People in the private sector interact with government officials in many different contexts. Companies bid on government contracts. Developers seek entitlements and permits. An industry seeks changes to a regulation. Rules regarding gifts to public officials and employees, lobbying and disclosure may govern all of these types of interactions, and it is important to know the rules for both legal and public relations reasons. The rules vary by jurisdiction, cover a broad range of topics and are very detailed. Failure to be familiar with and follow these rules can have severe consequences for businesses in the private sector.
The Chicago Tribune recently published a story about the City of Chicago’s disqualification of a bidder on a major City contract due to an alleged violation of the City’s ethics ordinance (see http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-10-17/news/ct-met-emanuel-red-light-cameras-1017-20121017_1_camera-program-camera-contract-redflex). The alleged violation involved the bidding company’s payment for the hotel room of the City employee who managed the procurement process for the contract. Not only was the company disqualified from this bid, but the City also is reviewing existing contracts that it has with the company. The story goes on to note that in addition to disqualification on this particular contract, the alleged violation could adversely affect the company’s bids on public contracts in other cities.
The story gives a concrete example of what can go wrong on the private side where companies are not mindful of the ethics rules. In addition to the legal implications, companies can suffer from ongoing, unfavorable publicity. Such scenarios are not limited to the procurement context. Anyone who interacts with government officials should be aware of the rules governing those interactions in order to avoid unfavorable outcomes.