Dear Mr. Ethics,
My company does a lot of public works projects. For the last three years the State’s Director of Construction has asked me to donate to his kids’ little league teams and buy Girl Scout cookies. I am glad to do both but I recently saw a newspaper article about a service provider being sued by the state for bribing government officials. The provider sent a portion of every purchase order amount to the government employee who gave them the purchase order. Do you think my donations and cookie purchases fall into the same category? As far as I know everyone in my position buys the cookies and donates to the teams. I am not doing anything different from anyone else. It’s just like the other donations I make to my church, the children’s hospital and organizations committed to curing cancer.
The little league donations and cookie purchases you describe do not fall within the category of the other donations you make because they involve a government employee. First, you need to check your state law to determine if your little league donations and cookie purchases are legal. Second you need to determine if you are purchasing cookies and making the donations in order to gain some benefit or advantage from the government employee then your actions are unethical. Similarly, if you think the government employee is compensating you for donations and purchases, even if you making them with no remuneration in mind, your actions are still unethical. If neither of the aforementioned conditions exist, but state law prohibits the donations and cookie purchases, you still need to stop despite the actions being ethical.
Regards, Mr. Ethics