Ask the Experts - Lobbyist Gifts to Family Members of Public Officials - State and Federal Communications

July 18, 2014  •  

Ask the Experts – Lobbyist Gifts to Family Members of Public Officials

Shamus WilliamsQ. Do gift laws preventing registered lobbyists and employers from giving gifts to public officials, also prohibit gifts to the family members of public officials?

A. Generally, in states that feature a prohibition on lobbyists giving gifts to public officials or employees, the prohibition will extend to members of the public officials’ immediate family. However, immediate family is usually a defined term and will vary by jurisdiction.

For example, Alabama law prohibits lobbyists and employers of lobbyists from offering or providing a thing of value to a public employee, public official, or family member of a public employee or public official. The state defines a family member of a public employee as a spouse or dependent. A family member of a public official is defined as the spouse, dependent, adult child and his or her spouse, spouse’s parent, and siblings of spouse and their respective spouses.

In Kentucky, the General Assembly just passed House Bill 28, which extends the prohibition on gifts to family members of legislators or candidates. Effective July 14, 2014, registered legislative lobbyists will be prohibited from giving gifts to spouses or children of legislators or candidates for General Assembly.

In Pennsylvania, gifts are also prohibited to immediate family members of public officials, employees, or candidates for public office. They interpret immediate family members to include spouses, children, parents, and siblings.

However, not all states include family members in the gift prohibitions. Minnesota’s gift prohibition applies to public officials, employees of the Legislature, and local officials, but it does not extend to their family members.

Before giving a gift to a public official or employee, you should consult the jurisdiction’s ethics commission. Do not expect officials or their family members to know the applicable laws.

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