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The Standards Committee has recognized that at times in the course of performing one’s official duties at House expense, a Member or staff person will be offered a de minimis amount of food or transportation as a courtesy. For example, one might be offered a meal in the company cafeteria while touring a facility in one’s district, or a ride from the airport to a site being visited as part of a committee-sponsored trip. In the Committee’s view, the acceptance of such occasional, incidental courtesies does not violate the spirit of the gift rule. Accordingly, the Committee has granted a general waiver of the gift rule to enable a Member, officer, or employee to accept the following items incidental to legitimate official activity:
However, this waiver does not extend to car service made available from the same source on a regular basis, transportation in the District of Columbia, or meals at the Washington, D.C.-area offices of lobbying or law firms.
In addition, acceptance of a meal or transportation incident to a business site visit will not be deemed to violate the prohibition against private subsidy of official activities (House Rule 24, clauses 1 to 3). In this regard, it should be stressed that this waiver applies when a Member or staff person is traveling in the Member’s own district, or is traveling elsewhere at House expense. As is detailed in the Committee guidance on the travel rules, when a Member or staff person is taking an officially related trip at the expense of a private source consistent with the provisions of the gift rule, it is generally permissible to accept meals and transportation from that source without regard to the limitations noted above. However, when officially related travel is appropriately paid for by a private source, all of the expenses paid by the private source must be publicly disclosed.
An Item of Nominal Value
Members, officers, and employees may accept “[a]n item of nominal value such as a greeting card, baseball cap, or a T-shirt” (House Rule 25, clause 5(a)(3)(W)). Through the 105th Congress, the Committee permitted Members and staff to accept a variety of low value, tangible items under this provision. With the adoption of the general gift rule provision at the start of the 106th Congress, however, the Committee determined that such a reading of the nominal value provision was no longer appropriate. Accordingly, as a general matter, Members and staff should not rely on the nominal value provision in accepting any item having a value of $10 or more, except for the items that are explicitly referred to in that provision (i.e., a baseball cap or a T-shirt).
Example 35. A baseball team in a Member’s district sends the office eight of its baseball caps along with a letter suggesting that one be given to the Member and to each staff person who wants one. The Member and the staff persons may each accept one of the caps under the nominal value provision.