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Subject to two restrictions that are described below, Members, officers, and employees may accept benefits (including food and refreshments) that result from any of the following activities:
The restrictions on the acceptance of such benefits are that (1) the benefits may not have been offered or enhanced because of the official position of the Member or staff person, and (2) they must be benefits that are “customarily provided to others in similar circumstances” (House Rule 25, clause 5(a)(3)(G)(i)). (This provision also allows the acceptance of transportation and lodging under the same terms.)
This is a common-sense provision that allows Members and staff to accept things of value that essentially have nothing to do with their position with the House, but instead are the result of outside business or other activities. However, before accepting anything under this provision, a Member or staff person must be satisfied that the benefit was neither offered nor enhanced because of his or her official position. The provision also requires that the benefit be one that is “customarily provided to others in similar circumstances.”
Example 43. A Member serves, on an uncompensated basis, as a member of the board of directors of a nonprofit organization. The board holds monthly dinner meetings, and the organization also provides each director with a free subscription to its monthly publication. The Member may attend the dinner meetings and accept the subscription.
Example 44. The spouse of a staff member is a partner in a law firm that leases a skybox in a pro football stadium. Each partner may attend games with his or her spouse or a guest. The staff member may attend games with his spouse.
Example 45. A Member who was a star tennis player as a youth is invited to a banquet honoring retired greats. The Member may accept.
Example 46. A pro sports team has established an “honorary board of advisers,” which is to be composed largely of government officials from the area, and it has asked the local Member to join. Each member of the honorary board will be given season tickets for the team’s home games. While the Member may join the honorary board if he chooses, he may not accept the season tickets under this provision, because in effect the tickets are being offered because of the Member’s official position.
As a related matter, Members and staff are also allowed to accept benefits (including food, refreshments, and travel) “customarily provided by a prospective employer in connection with bona fide employment discussions” (House Rule 25, clause 5(a)(3)(G)(ii)).
Example 47. During the course of employment discussions with a lobbying firm, a staff member is offered use of the firm’s beach condo for a weekend. Unless the firm has a history of making the same offer to comparable prospects in the private sector, the offer is not acceptable under this provision.