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A Member, officer, or employee may accept “[i]nformational materials that are sent to [his or her] office . . . in the form of books, articles, periodicals, other written materials, audiotapes, videotapes, or other forms of communication” (House Rule 25, clause 5(a)(3)(I)). The purpose of this provision is to ensure that Members have access to information sources or reference tools useful in the conduct of official duties. Several points should be noted regarding informational materials.
First, under long-standing Committee guidance, a subscription to a periodical may be accepted only from the publisher or distributor of the periodical. In other words, Members and staff may not accept a gift subscription that was paid for by a third party.
Second, the provision specifies that informational materials “sent to the office” may be accepted. The intent of this language is that a Member or staff person may not accept, under this provision, an additional courtesy copy of a publication that is sent to his or her home.43 The intent of that language is not to preclude acceptance of a book or other appropriate informational material at, for example, a reception or other event.
Third, while the provision allows acceptance of a set of materials (such as, for example, a PBS documentary on alternative energy sources), it does not permit acceptance of specialized reporting services or other collections that are periodically updated, such as the U.S. Code annotated or an encyclopedia.
Fourth, at times a Member is offered multiple copies of a book or similar item for the purpose of distributing the copies to his or her colleagues or others. As a general matter, a Member may accept multiple copies of an item in these circumstances, provided that the copies are intended for distribution to a particular audience and are not for the Member’s unrestricted use, and provided further that the item was not created especially for the Member.
Finally, at times a Member, officer, or employee may be offered computer software. Neither application software (e.g., Microsoft Word or WordPerfect), developmental software (i.e., software that enables one to generate or edit code), nor entertainment software is acceptable under this provision of the gift rule, as such materials do not constitute informational materials within the meaning of this provision. Informational software may be acceptable, but only if the database is entirely self-contained, such as on a compact disc. Software that provides access to a database that otherwise is available only on a subscription basis (e.g., LEXIS-NEXIS or Westlaw) is not acceptable under this provision. However, demonstration or evaluation copies of software that a business generally makes available to prospective customers may be acceptable under a different gift rule provision (see the section below entitled “Widely Available Opportunities and Benefits”).