Draft Guidelines for Sponsorship

Draft Guidelines for Sponsorship

Draft Guidelines for Sponsorship

Here are some draft guidelines for us to consider as we intensify our

sponsorship activities in the years to come. Before writing them, I

reviewed the ABA policy and such materials as we have from the office of

the ABA Director of Sponsorship. I haven’t repeated the ABA policy

below because it’s reasonably clear and binding anyway, and because I

wanted to isolate the concerns that are particular to our Section. I

have written this draft more as an issues discussion than as a proposed

rule, hoping to incite discussion and perhaps even permit agreement

before any technical wording becomes the focus of attention. Please add

your thoughts and we can get all of this to the Council for the Spring




Preamble. Guidelines for sponsorship relationships with our section

must focus on the nature of our membership. We have many state and

federal regulators and state and federal administrative law judges among

our members. All of these individuals must be alert to any appearance

of impropriety in their extracurricular activities. Private attorneys

who appear before agencies may sometimes find that a particular sponsor

relationship poses a potential conflict of interest for themselves or

their firms. Nevertheless, by the very nature and purpose of our

section, we must affirm that the gathering of administrative lawyers

from many backgrounds and responsibilities to trade ideas and advance

public policy is a constructive contribution to the public interest. It

is, then, special circumstances that cause concern. The receipt of

money from sponsors is always sensitive enough that guidelines should be

adopted and followed to assure consistency and systematic attention to

pertinent issues.

Kinds of Sponsorship Relationships. These guidelines are supplementary

to the ABA’s Sponsorship Policies and Procedures, which define and

delimit sponsorship activities and require ABA approval of most

relationships. The ABA guidelines contain various technical provisions,

such as use of the logo, which our section’s review entity will need to

consider as particular proposals are processed. There are also some

overall principles, such as the need for each section to maintain

control over the content of its proceedings rather than cede them to any

sponsor, which are sensible and unlikely to constrain relationships that

the section finds appropriate.

“Continuing Sponsorships” as defined by the ABA tie the sponsor’s

identity to that of the section generally and over time. “Event

sponsorships” are for quarterly meetings, parts of them, or occasional

gatherings. A major project such as our European APA initiative could

contain elements of both. Continuing sponsorships usually have more

potential for revenue generation, and for heightened sensitivities as

well because the section and the sponsor are more firmly linked than

they can be at a single reception or meeting. In other words, the

stakes are higher.

Principles for all sponsorships. Some kinds of sponsors usually

present few problems; others are usually unacceptable. Corporations

that provide services to attorneys, such as Lexis, are generally

interested in all members of the section more or less equally, and

approach us in our common role as attorney/customer. At times, of

course, such a company may be deeply embroiled in litigation with state

or federal governments. (Of course, all corporations have relationships

with many government agencies all the time; it should take something

more to raise sensitivities.) The existence of a long-term continuing

relationship with the section on the part of a company that comes into

an acute conflict with government would provide some assurance that a

relationship was not sought to obtain improper influence. Still, the

section must be aware that some will see such a continuing relationship

as old-fashioned capture of the regulators. In general, though,

corporations that tend to see us as customers present fewer problems

than corporations having no obvious interest in our members apart from

our roles as regulators or judges. Even for corporations that do have

the latter kind of interest in us, a generalized concern for the quality

of regulation on the part of a regulated entity should be regarded as

legitimate. If review of particular sponsorships by our section is

sensitive to these concerns, and if we remain willing to reconsider

continuing relationships in light of developments, corporate sponsorship

should not be per se improper.

Private foundations often present fewer sponsorship sensitivities than

do corporations. Those foundations having a charitable purpose that is

not obviously politically ideological, such as the Ford Foundation, are

usually not problematic. Thus, as successful companies such as Ford or

Hewlett-Packard spin off charitable foundations, they create a layer of

insulation from the companies’ operations that should usually suffice to

permit sponsorship relationships. If a foundation does appear to be

relatively closely linked to a particular ideology (e.g., a Chamber of

Commerce entity), we could pair its sponsorship to that of its opposite

counterpart (e.g., Consumers Union) with notice to both sponsors.

Our section has sometimes received event sponsorship from prominent law

firms, for example at our receptions. These firms may have offices in

many cities and may represent clients before many state and federal

agencies. At some point it is difficult to distinguish such sponsorship

cleanly from the mere presence of multiple firm members as section

members. Moreover, event sponsorship at relatively low levels or

continuing sponsorship of a lesser sort, for example a continuing

advertisement in our newsletter, is inherently less sensitive than a

very prominent continuing relationship. Hence, the Tax Section would

probably allow H & R Block to sponsor a reception, but would be unlikely

to restyle itself the H & R Block Tax Section. Event sponsorship also

allows section members who have special personal sensitivities to avoid

particular events. (For example, if a firm that is currently appearing

before an administrative law judge sponsors a dinner, the judge might

dine elsewhere).

Section approval of sponsorship relationships. We need a regular

entity to review and approve sponsorships for us. Although the ABA

policies are not themselves unduly complex, they are overlain by some

particular requisites that need to be assessed systematically, such as

the advertising regulations. The Sponsorship Committee could be charged

with this task, with ratification by the Chair or the executive group.