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City of San Antonio, Texas

Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 2010-09
December 10, 2010
Issued By: City Attorney’s Office

I.  Issue

Is a campaign contribution a “contact” that violates the Ethics Code provision that prohibits those seeking contracts from contacting city officials or employees during the contract evaluation period?

II. Inquiry

The city’s “Cone of Silence” rule prohibits those seeking contracts with the city from contacting city personnel from the time a solicitation is released until the item is posted on the agenda of the City Council for consideration.  City staff inquires whether a vendor’s campaign or officeholder contribution during this time frame constitutes a “contact” in violation of this provision.

III.  The Ethics Code

A. The “Cone of Silence

In order to protect the integrity of the city’s contracting process, the Ethics Code includes provisions that prohibit those seeking contracts from contacting city personnel during the evaluation process.   It is sometimes referred to as the city’s “Cone of  Silence” rule. Section 2-61 states:

Prohibited Contacts During Contract Solicitation Period.  A person or entity who seeks or applies for a city contract or any other person acting on behalf of such person or entity, is prohibited from contacting city officials and employees as defined in Section 2-62 regarding such a contract after a Request for Proposal (RFP), Request for Qualification (RFQ) or other solicitation has been released. This no-contact provision shall conclude when the contract is posted as a City Council agenda item. If contact is required with city officials and employees, such contact will be done in accordance with procedures incorporated into the solicitation document. Violation of this provision by respondents or their agents may lead to disqualification of their offer from consideration.

Those who seek discretionary contracts with the city are required to submit “discretionary contracts disclosure forms” under Section 2-60.  This form requires contract seekers to list all direct or indirect campaign or officeholder contributions made to current or former city councilmembers and candidates totaling $100 or more during the 24 months preceding the submission from the following individuals: 

  1. any individual who may be a party to the contract;
  2. any entity that may be a party to the contract;
  3. any individual or entity that may be a subcontractor to the contract;
  4. any individual or entity that is know to be a partner or a parent entity, or any subsidiary of those who are parties to the contract;
  5. any lobbyist, attorney or consultant employed for purposes related to the contract being sought.

Indirect contributions include contributions from the officers and owners of the entity and their spouses. [1]

City staff has observed that some contract seekers have listed contributions from such individuals that were made during the contract solicitation and evaluation period, and inquire whether these contributions constitute a “contact” in violation of the Cone of Silence rule.

The rule prohibits contract seekers from contacting city officials or employees to discuss the selection process or the merits of a proposal related to the contract at issue.   It does not prohibit contract seekers from having contact with city personnel for purposes wholly unrelated to the contract at issue.  Unless the contribution is given with the specific intent to influence or persuade an official to take a particular course of action, the contribution would not constitute a “contact” in violation of the Cone of Silence rule.[2] 

B.  Black-Out Period for Contributions for “High-Profile” Contracts

Individuals or entities that seek “high-profile” contracts must also be cognizant of Section 2-309 of the city’s Municipal Campaign Finance Regulations.    Under Section 2-309, individuals or entities seeking “high-profile” city contracts are prohibited from making campaign or officeholder contributions from the 10th business day after a solicitation is released until 30 days after the contract is awarded.  Violation of this provision renders the individual or entity ineligible to receive the contract.   See Section 2-309 and Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 2010-10 for more information.

IV. Conclusion

So long as a campaign or officeholder contribution is not given with the specific intent to influence or persuade an official to take a particular course of action, the contribution would not constitute a “contact” in violation of the Cone of Silence rule under Section 2-61 of the Ethics Code.


[1]  See Ethics Code Section 2-60 for complete information regarding this disclosure.

[2]   Campaign or officeholder contributions made for the specific intent of influencing official action may implicate penal provisions of the Texas Election Code and Texas Penal Code.  See these codes for complete information or contact the Texas Ethics Commission for inquiries about the application of these laws.