REQUESTED BY: Rudy Peralez, Executive Director, Mexican American Commission, P.O. Box 94965, Lincoln, Nebraska 68509
QUESTION: May the Commission and staff of the Mexican American Commission solicit donations for a reception for interested persons and legislators, including soliciting lobbyists and employers of lobbyists?
The Mexican American Commission plans to host a "Hispanic Legislative" reception at the Governor's Mansion. It will be attended by Hispanic leaders along with legislators, heads of government agencies and other government officials. Those who contribute to support the reception will also be invited.
The reception is to be funded entirely by private contributions which might include contributions from lobbyists and employers of lobbyists. The staff and membership of the Commission will solicit such contributions. The contributions will be used to purchase food and beverages, including alcoholic beverages, and other goods and services needed for the reception.
Section 81-8,265 sets forth the functions of the Mexican American Commission and includes duties to serve the needs of Mexican Americans and to stimulate public awareness of the problems of Mexican Americans by conducting a program of public education and encourage the Governor and the Legislature to develop programs to deal with these problems. Section 81-8,271 provides that the Commission shall have the power to receive or apply for and receive gifts, grants, contributions, and other funds from the federal government, private agencies, affiliated associations, and individuals, and to contract with public and private groups to conduct its business.
Section 49-14,101(4) provides that "No public official or public employee shall use personnel, resources, property, or funds under that individual's official care and control, other than in accordance with prescribed constitutional, statutory, and regulatory procedures . . .." The purpose of this section is to prohibit the use of government personnel, resources, property and funds for a non-governmental purpose. It appears that the holding of the reception is within the scope of the agency's statutory function. The Mexican American Commission is an advocacy as distinguished from a regulatory agency. And, the agency has the statutory power to apply for and receive gifts and contributions as well as to contract to conduct its business. Under these circumstances, it is our opinion that the reception and its funding are for a government purpose. Section 49-14,101(4) would not prohibit the use of government personnel, resources, property and funds to promote the reception and to solicit donations to pay for it.
However, we are concerned about the receipt and disbursement of the donations. From the information provided in the request for advisory opinion, it would appear that such donations would be state funds and property which may be restricted as to their use and expenditure. We suggest you consult with the Department of Administrative Services in this regard. It may be that your agency could contract with a private organization to receive and use the donations. It would appear that your agency has the statutory powers to do so under Section 81-8,271.
Section 49-1490 provides that no principal or lobbyist or anyone acting on behalf of either shall give a gift which exceeds $25 in any one-month period to an official or member of an official's staff in the executive or legislative branch of state government or a member of an official's immediate family. In addition no such official or other person on his or her behalf in the legislative or executive branch of state government or a member of such official's staff or immediate family shall solicit or accept a gift which exceeds $25 in any one-month period. The solicitation in question is not for the benefit of a public official or employee, a member of his staff or his immediate family, but for the agency and an apparent government purpose and in addition appears to be statutorily authorized. Under such circumstances there would not be a violation of Section 49-1490 even if the contributors were lobbyists or employers of lobbyists.