County Officials Free to Accept Freebies From Nonprofits

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June 21, 2011; Source: Sun Sentinel | Palm Beach County officials see nothing bad about accepting free tickets to events that benefit good causes. Under a new exemption, local politicians and other government officials won't have to worry about running afoul of year-old ethics rules when they say yes to freebies to attend black-tie galas or golf outings, for example, just as long as the events are hosted by charities or nonprofits.

The reason for the rules change? The Sun Sentinel reports that government officials feel an obligation – as representatives of the public – to attend events held for good causes. Not everyone agrees, however. "That doesn't pass the sniff test," county Ethics Commissioner Robin Fiore said. "Everything you are permitted to do doesn't mean you should do it."

Palm Beach imposed tougher ethics rules last year for county officials, lobbyists and those who do business with county government in the wake of what the newspaper says were a "series of corruption scandals." The new rules that allow local officials to attend nonprofit events as nonpaying guests do come with some restrictions.

According to the Sun Sentinel, government officials can't accept ticket from lobbyists or government vendors. They're also not allowed freebies from groups that use lobbyists to represent them to the local government. Even though public officials can now accept freebies, at least one person says he'll continue paying his own way to steer clear of potential conflicts. "If I go, I pay for it out of my own pocket . . . so there's no question what so ever," said Boynton Beach City Manager Kurt Bressner. "If I'm going to support something, I support it personally."—Bruce Trachtenberg