REQUESTED BY: Dick Hargesheimer, Director of Research
QUESTION: May contributions from corporations be solicited to defray the costs of a symposium for members of the Nebraska Legislature?
There is no prohibition under the Nebraska Political Accountability and Disclosure Act with respect to such corporate contributions, unless the corporations are principals of lobbyists. See Analysis.
In your letter of October 16, 1987, and subsequent telephone conversations with Commission staff you have provided certain information relating to the 1987 Legislative Issues Symposium. Pursuant to Section 50-410, Revised Statutes of Nebraska, the Legislature is required to hold a meeting at least once annually prior to a legislative session. The meeting this year will be The First Annual Nebraska Legislative Issues Symposium. It is designed as a conference of, by, and for the Nebraska Legislature for the purpose of providing information to legislators on issues they have selected. Outside resource people with national reputations on issues to be considered at the Symposium will be invited to participate. As we understand this symposium, it is being planned and developed by the Legislative Research Division of the Legislative Council under the direction of the Legislature's Executive Board. The Legislative Research Division is contracting with the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Center for Applied Urban Research, for assistance in planning, developing, and implementing the conference. The expenses for the conference including travel, room and board for resource people, pre-conference information and printing will be paid for from the budget of the Legislative Research Division and/or from corporate donations. Under the terms of a draft contract with the Center for Applied Urban Research, expenses will be paid by the Center following University accounting procedures and no funds from and source will go directly to any individual legislator.
It is our further understanding that the Legislative Council has received an appropriation to fund the expenses of conducting this conference. However, it is your desire to solicit and accept corporate contributions to defray the costs of some or all of the conference expenses.
There are no provisions under the Political Accountability and Disclosure Act which would limit corporate contributions to defray some or all of the expenses of the Nebraska Legislative Issues Symposium if the corporate contributors are not principals or lobbyists, or contributing on behalf of principals or lobbyists. See definition, Section 49-1434.
Corporations or other persons who are principals or lobbyists are subject to the provisions of Section 49-1490 of the Act which provides in part:
(1) 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 member of an official's immediate family . . ..
(2) An official or any 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 not solicit or accept a gift in violation of subsection (1) of this section . . .
(3) As used in sections 49-1480 to 49-1492, gift shall mean a payment, subscription, advance, forbearance, honorarium, . . . or the rendering or deposit of money, services, or anything of value, the value of which exceeds twenty-five dollars in any one-month period, unless consideration of equal or greater value is received therefor.
Gift shall not include: . . . (d) A breakfast, luncheon, dinner, or other refreshments consisting of food and beverage provided for immediate consumption;
While this provision appears to preclude gifts (contributions) which are for the benefit of officials or employees of the legislative or executive branches of government, we do not view it as restricting a solicitation of gifts to the "State of Nebraska".
The Commission has previously stated that a solicitation made for the benefit of "the agency and an apparent government purpose and in addition appears to be statutorily authorized" would not be in violation of Section 49-1490. See Advisory Opinion #62. While there does not appear to be any specific authority under Chapter 50 for the Legislature as a body to solicit or accept contributions as was the case in Opinion #62, the solicitation in question does not appear to be for the benefit of a public official or employee, or the staff or immediate family of an official.
We have examined the general gift provisions contained in various appropriation bills. For instance, see Section 94 of LB780, 1987, which in part provides:
Any gift, bequest, or devise made available to the State of Nebraska for any purpose or purposes, together with the income thereof, shall be allocated to the spending agency designated by the donor or, if none is designated by the donor, by the Governor. Acceptance of a gift, bequest, or devise shall be subject to approval by the expending agency and the following restrictions:
(1) No matching of state funds shall be required as a condition of acceptance;
(2) Any gift or personal property in excess of $10,000 shall be approved by the Governor before acceptance; . . .
For purposes of this section, gifts, . . . shall include, but not be limited to, donations, gifts, . . . and grants from individuals, organizations, corporations, and similar entities . .
Expenditures of funds from any gift . . . may be expended through any existing cash fund account, . . .. If no such cash fund exists, the accounting administrator may create such fund and account as is necessary to properly and separately account for the gift, . . in which case the actual amount . . . is hereby appropriated to the expending agency, for the purpose or purposes designated by the donor, in addition to the amounts appropriated in this act.
In addition, while not directly relevant, the language contained within Neb. Rev. Stat. Section 81-1131, Reissue 1981, relating to the Department of Administrative Services, sets forth an intention that the Legislature be informed and involved in the acceptance of non-state funds. While these general statutes all envision the acceptance of monies by the State through donations of some sort or through participation in programs such as those of the federal government, the language is broad enough to include any non-state funds donated or received by the State.
We believe these provisions provide a vehicle through which contributions could be received by the State for the benefit of the Legislature from principals or other persons otherwise prohibited by Section 49-1490 from giving such contributions. The contributions would, of course, be state funds and subject to any statutory limitations as to their use.
Contributions received from principals, lobbyists or others acting on their behalf, which are not received by the State pursuant to the provisions of LB780 cited above, may not be accepted if the value of the gift exceeds $25 in any one-month period. We believe that in the instant case where the symposium is designed "of, by, and for the Nebraska Legislature", it would be proper to accept a gift from a principal or lobbyist that did not exceed $25 per legislator or a maximum total receipt from any one donor of $1,225. And, corporate contributors, which are principals or lobbyists, may sponsor meals and/or hospitality hours since Section 49-1490(3) (d) exempts the provision of food and other refreshments provided for immediate consumption. See also Advisory Opinion #44.