ASAE this week asked for a meeting with the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) to clarify the intent of proposed rules that would restrict government employees from attending educational seminars and other substantive events held by trade associations.

OGE was directed by the White House to write regulations extending the lobbyist gift ban for political appointees to all executive branch employees, and published its proposed rulemaking in the Sept. 13 Federal Register. The proposed rules would not allow government employees to use the “widely attended gathering” exception to attend various programs and events held by lobbying organizations. The rules, however, carve out exceptions for events held by professional societies, scientific organizations and learned societies, even if the organization is engaged in lobbying.

ASAE is concerned that the proposed rules specifically target trade associations as not being covered by the exception and that OGE is mistakenly banning government employees from attending programs held by the very industries that they help regulate.

“Yes, many trade associations do engage in advocacy, but they also hold numerous programs, seminars and other events where industry experts share valuable perspectives, raise important questions, and help formulate strategies for addressing difficult, complex issues,” said ASAE President and CEO John H. Graham IV, CAE in the letter to OGE. “Banning government employees from these types of events does not promote informed policymaking or rule making.”

OGE explains in the rules that free attendance at an event may not directly influence an official, but the administration recognizes the “cultivation of familiarity and access that a lobbyist may use in the future to obtain a more sympathetic hearing for clients.”

The proposed rules would not appear to prevent government officials from accepting free attendance to education programs in connection with official speaking engagements. OGE does not consider an invitation to speak as a gift, but rather a customary and necessary part of the administration official’s duties.

ASAE is gathering feedback from the association community and plans to comment on the proposed rules before the Nov. 14 deadline. ASAE has prepared a fact sheet about the proposed rules for its members.