Tallahassee, Florida - When does free publicity become a gift for an elected official?
That's the question the Florida Commission on Ethics considered Friday in a case involving Gov. Rick Scott.
The governor wants to record greeting messages for shuttle buses at Tampa International Airport, but he wants to make sure the recordings don't violate the state's gift ban.
The commission ruled Gov. Scott can go ahead and record the message without breaking the law.
Commissioners wrestled with the idea that free publicity for a politician can be considered a gift. Commission Attorney Chris Anderson said there are situations where someone could try to inappropriately influence elected officials by offering them free publicity.
"You could have a parade of horribles so to speak where a given entity, even a governmental entity, would seek to ingratiate itself unduly with a given public official through loads of publicity. The way the laws are written just because something has an overall public purpose does not in and of itself make it legal under the gift or expenditure law."
Commissioners called it a "slippery slope" to characterize PR, or even speeches, as a gift.
"I'm wondering if President Obama has to disclose as a gift when he does the State of the Union address that's broadcast nationally. It's a bizarre concept to think that the person who's doing their job as an elected official is thereby getting gifts as a result of doing their job. That seems a little troubling," said Commissioner Morgan Bentley.
The commission agreed to consider such situations on a case-by-case basis.
Under a proposed script, Gov. Scott will greet Tampa visitors in part by saying, "I'd like to welcome you to Tampa Bay, a great place to live, work and play."