North Carolina government officials who are having secret sex with lobbyists need fear no more: The state’s ethics commission has decided such illicit relationships are completely fine.
Yes, what could go wrong?
Joal H. Broun, the secretary of state’s lobbying compliance director, sent a letter to the commission on December 15 inquiring whether, um, intimacy between lobbyists and the people they are lobbying violates ethics laws. On Friday, the commission released its answer: The passionate and unwise may carry on!
The opinion, which is almost romantic if you can get past the legal jargon, essentially says that your body is a temple and sharing it with anyone else is a priceless gift—emphasis on priceless: Sex has no value, according to the commission, and so it doesn’t need to be disclosed.
“Consensual sexual relationships do not have monetary value and therefore are not reportable as gifts or ‘reportable expenditures made for lobbying’ for purposes of the lobbying law’s expenditure reporting provisions,” the commission says.
It’s difficult to read that without squinting skeptically, but consider how difficult it would be to disclose a sexual relationship as a gift. Would different acts carry different weight? Isn’t that really subjective? Things would get complicated quickly.
Less black and white is the commission’s contention that fostering sexual relationships with a government official does not qualify as a form of “goodwill lobbying.” According to the Raleigh News & Observer, goodwill lobbying is “an indirect attempt to influence legislation or executive action, such as the building of relationships.”
In an editorial published under the headline “Has the State Ethics Commission made prostitution legal in North Carolina?” the Beaufort Observer denounced the opinion, including the idea that sex has no monetary value. The paper suggested that the latter idea may lead to the legalization of prostitution: “[S]ince the Ethics Commission has now ruled that sex has no value how will prostitution ever be prosecuted any more in this state? If sex has no value, how can prostitution be illegal?”
North Carolina has had what seems like an unusually high number of lobbyist-government official affairs become matters of public debate.
In 2012, two of Thom Tillis’s staff members resigned over a span of three days because of relationships with lobbyists that the then-state House speaker said displayed “very bad judgement.”
Although it wasn’t known whether such relationships violated the law, Tillis, now a U.S. senator, reportedly made clear that he would initiate his own policy banning the behavior. “I’m going to require the resignation of the staff,” he said. “What these people are guilty of is very bad judgement and what I am going to do is to remove any doubt from that in the future.”
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.
After all, if you’re a lobbyist or a government official, chances are you may not be very ethical to begin with. Perhaps making sex between the two professions perfectly fine would just make it less enticing.