"Widely Attended" Events

     The gift rule provision on widely attended events can apply to a broad range of events:  a convention, conference, symposium, forum, panel discussion, dinner, viewing, reception,29 and similar events (House Rule 25, clause 5(a)(4)(A)).  An unsolicited offer of free attendance30 at such an event can be accepted when three requirements are satisfied:  (1) The event is “widely attended,” as defined below, (2) the invitation came from the sponsor of the event, and (3) the attendance of the Member or staff person is related to his or her official duties.
        
        As to the first of these requirements, the Standards Committee has determined that an event is “widely attended” if (a) there is a reasonable expectation that at least 25 persons, other than Members, officers, or employees of Congress, will attend the event, and (b) attendance at the event is open to individuals from throughout a given industry or profession, or those in attendance represent a range of persons interested in a given matter.31  Individuals who are officials of other branches or levels of government count toward the required minimum of twenty-five, but spouses and others who accompany the congressional members and staff do not count toward the required minimum.

        The types of events that typically satisfy this first requirement are Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club lunches and dinners, and meetings of the membership of trade or professional associations.

                    Example 14.  One of the departments of a large corporation has a weekly staff meeting and luncheon that is attended by at least 30 employees.  These meetings do not constitute a widely attended event as that term is used in the gift rule, however, because attendance at the event is not open to individuals from throughout a given industry or profession, and those present do not represent a range of persons interested in a given matter.

        As to the second requirement, the term “sponsor” refers to the person, entity, or entities that are primarily responsible for organizing the event.  An individual or entity that merely contributes money to an event is not considered to be a sponsor of the event for purposes of the gift rule.  Elaboration on this requirement appears below, in the section entitled “Source of Invitations for Widely Attended and Charity Events.”

        The third requirement is satisfied when (a) the Member, officer, or employee will be participating in the event by speaking or performing a ceremonial role, or (b) he or she determines that attendance at the event is appropriate to the performance of his or her official duties or representative function.  The responsibility for making this determination rests with the invited Member or officer, or the invited employee and the employing Member, but the determination must be made in a reasonable manner.  Some relevant factors might include the opportunity to meet with constituents at the event, the desirability of representing one’s constituency at an event where other elected or appointed officials will be present, or the opportunity to present or receive information that is pertinent to one’s district or to a legislative proposal.  With regard to a staff member, the nature of the individual’s duties in the office will be a relevant factor.  For example, attendance at a dinner sponsored by an environmental organization may well be appropriate for a staff member who handles environmental issues, but not for a staff member who handles banking issues only.

        In deciding whether attending an event would be appropriate to the individual’s official duties, one must also bear in mind the legislative history of the gift rule, which states that an event may not be merely for the personal pleasure or entertainment of the Member or staff person.32  Accordingly, an invitation that would involve nothing more than viewing a sporting event, a movie, or a show will rarely be acceptable under the widely attended event provision.

                Example 15.  Knowing that a district office staff person is a fan of his team, the owner of a local sports team offers the staff person free tickets to an upcoming game.  Even though the source of the tickets would be the event sponsor, and there will be far more than 25 individuals in attendance at the game, the staff person may not accept the tickets under the widely attended event provision, in that his attendance would bear no relationship to the performance of his official duties.

                Example 16.  A new concert hall is opening in Member A’s district.  The symphony invites a number of officials, including Member A, to attend the inaugural concert, sit in a place of honor, and be recognized for their help in making the new hall a reality.  In view of the circumstances, Member A may reasonably determine that it is appropriate to his official duties or representative function to attend, and that hence the invitation is acceptable under the widely attended event provision.

                Example 17.  Member B has announced that this will be her last term in office.  In honor of her career, a group of corporations and associations is hosting a dinner for her, to which hundreds of people from the private and public sectors, including many House Members and staff, will be invited.  Those who deem their attendance at the dinner to be appropriate to their official duties or representative function may accept an invitation to the dinner from the host committee.

        When the requirements of the widely attended event provision are satisfied, a Member or staff person may also accept a sponsor’s unsolicited offer of free attendance at the event for an accompanying individual (House Rule 25, clause 5(a)(4)(B)).  While the accompanying individual need not be the spouse or child of the invitee – it may be, for example, a friend or a colleague – the rule provides for only one accompanying individual.  Thus, for example, an invitee may not accept an offer of free attendance for both a spouse and child under this provision.

