The Idaho attorney general should be asked whether a new ethics law prohibits Mayor Dirk Kempthorne from hosting a "charity cruise" to Hawaii, Boise City Council President Mike Wetherell says.
Advertisements have invited Boise residents and others to join Kempthorne and his wife, Patricia, in February on the Crown Odyssey to experience "balmy breezes, sparkling beaches and cloud-shrouded volcanoes."Their free tickets on the Royal Cruise Line voyage are worth $4,468. A portion of each ticket sold goes to a children's charity, and promoters hope the Kemp-thornes' well-advertised presence lures paying customers.
The mayor said he's complied "not only with the letter of the law but the spirit of the law."
To avoid potential problems that befell Idaho Falls Mayor Tom Campbell when he was asked to take a similar trip, Kempthorne got the official blessing of the City Council.
But Wetherell said last week he didn't know then that the attorney general had cautioned Campbell against taking a cruise, saying it would violate a 1990 amendment to the Bribery and Corrupt Influences Act.
And while Wetherell said he sees nothing ethically improper with the mayor's participation, "there is something wrong with (the mayor's trip) if it violates the law."
Campbell was advised in September by the attorney general's office that the new state ethics law banned an expenses-paid trip he also was offered by the Royal Cruise Line.
"Activities involving commercial endorsements by public officials for which they receive compensation is prohibited by the act," said a three-page legal guideline issued by the office.
On Oct. 30, the Boise City Council unanimously passed a resolution authorizing Kempthorne's trip.
In so doing, it addressed a provision of the law saying that no public servant shall "without the specific authorization of the governmental entity for which he serves, use his official position . . . to obtain a pecuniary benefit."
Kempthorne assistant Brad Hoaglun said, "The law does allow public officials to, for example, go on a charity cruise, if it is approved by the City Council."
Chief Deputy Attorney General Jack McMahon declined to venture an opinion Friday as to whether Kempthorne's trip also would be prohibited, without knowing the circumstances.
"We'd have to take a look at it," he said.
Kempthorne has taken a similar cruise before. A July 1988 trip to Scandinavia raised a $3,000 contribution to Fundsy, a local charity group.
In fact, in view of that trip, Idaho Falls officials "thought the mayor (Campbell) might be able to go," said City Clerk Beverly Branson.
But the city attorney knew of the new ethics law, and asked the attorney general for an opinion.
"The A.G. said we couldn't do it and so the mayor said `No,' " she said.
Campbell could not be reached for comment.
This year's 10-day trip to Hawaii will raise $100 per person for the Endowment for the Children's Charity Ball of Idaho, Inc.
"It's an opportunity I can take on my own vacation time, and provide a benefit to a local charity," Kemp-thorne said.
So far, 20 persons have signed up for the cruise at a minimum cost of $1,986 each, according to Global Travel. The Kempthornes' accommodations are listed at $2,234 per person.
Mayors' participation in free cruises did not violate Idaho law before the Bribery and Corrupt Influences Act amendment went into effect July 1, the attorney general's opinion said.
Wetherell, an attorney, stressed that the ethics law issue "is clearly a close call, and the attorney general has called it one way."
Idaho Falls officials raised the question of whether the law would be violated if the mayor didn't use his official title in ads.
But the attorney general's opinion contrasted the participation of an Idaho mayor with a entertainment celebrity.
"Clint Eastwood could conceivably host a cruise based upon his identity as an actor and not have his position as mayor of Carmel, Calif. be a factor in his endorsement," the opinion states. "However, it is doubtful that the mayor of an Idaho city can garnish such an endorsement without reliance upon his official position."