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Members and staff may accept anything that is paid for by the federal, state, or local government. (House Rule 25, clause 5(a)(3)(O)). This is a broad provision, which extends to tangible items of all kinds, as well as meals, services, and travel – provided, however, that the gift is paid for by a government agency or entity. Insofar as this provision concerns in-kind services provided by a federal, state, or local government agency, this provision mirrors the Standards Committee’s interpretation of the ban on unofficial office accounts (House Rule 24, clauses 1 to 3) under which Members and staff may accept in-kind services and functions from government agencies for official House activities.
Example 39. A state university in a Member’s district offers the Member tickets to an upcoming home game of one of its teams. The Member may accept the tickets under this provision. (However, as a general matter, sporting event tickets may be accepted from a private university only under the general provision on acceptable gifts, i.e., if their value is less than $50, and the private university does not retain or employ lobbyists.)
The “paid for by” language of this provision is especially important. Thus, under this provision, Members and staff may not accept a gift from a government agency when the gift was donated to the agency by a third party, and the agency is merely acting as a conduit. In addition, Members and staff may not accept, under this provision, a meal or other gift that is paid for by an outside consultant or lobbyist for a government agency – even though the cost of the gift will ultimately be reimbursed by the government.44
Questions may arise as to whether a particular entity, such as an airport authority, port authority, or public utility, is a government agency for purposes of this provision. An entity is a government agency for purposes of this provision only if, under the law, it is treated as a government agency for other purposes. For example, an interstate compact entered into by the State of Maryland, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the District of Columbia, which was also approved by Congress, established the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (or WMATA) as a governmental agency, with funding derived from the federal government and state governments, as well as from rider fares. In addition, the Committee has determined that the Tennessee Valley Authority is a governmental agency.45 Conversely, federal law provides that Amtrak is not a department, agency, or instrumentality of the United States government (49 U.S.C. § 24301(a)(3)), and thus Amtrak is not a government agency for purposes of this gift rule provision. Similarly, the Committee has concluded that the regional Federal Home Loan Banks are private entities under the House gift rule. The Committee’s staff should be consulted for guidance on the status of a particular entity.
The commonwealths and territories of the United States are deemed to be part of the federal government and hence are treated as government entities.
However, Indian tribes are not treated as a state or local government for purposes of the gift rule. The Standards Committee considered this matter carefully and found nothing in the legislative history of the current gift rule or its predecessors indicating an intent to treat Indian tribes as state or local government entities for these purposes.