Ask the Experts – Providing Gifts to Public Officials - State and Federal Communications

May 10, 2013  •  

Ask the Experts – Providing Gifts to Public Officials

James Warner, Esq.

Q. My company is involved in an event where a meal and other gifts may be provided to public officials.  How do I know if this is permissible?

A. You must consider a number of issues any time you want to provide a gift to a public official.  In addition to consulting your company’s policies, you should answer the following questions:

  • Is it a gift?  States often have exceptions to the definition of gift.  Arizona does not consider an expenditure for food, beverage, travel, or lodging to be a gift under state law.  A number of states do not consider things of value provided on the basis of a personal relationship or items of de minimis value to be gifts.
  • Who is the giver?  Lobbyists are often subject to more stringent gift restrictions than non-lobbyists.  Florida prohibits any gifts from lobbyists to state officials and employees with very few exceptions.  However, if you are not registered as a lobbyist, you are permitted to give any gift if it is not given to influence any official action.  California imposes different gift limits; the limit is $10 or less per month for lobbyists and $440 or less per year for non-lobbyists.  Additional restrictions could apply if your company is a state contractor.  Connecticut does allow limited gifts from lobbyists and non-lobbyists.  However, state contractors must certify no gifts were made under certain circumstances.
  • Who is the recipient?  The permissibility of a gift can depend on the branch of government or the seniority of the official or employee.  Maryland legislators may only accept food and beverage from lobbyists in very limited circumstances.  Executive branch officials may accept food and beverage if they are in the presence of the lobbyist. Delaware only restricts cabinet secretaries, division directors, and the governor’s professional staff from accepting gifts from lobbyists.

If you are anything less than 100% sure a gift is permissible, consult the state’s ethics agency.  Do not ask the official or employee involved!  He or she may not be familiar with the nuances of the state’s gift law.

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(We are always available to answer questions from clients that are specific to your needs, and we encourage you to continue to call or e-mail us with questions about your particular company or organization. As always, we will confidentially and directly provide answers or information you need.) Our replies to your questions are not legal advice. Instead, these replies represent our analysis of laws, rules, and regulations.

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