides that a gift shall mean a payment . . . or anything of value, the value of which exceeds $25.00 in any one month period, unless consideration of equal or greater value is received therefor, and further provides that certain stated items such as breakfast, luncheon, dinner or other refreshments consisting of food and beverages provided for immediate consumption shall not be considered gifts.
Section 49-1419(4), 1979 Supplement, defines expenditures for the purposes of the lobbying practices provisions of the Nebraska Political Accountability and Disclosure Act as not including payments for transportation by lobbyists or the cost of communicating positions from a principal to a lobbyist or from a lobbyist to a principal.
We are of the opinion that this exclusion of payments for transportation by lobbyists from being lobbying expenditures applies to disclosure otherwise required by 49-1483. It refers to the lobbyist's own transportation and does not authorize a gift of transportation to a public official contrary to the provisions of 49-1490.
However, 49-1490(3) does provide that if consideration of equal or greater value is received for such payment, such payment is not a gift. In this situation, if the senators who take the field trip are not otherwise required to do so in the performance of a legislative duty, such as investigating or studying water, energy, and natural resources projects and programs, then transportation and lodging for such a field trip may be provided to such senators in consideration for their taking the field trip.
This opinion should in no way be construed to mean that a public official may be given a trip by a lobbyist, principal or anyone on their behalf in consideration for the mere taking of the trip. The consideration rendered by the public official must involve a genuine element of detriment. Entertainment trips or trips which are primarily for the benefit of the public official or just plain "boondoggles" are prohibited if the value involved exceeds $25.00 in any one-month period and food and beverage provided for immediate consumption.
The amount of payment or things of value provided must bear a reasonable relationship to lawful services rendered by a public official. Payment or other consideration valued in excess of the value of the services rendered by the public official would be a prohibited gift under 49-1490. And, payment or things of value given to a public official for the performance of a duty of office are prohibited regardless of the amount of value involved. See 49-14,101, Advisory Opinion No. 34, Report of the Attorney General 1957-1958, No. 205, page 345.