Scenarios are how I think about things in trying to understand the law—what activities are trying to be curbed and which ones are permitted.
Where I live, there are a number of fishing lodges, some of them very high-end. Six months ago, I got an invitation from a fellow who owns one of them to bring my kids fishing, which sounds pretty innocuous until you realize that a four-day fishing trip at his lodge for a family would literally be in the tens of thousands of dollars.
I said no. Then I contacted some of the offices and asked if this would be permitted. They said, “As long as you weren't lobbied.” I asked how I would know before going if the owner wanted to talk about fishing policy or federal involvement in his business. Until after the fact and until I had actually already accepted the gift—which I would have to declare, of course—how would I know?
I've never really understood the difference between accepting a gift like that and somebody just giving you money for the equivalent of the gift. Everyone would understand that it would be totally inappropriate if, instead of offering me a $20,000 fishing trip, someone just walked down, gave me $20,000, and said, “How 'bout those fish?”
Do you see the conundrum for some office-holders and the distinction that the public doesn't understand as to why it would be acceptable for me to have gone with my kids, with this vague notion of not getting lobbied and then everything being okay? How would you advise me?