Ask the Experts – Charitable Donations: Not As Simple As They Might Seem - State and Federal Communications

April 4, 2012  •  

Ask the Experts – Charitable Donations: Not As Simple As They Might Seem

James Warner, Esq.

Q.  I am a registered lobbyist who would like to attend a charitable golf tournament.  Are there specific restrictions or requirements for this type of event?

A. Mere attendance at a charitable golf tournament or similar event is not typically restricted.

However, this activity may be prohibited or subject to disclosure requirements depending on the circumstances.

Being a registered lobbyist does not hinder your ability to donate independently to a 501(c)(3) organization.  However, in some instances, your attendance may be requested because the event is associated with a public official.  If an official asks you to attend or sponsor the charitable event, this may be considered making a contribution “at the behest of” the official, depending on the laws in your jurisdiction.

If a charitable contribution is made “at the behest of” a public official, there are two considerations: permissibility and disclosure.  First, is the charitable contribution permissible?  A jurisdiction may consider the charitable contribution to be a gift to the public official who requested it.  For example, Massachusetts considers a charitable contribution in this scenario to be a prohibited gift.  Even if the charitable contribution is a permissible gift, there may be a limit as to how much a lobbyist may donate.

Second, if a lobbyist may make the charitable contribution, is it disclosed on a lobbying report?  In Illinois, these charitable contributions are not reportable on a lobbying report.  In California, the official who made the request of the lobbyist must disclose the charitable contribution.  However, this type of expenditure is reportable on a lobbying report in Connecticut.

If you are a registered lobbyist, check with the applicable state regulatory agency before making a charitable contribution “at the behest of” an official.

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