        “Free Attendance” for Purposes of Widely Attended Events.  The gift rule provides that when the requirements set forth above are satisfied, Members, officers, and employees may accept “free attendance” at the event.  As used in the rule, free attendance includes “waiver of all or part of a conference or other fee, the provision of local transportation, or the provision of food, refreshments, entertainment, and instructional materials furnished to all attendees as an integral part of the event.” (House Rule 25, clause 5(a)(4)(D)).  However, this term does not include either “entertainment collateral to the event,” or “food or refreshments taken other than in a group setting with all or substantially all other attendees” (id.), which therefore may not be accepted under the gift rule.

                    Example 21.  In connection with its annual meeting in Washington, an association will hold a banquet and has arranged for the attendees to see a show at a downtown theater.  Upon invitation from the association, a Member may attend the banquet if the requirements for a “widely attended” event are satisfied.  However, he may not attend the show under this provision, in that it is not part of the banquet, but is instead entertainment that is collateral to that event.

                    Example 22.  A charity will be holding a fundraising reception, and immediately after the reception the charity will hold a dinner to which only certain VIP’s will be invited.  A Member may accept an invitation from the charity to attend the reception under the charity event provision, but he could not attend the dinner under that provision.

        At times at charity fundraising events in particular, the sponsor may offer attendees a souvenir, gift, or prize.  A Member or staff person may accept a baseball cap or T-shirt from the event sponsor under the “item of nominal value” provision of the gift rule, which is summarized below.  In addition, under the general provision on acceptable gifts, as explained above, the official may also accept an item that has a value of less than $50 (provided that the sponsor is not a lobbyist, foreign agent, or employer of such an individual, and the official has not accepted other gifts from the sponsor that would cause the annual gift limit of less than $100 per source to be exceeded).  When a Member or staff person is accompanied at a charity event by a spouse or dependent, the official should bear in mind that any such gifts given to the accompanying individual are deemed to be gifts to the official and count against the gift rule dollar limits applicable to that official.

        Source of Invitations for Widely Attended Events.  The gift rule is clear that Members, officers, and employees may accept an invitation to a widely attended or charity event only from the sponsor of the event.  The report of the House Rules Committee on the gift rule defines the term “sponsor” as follows:

        The term “sponsor of the event” refers to the person, entity, or entities that are primarily responsible for organizing the event.  An individual who simply contributes money to an event is not considered to be a sponsor of the event.35

        Accordingly, under the gift rule, the term “sponsor” has a definition that is narrower than the manner in which it is commonly used.  Often the large financial supporters of an event are termed as “sponsors” of the event.  However, such entities are not sponsors of an event for purposes of the gift rule unless they also have a substantial role in organizing the event.36

                    Example 23.  Foundation A, a § 501(c)(3) organization under the Tax Code, organizes a $1,000-per-plate fundraising dinner to support its charitable activities.  Member B may accept complimentary tickets to the dinner from Foundation A, for himself and his spouse, under the charity event provision.

                    Example 24.  Corporation C buys a table at the fundraising dinner of Foundation A.   Member B may not accept tickets to the dinner from Corporation C under the charity event provision.  In accordance with the previous example, Member B may accept tickets from Foundation A, and if it chooses to do so, Foundation A may seat B at the corporation’s table.  

        Contributors to a widely attended or charity event may request that the sponsor invite particular Members or staff to sit with them at the event.  However, the invitation will not be acceptable under these provisions unless the sponsor retains ultimate control of the guest list and the seating arrangements, and the invitation neither references any contributor nor is extended by anyone other than the sponsor.  Put another way, all communications with Members or staff regarding the event should be made by the event sponsor, because a communication from an event contributor may be deemed an impermissible invitation from the contributor.

        The Standards Committee has made an exception to the above rules on the proper source of invitations for the large media-related events that take place in Washington, such as the White House Correspondents’ Dinner sponsored by the Correspondents’ Association.  Traditionally invitations to those events are extended not by the sponsoring organization, but instead by journalists or news organizations that are members of the sponsoring organization.  Accordingly, the Committee has granted a general gift rule waiver to enable a House Member or staff person to accept an offer of free attendance at one of these media-related events from a journalist or a news organization that is a member of the media organization sponsoring the event.

