FAQs About Gifts
Q. Can a Member or employee accept a gift from a lobbyist?
A. A Member, officer, or employee may not accept any gift, except as the rule specifically provides. Thus, unless a gift falls into one of the categories of acceptable gifts, it may not be accepted. In addition to the prohibition on lobbyists and foreign agent gifts under the general gift rule provision, the rule also expressly prohibits the acceptance of certain other gifts from registered lobbyists and foreign agents. The other gifts that are expressly prohibited are as follows:
“Anything provided by a registered lobbyist or an agent of a foreign principal to an entity that is maintained or controlled by a Member, . . . officer, or employee of the House.” (House Rule 25, clause 5(e)(1));
“A charitable contribution (as defined in section 170(c) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986) made by a registered lobbyist or an agent of a foreign principal on the basis of a designation, recommendation, or other specification of a Member, . . . officer, or employee of the House (not including a mass mailing or other solicitation directed to a broad category of persons or entities), other than a charitable contribution [made in lieu of an honorarium].” (Id., clause 5(e)(2));
“A contribution or other payment by a registered lobbyist or an agent of a foreign principal to a legal expense fund established for the benefit of a Member, . . . officer, or employee of the House.” (Id., clause 5(e)(3)); and
“A financial contribution or expenditure made by a registered lobbyist or an agent of a foreign principal relating to a conference, retreat, or similar event, sponsored by or affiliated with an official congressional organization, for or on behalf of Members, . . . officers, or employees of the House.” (Id., clause 5(e)(4)).
For complete guidance please refer to the House Ethics Manual, Chapter 2 on gifts.
Q. I have been invited to attend a reception hosted by a corporation. Can I attend?
A. House Members and employees may generally accept "food or refreshment of a nominal value offered other than as part of a meal." This provision is interpreted to permit House Members and employees to accept free attendance at receptions when the fare will consist of reasonable hors d'oeuvres and refreshments and not a full meal. For complete information, see House Ethics Manual, pp. 50-53.
Q. I have been invited to attend a lunch briefing, and the sponsor will serve a box lunch. Can I accept the lunch?
A. If the sponsor is not a registered lobbyist or foreign agent and does not employ or retain such a person, then House Members and employees may generally accept a gift, including a meal, valued at less than $50. Gifts from a single donor valued at $100 or more in a single calendar year are prohibited. For complete information, see House Ethics Manual, pp. 34-38. If the sponsor does employ or retain a lobbyist, free attendance may still be acceptable if the event qualifies as a “widely attended event,” (see below).
Q. I have been invited to a dinner by a trade association. The trade association says it's OK under the gift rule because it is a "widely attended event." Can I attend?
A. Maybe. The Committee does not pre-approve events for event sponsors. The gift rule permits House Members and employees to accept an invitation of free attendance at "widely attended events" from the event sponsor. The requirements of the rule are set forth in detail in the House Ethics Manual, pp. 41-47. In short, to accept free attendance, the event must (1) have at least 25 non-Hill attendees; (2) be open to the public or to a wide range of individuals; (3) be connected to one's House duties.