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December 11, 2005

Quibbling about price

You know the old joke with the punchline "Now we're just quibbling about price," right? If not look here and scroll to the bottom for one version.

I've just had to take my mandatory government ethics training at work, which, fortunately, can be done on one's own without having to attend some horrendously boring class. The people who run the ethics program are perfectly good-humored about the subject; it's the rules that are ridiculous.

Question 1:

You are engaged in heated negotiations with opposing counsel. He says, "Look, we've been at this for a while, tempers are getting short. Let's continue this over a beer. I'm buying." Can you allow him to buy you a beer?
Let's take the answer piece by piece:
The ethics rule on gifts from prohibited sources permits you to accept unsolicited gifts worth $20 or less, as long as you do not accept more than $50 in gifts from the same source in the same year.
In other words, I can be bought for $20 and change, if offered to me in a conventional social situation. Good. We've settled that. Let's continue with the answer.
However, in order to avoid an appearance of impropriety in this particular situation, you should probably pay for your own beer.
Which is to say: I can be bought for $20 and change, but some people might think I can be bought for $5. Now, we're quibbling over price. (The ethics people try to dampen the insult by suggesting that "[i]n the spirit of conciliation, you should try to avoid the whole Tastes Great vs. Less Filling debate.")

Back about 15 years ago, during the "Keating Five" scandal, Senator John Glenn was indignant when he was accused of having acted improperly after receiving a $200,000-plus contribution from Charles Keating. He insisted he couldn't be bought for $200,000.

But I can be bought for a $20 and change. And we're just quibbling about price, anyway.