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Speaker criticized for holding private dinner at Capitol

Tom Hood, director of the state Ethics Commission, said he knows of no ethics laws Gunn’s meeting “would even involve, much less violate.”

Hood, in the interest of full disclosure, noted that Powell, one of Gunn’s guests, is a member of the Ethics Commission.

Hood said that even if Gunn were having a fund-raising meeting, it likely wouldn’t violate state ethics laws. Such laws prohibit the use of state assets for “pecuniary benefit of your self, relative or business,” Hood said.

“We have never considered campaign donations a pecuniary benefit, because it’s for a campaign, not going into that person’s pocket,” Hood said. “We have always left those matters up to campaign-finance laws.”

On Tuesday, Gunn said: “ I’m not aware of any reason I couldn’t do that (have the dinner). I know of (lawmakers) who have had family reunions in the Capitol. Private groups have meetings here all the time. People come in here on the weekends. Homeschoolers come here once a year and have meetings. This is a meeting place.”

The Department of Finance and Administration and Office of Capitol Facilities have jurisdiction over use of the Capitol. They frequently allow private groups to hold news conferences, rallies and meetings there. The rules say they can charge those using the Capitol after business hours for any actual costs the agencies incur. Capitol police patrol the building and grounds ’round the clock. Tourists come and go.

The rules include a prohibition against private functions such as “weddings, private receptions and birthday parties in the Capitol.” But these appear to be loosely followed if at all. Brides and wedding parties over the years have frequently used the Capitol rotunda and columns as backdrop for wedding and engagement photos.

Legislators, and media credentialed for the Capitol Press Room, often use their offices after hours or on weekends at the Capitol.

Clarion Ledger


Posted April 24, 2013 - 11:53 am

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