Denver's Board of Ethics Investigates Internal Promotional Gifts, Creates Debate
The presence of promotional products in government and politics is nothing new. That said, some government officials have taken steps to limit their spending on merchandise, and sometimes the use of promotional items as "gifts" has been scrutinized.
The latter scenario is playing out in Denver right now, as the city's Board of Ethics is questioning how members of Denver City Council accepted gifts like mugs, plants, clothing and more from the city's various departments and agencies.
The five-member panel put in place a guideline that City Council members should refuse gifts worth more than $25 from other city offices and departments. If they accepted them, they could appear to be influenced by the officials seeking approval on things like contracts, proposals and budgets. Think of it as lobbying, but instead of big money, it's T-shirts, local poinsettias and coffee mugs.
There's a message here about the power of promotional items, really: Something as seemingly innocuous as a mug or T-shirt is enough to turn the heads of a major city's City Council.
After the advisory council put forth its opinions on the practice, the city's attorney's office has formally disagreed with the opinion.
Citing local legislation, L. Michael Henry, executive director of the city attorney's office, wrote that the Denver Ethics Code "cannot apply to gifts from one City agency to employees or to City Council members because the City cannot have an 'existing, ongoing, or pending contract, business, or regulatory relationship with the donor' department or agency as they are both the City."
Denver City Councilman Rafael Espinoza prompted the issuance of the opinion, and thinks that council members should be forced to reject or publicly disclose free trips or more expensive gifts.
"Our job as electeds is oversight," he told the Denver Post. "While we are all at the city of Denver, we are not part of the executive. We don't get to negotiate contracts or their terms, we only vote on them."
Kevin Flynn, who pushed ethics code changes through the city council before, sees the internal lobbying, as it were, since all parties involved are city officials.
The ongoing debate now is whether or not city officials should be considered contractors. For many city officials, and no doubt the promotional products companies supplying and selling items, the products create necessary brand awareness for the different groups and organizations. And, since everyone has the shared goal of working for Denver, the gifts are exempt from the ethics code forbidding certain gifts.