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Gifts Guidance

Throughout this section and in other sections, this guidance refers to the “Gift Rule.”  The “Gift Rule” means the gift provisions in the current Congress’s House Rule 25, clause 5.

Quick Reference Guide

I. Why Have Limitations on Gifts?

The federal government and the House of Representatives have long recognized that public office is a public trust. The public has a right to expect that you are impartial in performing your official duties and are not influenced by gifts or favors.  However, Congress also recognizes that you will be offered gifts that do not raise any genuine ethical concerns, or that could cause needless embarrassment or hurt feelings if denied. 

[1] Code of Ethics for Government Service ¶10, H. Con. Res. 175, 85th Cong., 2d Sess., 72 Stat. pt 2, B12 (1958).  Both the House and Senate concurred that all federal government employees and officeholders should follow this code.
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[2] Id.  at ¶ 5.  See also 135 Cong. Rec. H8764 (daily ed. Nov. 16, 1989) (debate on Ethics Reform Act of 1989, quoting Paul Volcker, Chairman of the National Commission on the Public Service); United States v. Podell, 436 F. Supp. 1039, 1042 (S.D.N.Y. 1977), aff’d 572 F.2d 31 (2d Cir. 1978).

Over the years, both the House and Senate regularly recognized the concerns that arise from Members, officers, and employees accepting gifts.  Special Subcomm. on the Establishment of a Comm’n on Ethics in Gov’t, Senate Comm. on Labor and Public Welfare, 82d Cong., Ethical Standards in Government 23 (Comm. Print 1951) (“What is proper to offer to public officials, and what is it proper for them to receive? . . . Even small gratuities can be significant if they are repeated and come to be expected . . . .The difficulty comes in drawing the line between the innocent or proper and that which is designing or improper.  At the moment a doubt arises as to propriety, the line should be drawn.”); House Bipartisan Task Force on Ethics, 101st Cong. Report on H.R. 3660, 101st Cong., 1st Sess. 6 (Comm Print 1989), reprinted in 135 Cong. Rec. 30740, 30742 (daily ed. Nov. 21, 1989) (hereinafter “Bipartisan Task Force Report”) (“Regardless of any actual corruption or undue influence upon a Member or employee of Congress, the receipt of gifts or favors from private interests may affect public confidence in the integrity of the individual and in the institution of the Congress.  Legitimate concerns of favoritism or abuse of public position may be raised by disclosure of frequent or expensive gifts from representatives of special interests, or valuable gifts from anyone other than a relative or personal friend.”); S. Comm. on Gov’t Affairs, Congressional Gifts Reform Act, S. Rep. No. 103-255, at 3-4 (1994) (“[I]t seems appropriate to single out registered lobbyists and foreign agents for special treatment, because this category includes people who are, by definition, in the business of seeking to influence the outcome of public policy decisions.  Because registered lobbyists and foreign agents are paid to influence the actions of public officials, including legislative branch officials, their gifts are uniquely susceptible to the appearance that they are intended to purchase access or influence.”).
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The limitations on gifts come from many sources, including the Constitution, federal statutes, and the House Rules.  These sources place limits on accepting gifts, but also have exceptions to those limits.

[3] General statutory authority for the House Gift Rule comes from 5 U.S.C. § 7353.  That statute gives the supervising ethics office the authority to issue rules or regulations implementing the statute.  Id. at § (b)(1).  The Committee and the House as a whole are the supervising ethics office for the House.  Id. at (d)(1)(A).  Therefore, the House votes on the Gift Rule at the beginning of every Congress in the House Rules.  The current House Gift Rule can be found in House Rule 25, clause 5.  All provisions of the Gift Rule are interpreted and enforced solely by the Committee.  House Rule 25, cl. 5(h).
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[4] The Gift Rule has gone through many iterations over the years.  The first version was included in the first House Code of Official Conduct and approved in 1968 limited gifts from people who had a direct interest in legislation.  That version largely remained in place until the Bipartisan Task Force on Ethics reviewed the rule and found it “often impractical, if not impossible” to determine a donor’s interest in legislation.  Bipartisan Task Force Report, 135 Cong. Rec. 30742; see also House Comm'n on Admin. Review, Financial Ethics, H.R. Rep. No. 95-73, at 13-14 (1977) (expressing similar concerns and recommending changes to the Gift Rule that ultimately were not included in the following Congress’s House Rules).  The subsequent Ethics Reform Act of 1989, as amended by the Legislative Branch Appropriations Act for fiscal year 1992, amended the rule to instead place an annual monetary limit on many gifts, with exceptions for gifts of minimal value, gifts from relatives, personal hospitality, and “local meals,” rather than requiring a determination about the donor’s interest in legislation.  See Ethics Reform Act of 1989, Pub. L. 101-194, §801(a), 103 Stat. 1716, 1771 (1989), amended by Pub. L. 102-90, §314(d), 105 Stat. 447, 469 (1991).

