It’s an interesting idea sure to draw accolades from any number of people, but is it really legal? Florida may be poised to find out. The question at hand has to do with the revolving door of elected officials, lobbyists and the questionable gifts which pass between them. (Generally just in one direction.) Cash is out of the question and expensive presents are supposed to be regulated as well. But what about sex?
According to Politico’s Playbook, the Sunshine State is considering a law which would ban lobbyists from engaging in sex with elected officials. The basis for this is the idea that sex can be used as a “gift” and influence the lawmaker’s decisions. Obviously sound in theory, but difficult to quantify in a bill, no? Let’s dig into it further.
Sex between legislators and lobbyists could soon become illegal under Florida’s gift ban. In the wake of back-to-back scandals rocking the Florida Senate, state Sen. Lauren Book said Monday she’s working with other legislators to draft legislation banning lawmaker-lobbyist sex and she’s trying to establish a panel and process to handle sexual harassment claims … Other lawmakers say they favor that idea as well her proposal to add “sexual coercion to Florida Statute 112.313 that bans lawmakers from accepting gifts. The current statute contemplates financial transactions, not sexual ones, although the Florida Supreme Court has recognized sex as a type of currency. In a 2004 ruling, the court upheld a guilty verdict against a Miami-Dade police officer convicted of accepting “unlawful compensation” for having sex with a 19-year-old woman in return for not arresting her for drunken driving.
This sounds like some seriously dubious legal ground here. Granted, one can see how the courts would agree that a police officer agreeing not to arrest someone in exchange for sexual favors would be seen as “compensation” (if not outright sexual assault and abuse of authority) so that could be banned. But lobbyists?
No matter how you cut it, adults are free to engage in their own personal relationships outside of work. If we start quantifying sex as a “gift” in one case there would be a massive can of worms to follow. This gets even tougher if the lobbyist in question isn’t offering a one time “gratuity” to the lawmaker but is in a long-term relationship with them. Over at Redstate they raise that question in terms of Congressman Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania. The head of the powerful Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (which provides oversight for the Federal Aviation Authority) has been dating an airline industry lobbyist for quite a while now.
Lobbyist-doinking by lawmakers is not confined to Florida. GOP Rep. Bill Shuster nearly lost his primary in 2016 over his own schlonging of a lobbyist employed by a trade association whose top lobbying priority Shuster conveniently has made a major push to enact, multiple years running. Shuster has stated that his lobbyist girlfriend does not lobby him.
It is not clear whether the proposed Florida ban, if enacted, will ultimately contain any carve-outs for the kind of situation apparently applicable to Shuster, in which the relationship is a consensual, long-term, non-extra-marital one.
So even if such a ban is enacted, where do they draw the line between “gifts” and legitimate relationships? Admittedly Shuster is one of the most outrageous examples given his committee assignment and the nature of his girlfriend’s job. But what if a Senator is dating a lobbyist from an industry they have almost nothing to do with?
I know the old saying about politics making strange bedfellows, but when we begin regulating literal bedfellows is just seems like we’re heading down a very troubling road. Of course, it would be a hoot to have the Supreme Court hear the challenge and review all the witness testimony.