Ask the Experts – Gift Reimbursement - State and Federal Communications

December 23, 2010  •  

Ask the Experts – Gift Reimbursement

Nola WerrenQ. If I provide a gift to a covered official exceeding the gift limit in that jurisdiction, can the covered official reimburse my employer for the difference?

A. This is a situation you never, ever want to be in, but sometimes it happens. Fortunately, most of the states allow for the covered official to reimburse the donor in order to rectify the situation.

One of the circumstances precluding reimbursement is when too much time has elapsed between providing the excessive gift and reimbursement by the official. If too much time has passed, the state considers the gift to have been “accepted” by the official, and reimbursement is not an option.

Also, even if the official reimburses the overage, sometimes the lobbyist, the official, or both must nonetheless report the total value of the gift. From a disclosure standpoint, this makes a precarious situation even more suspect.

Some examples of these rules include the following:

  • In Connecticut, the gift limit is $10. The official may not partially reimburse a more expensive gift to bring the final cost to the lobbyist below $10, because the overall value of the item is still over $10 [Advisory Opinion 1997-15].
  • In the state of Washington, an official’s name cannot be removed from a filed lobbying report, regardless of whether the official has fully reimbursed the lobbyist for the reported expenditure. In addition, an official cannot partially reimburse a lobbyist for an expense to bring the total cost below the $50 reporting threshold. Even if a partial reimbursement occurs, both the lobbyist and the official must report the full amount. The only way an expenditure exceeding the threshold does not have to be reported is if the official fully reimburses the lobbyist prior to the lobbyist filing the lobbying report disclosing the expenditure.
  • In New York, public officials and employees may completely reimburse the donor of a gift if the reimbursement is not removed or remote in time in order to comply with the gift ban [Advisory Opinion No. 97-03]. If an item, entertainment, or other benefit is received and payment of its market value is made prior to or simultaneously with receipt, there is no gift [Advisory Opinion No. 97-03].

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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