Below is a condensed version of this topic. For complete guidance please refer to the House Ethics Manual, Chapter 2 on gifts.
The statutory gift provision, 5 U.S.C. § 7353, also reflects two key prohibitions regarding gifts that each House Member, officer, and employee should be familiar with, as follows:
1. Never accept a gift that is linked to any official action you have taken, or that you are being asked to take. One provision of the gift statute states, “No gift may be accepted [pursuant to gift rules or regulations] in return for being influenced in the performance of an official act.” 7 Moreover, accepting a gift in these circumstances may constitute a serious violation of criminal law.
2. Never solicit a gift from any person who has interests before the House. 5 U.S.C. § 7353 limits not only what government officials may accept, but also that for which they may ask. The statute provides in pertinent part:
(a) Except as permitted by [applicable gift rules or regulations], no Member of Congress or officer or employee of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch shall solicit or accept anything of value from a person –
(1) seeking official action from, doing business with, or . . . conducting activities regulated by, the individual's employing agency; or
(2) whose interests may be substantially affected by the performance or nonperformance of the individual’s official duties. [Emphasis added.]
While the House gift rule defines what Members, officers, and employees may accept in the way of gifts, the rule does not authorize them to ask for any gift. The prohibition against solicitation is very broad. It applies to the solicitation not only of money, but “anything of value.” In addition, the prohibition covers solicitations of things for the personal benefit of the Member, officer, or employee, as well as things that would involve no personal benefit. However, as is explained in a Standards Committee advisory memorandum of April 25, 1997, the Committee has determined that Members and staff may solicit on behalf of charitable organizations qualified under § 170(c) of the Internal Revenue Code, subject to certain restrictions.8 The Committee will consider requests to make solicitations for other purposes, but as a general rule, the Committee will not approve a solicitation that would result in any personal or financial benefit to Members or staff.
Example 1. An office is throwing a farewell party for a departing staff member, and the office knows of individuals in the private sector, with whom the staff member has worked, who would probably be willing to donate refreshments. The office may not request donations from those individuals.
Example 2. One of the cable channels recently showed a documentary that relates to some legislation before a committee. A committee staff person may call the company to inquire if the committee may purchase a tape of the show, but may not request a free copy.
Other prohibitions. Under the Code of Official Conduct, a Member, officer, or employee is expressly prohibited from accepting any gift “except as provided by clause 5 of rule 25.” 9 The Code of Official Conduct also prohibits a Member, officer, or employee from receiving any benefit “by virtue of influence improperly exerted from his position in Congress.” 10 Similarly, the Code of Ethics for Government Service (¶ 5) admonishes every Government employee, “Never discriminate unfairly by the dispensing of special favors or privileges to anyone, whether for remuneration or not; and never accept for [oneself] or [one’s] family, favors or benefits under circumstances which might be construed by reasonable persons as influencing the performance of his governmental duties.”
This Committee has cautioned all Members “to avoid situations in which even an inference might be drawn suggesting improper action.” 11 Members, officers, and employees must always exercise discretion concerning the acceptance of gifts or favors from persons who are not relatives, and particularly gifts or favors that would not have been offered “but for” the individual’s position in Congress. Among the factors that one must consider are the source and value of a gift, the frequency of gifts from one source, the possible motives of the donor, and possible conflicts of interest with official duties.12
7 5 U.S.C. § 7353(b)(2)(B).
8 The solicitation guidelines are discussed in detail in Chapter 10 on official and outside organizations.
9 House Rule 23, cl. 4.
10 House Rule 23, cl. 3.
11 House Comm. on Standards of Official Conduct, Investigation of Financial Transactions Participated in and Gifts of Transportation Accepted by Representative Fernand J. St Germain, H. Rep. 100-46, 100th Cong., 1st Sess. 3, 9, 43 (1987).
12 See House Comm. on Standards of Official Conduct, In the Matter of Representative Charles H. Wilson (of California), H. Rep. 96-930, 96th Cong., 2d Sess. 4-5, 19-20 (1980). See also In the Matter of Representative Daniel J. Flood, H. Rep. 96-856, 96th Cong., 2d Sess. 5-15 (1980).