  “Free Attendance” for Purposes of Widely Attended and Charity Events.  The gift rule provides that when the requirements set forth above are satisfied, Members, officers, and employees may accept “free attendance” at the event.  As used in the rule, free attendance includes “waiver of all or part of a conference or other fee, the provision of local transportation, or the provision of food, refreshments, entertainment, and instructional materials furnished to all attendees as an integral part of the event.” (House Rule 25, clause 5(a)(4)(D)).  However, this term does not include either “entertainment collateral to the event,” or “food or refreshments taken other than in a group setting with all or substantially all other attendees” (id.), which therefore may not be accepted under the gift rule.

                Example 21.  In connection with its annual meeting in Washington, an association will hold a banquet and has arranged for the attendees to see a show at a downtown theater.  Upon invitation from the association, a Member may attend the banquet if the requirements for a “widely attended” event are satisfied.  However, he may not attend the show under this provision, in that it is not part of the banquet, but is instead entertainment that is collateral to that event.

                Example 22.  A charity will be holding a fundraising reception, and immediately after the reception the charity will hold a dinner to which only certain VIP’s will be invited.  A Member may accept an invitation from the charity to attend the reception under the charity event provision, but he could not attend the dinner under that provision.

        At times at charity fundraising events in particular, the sponsor may offer attendees a souvenir, gift, or prize.  A Member or staff person may accept a baseball cap or T-shirt from the event sponsor under the “item of nominal value” provision of the gift rule, which is summarized below.  In addition, under the general provision on acceptable gifts, as explained above, the official may also accept an item that has a value of less than $50 (provided that the sponsor is not a lobbyist, foreign agent, or employer of such an individual, and the official has not accepted other gifts from the sponsor that would cause the annual gift limit of less than $100 per source to be exceeded).  When a Member or staff person is accompanied at a charity event by a spouse or dependent, the official should bear in mind that any such gifts given to the accompanying individual are deemed to be gifts to the official and count against the gift rule dollar limits applicable to that official.

        Source of Invitations for Widely Attended and Charity Events.  The gift rule is clear that Members, officers, and employees may accept an invitation to a widely attended or charity event only from the sponsor of the event.  The report of the House Rules Committee on the gift rule defines the term “sponsor” as follows:

        The term “sponsor of the event” refers to the person, entity, or entities that are primarily responsible for organizing the event.  An individual who simply contributes money to an event is not considered to be a sponsor of the event.35

        Accordingly, under the gift rule, the term “sponsor” has a definition that is narrower than the manner in which it is commonly used.  Often the large financial supporters of an event are termed as “sponsors” of the event.  However, such entities are not sponsors of an event for purposes of the gift rule unless they also have a substantial role in organizing the event.36

                    Example 23.  Foundation A, a § 501(c)(3) organization under the Tax Code, organizes a $1,000-per-plate fundraising dinner to support its charitable activities.  Member B may accept complimentary tickets to the dinner from Foundation A, for himself and his spouse, under the charity event provision.

                    Example 24.  Corporation C buys a table at the fundraising dinner of Foundation A.   Member B may not accept tickets to the dinner from Corporation C under the charity event provision.  In accordance with the previous example, Member B may accept tickets from Foundation A, and if it chooses to do so, Foundation A may seat B at the corporation’s table.  

        Contributors to a widely attended or charity event may request that the sponsor invite particular Members or staff to sit with them at the event.  However, the invitation will not be acceptable under these provisions unless the sponsor retains ultimate control of the guest list and the seating arrangements, and the invitation neither references any contributor nor is extended by anyone other than the sponsor.  Put another way, all communications with Members or staff regarding the event should be made by the event sponsor, because a communication from an event contributor may be deemed an impermissible invitation from the contributor.

        The Standards Committee has made an exception to the above rules on the proper source of invitations for the large media-related events that take place in Washington, such as the White House Correspondents’ Dinner sponsored by the Correspondents’ Association.  Traditionally invitations to those events are extended not by the sponsoring organization, but instead by journalists or news organizations that are members of the sponsoring organization.  Accordingly, the Committee has granted a general gift rule waiver to enable a House Member or staff person to accept an offer of free attendance at one of these media-related events from a journalist or a news organization that is a member of the media organization sponsoring the event.