Time was when business-suited Santas would spend December roaming the corridors of Congress, bestowing all sorts of goodies upon their elected friends, prospective friends and staffers: baskets of food, bottles of booze, even high-priced tickets to sports events.
That last item is the kind of thing that sent uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff to prison. It also brought the House of Representatives a new set of ethics rules — stern and often complex limits on accepting gifts.
And so every December, the House Ethics Committee sends out its "Holiday Guidance on the Gift Rule," an ethics memo known in Capitol Hill parlance as a pink sheet.
This pink sheet has seven pages of rules ("Generally, Members and supervisors may not accept gifts from their subordinates") and exceptions ("a common-sense exception" for voluntary gifts during the holidays).
Seven pages of rules — and one page with a poem. About congressional ethics rules.
It's the holiday season, so be of good cheer,
For soon there'll be recess and very few here.
So let us remind you, as gifts come your way,
Please check with Ethics so you don't go astray.
Onward the rhymes roll, for 18 more stanzas. "House Rule 25, clause 5 (a)(2)A)/ Defines the term "gift" very broadly, we'd say." And there's this warning:
But if the donor's a lobbyist in the Clerk's database,
Pick up the phone and call us post haste.
For the gift exceptions we've described up above,
May not apply though that gift you love.
It's a far cry from the days when the lobbyist for Samuel Colt — inventor of the Colt revolver — gave presentation guns to lawmakers and occasionally their children.
The poem ends with these two stanzas. In a less predatory lobbying environment than the Hill, they might seem superfluous:
You should feel to say no any time.
If something inside you says to decline,
You should do so, no worries – a gift's not a must.
Feel free to decline it or pay, no worries, no fuss.
In parting we send you our holiday greetings,
As you travel and have those constituent meetings.
Enjoy your holiday because there's no reason
The gift rules should ruin your holiday season.
House Ethics has now set a new standard for the Holiday Guidance pink sheet. Maybe next year in haiku?