Lobbyists Can Legally Screw Politicians in North Carolina, Says Ethics Commission

No, they don't mean that figuratively.


Edgardo Balduccio/Flickr

Sex acts provided to politicians "to lobby or to develop goodwill" do not violate state ethics policies, nor must this activity be disclosed, ruled the North Carolina Ethics Commission. 

Under North Carolina law, lobbyists must report gifts and "things of value" worth more than $10 per day given to someone covered by the state ethics act or their family. But "consensual sexual relationships do not have monetary value and therefore are not reportable as gifts or 'reportable expenditure made for lobbying,'" stated the commission in its opinion, a response to a formal inquiry from the state's Lobbying Compliance Commission. The inquiry was made in a "largely hypothetical context," the ethics commission notes.

"Opinions issued by the Ethics Commission are generally a good deal more banal, dealing with subjects such as under what circumstances it is legal for state officials to accept scholarships to conferences," North Carolina's WRAL.com reports.

Joal Broun, the Secretary of State's lobbying compliance director, declined to comment on why she requested the ethics opinion, deferring questions to the Secretary of State's spokeswoman Liz Proctor. Proctor said that a private attorney posed the question to the Secretary of State's Office last in 2014. "We agreed that the question needed to be decided," she said. Therefore, the office submitted the question to the Ethics Commission.

[…] WRAL News obtained a copy of the four-page request for an opinion from another source. Parts of it are graphic, describing specific sexual acts that might be at issue, but it does not implicate a particular set of people or specify a particular set of facts.

The request for an opinion asks five specific questions of the ethics commission, including (emphasis mine): 

  • Do sexual favors or sexual acts that a person provides to a designated individual to lobby or to develop goodwill or both on behalf of another, trigger the registration obligation? 
  • Are sexual favors or sexual acts that a lobbyist or a lobbyist principal provides not for the purpose of lobbying a gift as defined by the Ethics Act that must be reported? 
  • Is a designated individual who receives sexual favors or sexual acts that a lobbyist or a lobbyist principal provides outside North Carolina obligated to report such sexual favors or sexual acts as required by N.C.G.S. § 120C-800?

Note that the lobbying commission isn't just asking about personal relationships that happen to develop between lobbyists and politicians but lobbyists providing sex to politicians as a form of lobbying. That's A-OK, apparently. "However, a lobbyist or lobbyist principal's provision of paid prostitution services by a third party to a designated individual could constitute a gift or thing of value, albeit an illegal one, depending on the particular facts," the commission added.

Got that? Lobbyists paying for prostitution for politicians? Must be reported. Lobbyists secretly engaging in prostitution with politicians? No big thing. 

But perhaps the ethics commission is just being realistic. As Olivia Nuzzi writes at The Daily Beast: "While the idea of lobbyists and the people they lobby engaging in sexual relationships certainly seems ill-advised, it's not clear why anyone would think the commission declaring it legal would have any impact."