Jan. 17, 2008

Public Citizen Calls on Congressional Ethics Officials to Explain New Food and Entertainment Restrictions to Film Industry Group

Film Industry Plans to Skirt Congressional and Executive Branch Ethics Rules

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Public Citizen today asked the House and Senate ethics committees and the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) to issue guidance to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and other lobbying organizations to prevent likely violations of the ethics rules. The MPAA has publicly indicated that it will continue its decades-old lobbying practice of providing lawmakers food, drinks and free screenings of unreleased feature films at its private studio two blocks from the White House. Each of the ethics agencies should make it clear to the MPAA and federal officials that such gifts violate the new congressional gift ban and the executive branch ethics code, Public Citizen said.

"Voters are fed up with lobbyists giving our lawmakers gifts, free dinners, lavish parties and golfing trips - and Congress finally responded by banning these things," said David Arkush, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. "But that hasn’t stopped the motion picture industry from hosting free movie nights for officials and their staffs. The MPAA needs to understand that it is more like the rest of us Americans now - and we don’t get to invite dozens of federal officials into our homes for parties and sneak previews of movies."

In its exclusive 70-seat theater, the MPAA for decades has been treating executive branch officials, members of Congress and their staffs to free "dinner and a movie" nights with Hollywood celebrities and movie industry executives as a means to ingratiate itself with lawmakers. According to a news article in the Los Angeles Times, MPAA Chief Executive Dan Glickman, himself a former member of Congress, intends to continue the free screenings for lawmakers, modified only slightly in light of the new ethics rules passed by Congress. Instead of dinner, lawmakers will be plied with appetizers and drinks and shown a short five-minute educational trailer before the feature film.

"A brief educational trailer does not transform ‘dinner and a movie’ into an educational forum exempt from the gift ban," said Craig Holman, governmental ethics lobbyist for Public Citizen. "These free screenings really are a ‘date’ between Hollywood’s lobbyists and lawmakers, and are no longer permitted under the ethics rules."

The congressional ethics committees and the OGE need to instruct the MPAA that its gift-giving practices are no longer acceptable and prevent federal officials from unwittingly violating the ethics rules, Public Citizen said.

READ the letter Public Citizen sent to the congressional ethics committees and the OGE regarding the motion picture industry.

###