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North Dakota Ethics Commission OKs $10 food/drink exception to gift rules

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Ethics photo

Members of the North Dakota Ethics Commission meet in December 2019 at the state Capitol in Bismarck. The members are, from left, Cynthia Lindquist, Paul Richard, retired Brig. Gen. David Anderson, Chairman Ron Goodman, Ward Koeser and Assistant Attorney General Allyson Hicks, adviser to the commission. 

North Dakota's Ethics Commission has approved a $10 food and drink exception to its gift rules for public officials.

The five-member, voter-approved panel on Wednesday unanimously adopted changes to its complaint and gift rules. There were no public comments.

The food and drink must be purchased and consumed during "an informal social and educational event," and "a state resident must be present but is not required to be the purchaser of the food or beverage," according to the rule. Public officials include state elected officials and lawmakers. 

The rule doesn't require notice be given to the Ethics Commission like is required for public or private social and educational events.

The $10 limit is to allow for people to buy a modest meal or coffee for a public official as they share their concerns on an issue.

The panel also is looking into questions about conference expenses for public officials -- specifically when the conference organization offers to pay for their attendance -- and what levels of educating versus advocating are occurring at such events. Ethics Commission Executive Director Dave Thiele said the issue "seems to come up fairly routinely."

A lobbyist gift ban took effect this year, prohibiting trinkets as nominal as cups and stress balls.

Gifting violations carry civil penalties that could be up to $1,000 for gifts worth less than $500, and twice the value of gifts worth $500 or more. The penalties could apply to both the gift-giver and the recipient.

Reach Jack Dura at 701-250-8225 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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