Member Makes Campaign Contributions under Family, Friends’ Names
Information concerning the indictment of an ASCE member for money laundering and violations of state campaign spending laws is forwarded to the Committee on Professional Conduct (CPC). The indictment alleges that the member in question, a principal of a large engineering firm, had donated to the political campaigns of several state and city officials in amounts that greatly exceeded the statutory limit for individual campaign donations. It further states that the member effected these unlawful contributions by falsely submitting donations in the names of numerous friends, employees, and family members.
In all, the indictment links several hundred thousand dollars in campaign donations to the ASCE member and other principals of his engineering firm, several of whom also are indicted on campaign spending and money laundering charges. Investigation reports indicate that, at the time of these alleged unlawful donations, the ASCE member’s firm had secured engineering contracts worth millions of dollars from public officials whose campaigns had benefited from the donations.
The ASCE member enters a plea of nolo contendere (no contest) to the criminal allegations and receives a sentence of community service and payment of a substantial fine.
Did the ASCE member’s actions in contributing funds under false names to circumvent state campaign donation limits violate ASCE’s Code of Ethics?
At the time of the investigation, canon 6 of the code read as follows: “Engineers shall act in such a manner as to uphold and enhance the honor, integrity, and dignity of the engineering profession.” Moreover, canon 5 had this to say: “Engineers shall build their professional reputation on the merit of their services and shall not compete unfairly with others.” The guidelines to practice for that canon further stated that “engineers shall not give, solicit, or receive, either directly or indirectly, any political contribution, gratuity, or unlawful consideration in order to secure work.”
The ASCE member contended that he had never donated money in excess of the campaign spending laws and that the state court’s acceptance of the nolo contendere plea did not amount to a criminal conviction. He also explained that, under state law, following his performance of the terms of his plea, all reference to the charges would be expunged from his record. He further added that the conciliation agreement signed by him and the state’s campaign finance commission expressly stated that the settlement was not an admission of guilt, misconduct, or liability for the alleged offenses. With respect to the canon 5 strictures against unfair competition, the member pointed out that none of the state’s filings or documentation had alleged any improper benefit to him or his firm in exchange for the campaign donations.
The CPC, however, was not persuaded by the member’s arguments. Its members believed that court documents and other evidence from state prosecutors had established the member’s complicity in a classic “pay to play” operation whereby firms that offered political contributions to elected officials were given favorable treatment in contract procurement.
The CPC found that the ASCE member had violated canons 5 and 6 of the Code of Ethics and recommended that he be expelled from the Society. The case was referred to the Executive Committee, which staged a full hearing in accordance with what was then subsection 4.0.6 of the Society’s rules of policy and procedure. The hearing was held in the member’s state of residence and was attended by CPC members, representatives of the state’s campaign finance commission, and legal counsel for the ASCE member.
After hearing arguments from both sides of the case, the Executive Committee voted in favor of the cpc’s recommendations and moved to forward the matter to the full Board of Direction for final disposition. However, before the board could meet on the matter, the member submitted a letter tendering his resignation from the Society. The board voted to accept the member’s resignation with prejudice toward readmission, and notice of the hearing and of the member’s resignation was published in a Society publication.
Members who have an ethics question or would like to file a complaint with the Committee on Professional Conduct may call ASCE’s hotline at (703) 295-6061 or (800) 548-ASCE (2723), extension 6061. The attorneys staffing this line can provide advice on how to handle an ethics issue or file a complaint. Please note that individual facts and circumstances vary from case to case and that the general summary information contained in these case studies is not to be construed as a precedent binding upon the Society.
On March 31, 2008, Ronald K. Wilson of Birmingham, Alabama, forfeited his membership for nonpayment of dues, with prejudice toward readmission to the Society, following notification by the Committee on Professional Conduct that it was investigating the possibility that he had violated canons 4, 5, and 6 of ASCE’s Code of Ethics.
On April 30, 2008, as a result of proceedings conducted in accordance with article 3 of the Society’s bylaws, the Board of Direction found that Edward T. Key, Jr., and F.W. Dougherty of Birmingham, Alabama, had acted in violation of canons 4, 5, and 6 of ASCE’s Code of Ethics and voted to expel them from the Society.
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