The Office of Government Ethics has proposed rules on legal defense funds and acceptance of free legal representation on behalf of federal employees in suits arising from their official duties or from prior duties with a Presidential campaign or a Presidential transition team.
The proposal in the April 21 Federal Register says that currently there are no specific rules on acceptance of free legal defense and that OGE’s involvement has been limited to providing guidance on whether accepting such help complies with ethics laws and rules, such as gift rules. However, it says, that has “lacked transparency and created concerns regarding the appearance of corruption” in acceptance of such help.
The proposed rules, which follow a solicitation OGE issued in 2019 for input, cover issues regarding legal defense funds including how they must be structured, allowable uses of funds, who is a prohibited donor, limits on donations by any individual, and reporting requirements.
Regarding free—or discounted—legal representation, the rules would specify that employees could accept such representation from entities such as nonprofits as well as from law firms but not from “lobbyists, foreign governments or agents, or persons substantially affected by the performance or nonperformance of the employees’ duties.”