Ask the Experts – Conference Attendance and Gift Limits - State and Federal Communications

August 13, 2015  •  

Ask the Experts – Conference Attendance and Gift Limits

Myra Cottrill

Q. I will be attending several upcoming conferences where legislators and other public officials will be present.   I’m not a registered lobbyist at the state level—do I still need to worry about gift limits?

A. Even if you are not a registered lobbyist, you will still need to be mindful of the various gift limits applicable to legislators and public officials you engage at these conferences.  Depending on your company’s status as a lobbyist employer, you may be subject to more stringent limits in certain jurisdictions.  It’s important to remember there is no one-size-fits-all approach to determining permissibility.  Each state addresses gift limits differently, and what will be permissible in one jurisdiction will not be permissible in another.   Further, you should not depend on the legislator or public official to know applicable gift limits.  Because gift limits may vary depending on your company’s status as a lobbyist employer, officials may not be aware of which limit to apply when accepting gifts and benefits.

Numerous states have gift exceptions specifically applicable to expenditures at national conferences to which all members of the legislature are invited (such as NCSL) as long as the expenditures are part of the conference agenda.  Examples of this include lunch/dinner events, or a sponsored state night.  However, for private dinners and events and other expenditures not included on the official agenda, you will still be subject to a state’s regular gift limits and restrictions.

In some cases, your expenditures on behalf of these individuals will need to be disclosed on a lobbyist employer report.  You will need to coordinate closely with your company’s government affairs or legal department to not only determine permissibility, but to determine whether the expense is reportable. For jurisdictions requiring disclosure, you may need to report the date of the expense, the name of the individual(s) receiving the benefit, a brief description, and the value of the expense.   Make sure to save itemized receipts.  Some jurisdictions require you to report the name and address of the vendor (such as a restaurant or catering company) and may additionally require you to determine the reportable amount by specific benefit received.  Some states do not permit meal expenditures to be calculated on a prorated basis (i.e., a dinner valued at $375, divided by the number of attendees) but instead require disclosure of a specific amount attributed to a particular legislative official or employee (i.e., $15.75 for the salmon entrée).

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