Announcements from OFR
With the start of the 1st session of the 113th Congress, we want to remind you of the current regulations regarding lobbying disclosure reports. As an institution that employs registered lobbyists to advance and safeguard its considerable interests in the nation’s capital, Vanderbilt University is required to file quarterly disclosure reports with the House and Senate detailing lobbying activity1 and associated expenses. There are substantial civil and criminal penalties for failing to file such reports in a timely and accurate manner.
While the majority of the lobbying activity in which Vanderbilt engages is conducted by the Office of Federal Relations in Washington, D.C., Vanderbilt has historically encouraged faculty and staff to communicate with our representatives on Capitol Hill on issues of particular concern to them and the University – sometimes individually, but often through their professional organizations. This communication could be in person, over the phone, or in writing.
We are not seeking to end this practice – indeed, Members of Congress and their staff are keenly interested in meeting with Vanderbilt experts on a range of issues, from financial aid to health policies to research priorities. Furthermore, our Federal Relations staff relies on our campus experts to illustrate and explain our federal priorities. Our faculty and administrators have tremendous credibility and are consistently Vanderbilt’s best representatives in meetings with national policymakers.
However, in light of the current ethics rules, we have implemented reporting guidelines such that any direct lobbying by any Vanderbilt employee on behalf of the University must be documented and reported. Our peer institutions face the same requirements and have put in place procedures to help ensure compliance. We need your assistance with this. All faculty and staff who directly lobby Members of Congress or their staff on behalf of the University and University priorities will be asked to submit a report to Crystal Laster in the Division of Public Affairs. The report should include not only visits to Capitol Hill, but also any other communications for the purpose of federal lobbying, such as meetings in Nashville, telephone calls, letters and e-mails.
Lobbying contacts made by University employees in their capacity as private citizens and not using Vanderbilt resources do not need to be reported.
The following information should be submitted within 10 days after the end of each quarter:
- the date of all such meetings or communications;
- who the meeting or communication was with;
- the subject discussed (e.g., “funding of Alpha Project research” or “amending the immigration bill to promote access by foreign students” or “increasing the budget of the National Institutes of Health”);
- the approximate length of time of each meeting;
- the length of time spent preparing for each meeting or communication; and
- the costs associated with each meeting, including travel costs to Washington (or a pro rata share of those costs when the travel involves other, non-lobbying activities), if appropriate, and a portion of salary and benefits.
We have attached a form to facilitate this reporting; we would appreciate your assistance in distributing this memorandum and the accompanying form to faculty and staff as appropriate. In addition, faculty and staff are encouraged to notify the Office of Federal Relations before, if possible, they engage in federal lobbying activities on behalf of the University. We are happy to help arrange meetings and provide guidance on the most effective way to communicate a message to a federal lawmaker or their staff.
If you have any questions about the new reporting requirements, please contact Christina West (202-216-4370) or any of the contacts listed on the enclosed form. Vanderbilt conducts its advocacy activities in a very transparent and professional manner; in light of the ethics rules, it is essential that we carefully and fully report all such activities by the University and its employees to the House and Senate.
Congress continues to enforce sweeping rules banning gifts and meals for Members and staff. Organizations that employ registered lobbyists -- which include Vanderbilt -- are subject to criminal penalties for violations of these ethics rules. This is a yearly reminder of those restrictions which apply to all Vanderbilt employees, faculty and staff. I ask for your continued cooperation with the following internal guidelines, which are designed to reduce the possibility of inadvertently breaking the rules. These guidelines are based on analysis prepared by the American Council on Education, which has been monitoring this issue on behalf of the higher education community.
1. Vanderbilt, and individuals employed by Vanderbilt and acting on our behalf, cannot provide gifts to Members of Congress and their staff with a value in excess of $10. This eliminates virtually any souvenir that might be offered at a meeting, conference or special event, such as a t-shirt, hat, or coffee mug. There are certain exceptions for longstanding personal friendships. In addition, the rules generally deem a gift to any family member (spouse or child) to be a gift to the Member, subject to all of the ticket, gift, and food restrictions. Please check with the Office of Federal Relations if you have any questions.
2. Vanderbilt cannot pay for any meal with a Member of Congress or their staff hosted by any employee, nor can any faculty or staff member pay for the meal with personal funds. While there are certain prescribed exceptions such as for longstanding personal friendships and for “widely-attended” public events at which passed canapés can fit on a toothpick (the so-called "toothpick exemption"), I ask that you check with the Office of Federal Relations in advance of extending an invitation so we can ensure that the meal is not otherwise prohibited.
3. Vanderbilt can continue to invite Members of Congress and their staff to certain public events at which food is served, and for which the Member's or staff's presence could be considered directly related to their official duties. Examples of this would include public lectures, groundbreakings, dedications, academic conferences, symposia, etc. I ask that you alert the Office of Federal Relations before such invitations are extended so we can verify that the event does not fall into a prohibited area and so that we can coordinate the many requests that Vanderbilt makes of our Congressional delegation and other Members of Congress.
4. Vanderbilt cannot provide Members of Congress or their staff with complimentary tickets to sporting events, concerts or other activities for which an admission fee is charged. All Members and their staff must pay the face value of the ticket. For locations where there is no face value – such as a suite – please contact the Office of Federal Relations for guidance. In addition, we are legally required to charge the Member or staff an additional cost for the value of any food served in the suite, unless the food passes the "toothpick exemption." Again, I ask that any requests for tickets from Members of Congress or their staff, or invitations to attend a game or performance, be directed to the Office of Federal Relations for response.
5. Finally, there are complex rules concerning sponsorship of travel (transportation and lodging) involving Members of Congress and their staff. Vanderbilt typically does not sponsor congressional travel, but it is an area of great sensitivity with significant advance warning necessary for paperwork and approval. Please check with the Office of Federal Relations before making any plans or commitments involving such travel.
I realize these rules sound onerous and overly proscriptive. They are, however, the law, and we have to make a good faith effort to abide by them. With the addition of criminal penalties for noncompliance, universities are taking these issues much more seriously than in the past. A number of people in General Counsel and Public Affairs have worked on these guidelines, and we welcome your questions, comments and thoughts. Please feel free to distribute this message to your colleagues as needed.
Questions? Please contact:
Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs
Assistant Vice Chancellor for Federal Relations
Administrative Officer, Division of Public Affairs