Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 23
May 19, 1999
Issued By: City Attorney’s Office
Whether a City Councilmember may solicit potential sponsors for his book and related question.
City Councilmember Mario M. Salas, District 2, has asked whether he may solicit potential sponsors for his book and whether other Councilmembers may sponsor said book from monies in their respective campaign funds. The following facts are presented:
Mr. Salas, a member of the San Antonio City Council, has stated that he has authored a novel entitled Frankenstein: The Dawning and the Passing, a sequel to Mary Shelly’s original 1818 version. Watercress Press, a local business, has agreed to provide the printing, marketing, and distribution services for this project, the cost of which is approximately $10,000. In order to help defray the cost of publishing this novel, Councilmember Salas is soliciting sponsorships in amounts of $250, $500, and $1,000.
Moreover, other Councilmembers have expressed an interest in sponsoring Councilmember Salas’ book. Monies for this sponsorship would come from each of the Councilmember’s personal campaign fund.
The issue is whether Councilmember Salas may solicit such sponsorships and whether other Councilmembers may sponsor the project with monies from their respective campaign funds. The Ethics Code defines "city official" to include, among others, members of the City Council. As a city official, a Councilmember is required to follow the standards of conduct as set out in the Ethics Code.
Improper Economic Benefit. Part B. Section 1 states that, as a general rule, a City Councilmember may not take any official action that he knows is likely to have an effect on, among others, his economic interest or the economic interest of "a person or business entity . . . with whom the official . . . is engaged in negotiations pertaining to business opportunities." Should such occur, the City official is required to recuse himself immediately, refraining from any further participation in the matter and disclose, in writing, to the City Clerk the economic benefit. However, based on the facts presented, there will be no official action taken by the City with regards to the Councilman’s book.
Gifts. Part B. Section 3 states that a Councilmember may not accept any gift that may influence or reward official conduct or give the appearance of such. A gift is defined as "a voluntary transfer of property (including the payment of money) or the conferral of a benefit having pecuniary value, unless consideration of equal or greater value is received by the donor." Given the facts presented, the sponsor will receive the following based upon the amount given to the project: (1) $250– a copy of the novel; (2) $500 – an autographed copy of the novel; and (3) $1,000 – an autographed copy of the novel and an acknowledgement in the book. Arguably, such sponsorship is not a gift given the consideration in exchange for the amount of the sponsorship.
Elections Code. Title 15 of the Texas Elections Code enumerates the restrictions on campaign expenditures. Section 253.035 of this Code prohibits an officeholder from using political contributions for personal use. Personal use is defined as "a use that primarily furthers individual or family purposes not connected with the performance of duties or activities as a candidate for or holder of a public office." Elec. Code Sec. 253.035(d). Therefore, as long as the officeholder does not personally receive anything of value, he may provide such sponsorship.
Should the Councilman receive such monies, he should disclose "the name of [the Councilmember] from whom [he] . . . received a gift with an estimated fair market value in excess of $50.00 during the reporting period and the estimated fair market value of each gift" in his Financial Disclosure form. Provided Councilman Salas follows the requisite disclosure policy, compliance with the Ethics Code will be met.
Given the facts presented, a Councilmember may solicit sponsorships to help defray the cost of publishing his novel. However, if an item involving a sponsor of the book comes before Council and for which the Councilman would be required to take official action, he should recuse himself and disclose in writing to the City Clerk. Moreover, such sponsorships are not gifts provided the commensurate consideration is given. However, in order to comply with the Texas Ethics Code, those Councilmembers may not personally receive anything of value.
FRANK J. GARZA