In 1995, the House overhauled the Gift Rule, placing new, significant limits on the gifts Members, officers, and employees may accept.  H.R. Res. 250, 104th Cong. (1995) (amending House Rule 52 to add Gift Rule reforms); see also 141 Cong. Rec. H13064-95 (daily ed. Nov. 16, 1995); id. H13844-45 (daily ed. Nov. 30, 1995).  The House Rules Committee cited three main reasons for the Gift Rule revisions.  First, “a perception that special interest groups maintain undue influence over the legislative process, and Members of Congress are granted perquisites and privileges unavailable to average Americans” degraded the public’s trust in Congress.  Second, “Congress [had] fallen behind the executive branch in the area of gift reform.”  And third, the Senate had already enacted a comprehensive gift rule revision in July 1995.  Comm. on Rules, Amending the Rules of the House of Representatives to Provide for Gift Reform, H.R. Rep. No. 104-337, at 8 (1995).  One proponent described the subtle and problematic ways that gifts from lobbyists buy access and ultimately power through building goodwill.  “It can mean the difference between getting your calls returned or your letter taken seriously, and that can translate into millions, even billions of dollars, at the expense of ordinary Americans who have no lobbyists to represent them.”  To Limit the Acceptance of Gifts, Meals, and Travel by Members of Congress and Congressional Staff, and for Other Purposes: Hearing on S. 885 Before the Subcomm. on Oversight of the Senate of the S. Comm. on Gov’t Affairs, 103d Cong., 5-6 (1993) (statement of Sen. Lautenberg).  The House made a few changes to the Gift Rule between the 104th and 108th Congresses, including provisions addressing gifts valued below $50, perishable foods sent to House offices, and travel to charity events.  See H.R. Res. 9, 106th Cong. (1999); 145 Cong. Rec. H208-211 (daily ed. Jan. 6, 1999) (adding the less than $50 limit to mirror the Senate gift rule); H.R. Res. 5, 108th Cong. (2003) (adding rules related to how to allocate perishable food and accepting travel to attend charity event).

In the 110th Congress, the House amended the Gift Rule in the wake of several public corruption investigations and prosecutions.  The amendments to the Gift Rule include 1) prohibiting gifts under $50 from registered federal lobbyists, agents of a foreign principal (“foreign agent”), and the private entities that employ or retain registered federal lobbyists or foreign agents; 2) limiting involvement by, and the length of trips sponsored by, registered federal lobbyists, foreign agents, and private entities that employ or retain registered federal lobbyists or foreign agents for privately-sponsored, officially-connected travel; 3) requiring the Committee to pre-approve all privately-sponsored, officially-connected travel; 4) instructions on how to value tickets; and 5) clarifying events for which free attendance may be accepted.  H.R. Res. 6, 110th Cong (2007); H.R. Res. 437, 110th Cong. (2007); see also 153 Cong. Rec. H23 (daily ed., Jan. 4, 2007) (statement of Rep. Steny H. Hoyer) (“[T]his rules package includes sweeping ethics reforms that begin to address some of the most egregious transgressions of the recent past.”).
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II. What is a Gift?

A gift is something with monetary value for which you do not have to pay.  Gifts include gratuities, favors, discounts, entertainment, hospitality, loans, forbearances, services, training, travel expenses, in-kind contributions, advanced payments, and reimbursements after the fact.  The Committee only considers the fair market value of the gift you receive, not whether the person or organization offering it to you paid full price.

[5] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(2)(A).
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  • Example.  Your friend invites you to play golf at the country club where your friend is a member.  The club’s rules state that guests of club members do not pay any fee.  The round of golf is still a gift to you.  The value is what the country club generally charges for a round of golf.  To determine whether you may accept the gift, please see Exceptions to the Gift Rule for Permissible Gifts.

If your spouse or dependent child accompanies you to an event where a meal or refreshments are offered, only the meal or refreshments you receive is a gift.

[6] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(2)(B)(ii).
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Gifts can be tangible and intangible.  Examples of intangible gifts include, but are not limited to, discounts, forbearances, below fair market interest rates, selling property for more than its market value, purchasing property for less than its fair market value, and receiving compensation that is greater than the fair market value of the services you provided. 

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III. How to Value a Gift?

Tangible gifts are generally valued at the item’s fair market value, even if the item is not typically for sale.  Fair market value is the item’s retail price, not the wholesale price, or the reasonable estimate of an item’s cost if it were available for sale.  You may use the lowest price available to the general public to value a gift. 

Gifts that are offered at the same time from the same person must be aggregated to determine value. 

  • Example.  You attended an awards gala and at the end of the event, the event organizer handed out a gift bag.  Inside the gift bag were 5 items, each worth $10.  The gift’s total value is $50.

The Committee has different formulas to value tickets to events and honorary memberships. 

  • The face value of a ticket to a sporting event or show is the ticket’s fair market value.
    • If the ticket does not have a price printed on it, the value is the highest priced ticket for that event, in that venue, on the primary market. 
  • The value of tickets to charity or political fundraisers is the value of the meal.  The cost to the purchaser is not the ticket’s value.
  • The value of honorary memberships is the total of the organization’s normal initiation fee, periodic dues, and usage charges.  The value does not change if you do not use the membership.
[7] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(1)(B)(ii).
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[8] Select Comm. on Ethics, Final Report, H.R. Rep. No. 95-1837, at 9 (1979).
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The value of an intangible gift, such as a discount or a below-market interest rate, is the difference between the market rate and what you are asked to pay.

  • Example.  Your first cousin offers to help you pay for living expenses.  Your cousin is willing to loan you the money you need at 0% interest if you pay your cousin back in a year.  The prevailing interest rate is 3%.  The gift to you would be 3% interest for that year.  You may accept the loan from your first cousin as a gift from a relative.

Attendance at a meeting or informational briefing generally does not have monetary value.  But during that meeting or briefing, you may be offered a meal or packet of informational materials that does have monetary value.  Please see Exceptions to the Gift Rule for Permissible Gifts to determine whether you may accept those additional gifts.

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IV. Who is Subject to the Gift Rule?

The House Gift Rule applies to all Members, Delegates, the Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico, officers, and employees of the House.  “Officers and employees” include any individual whose pay is disbursed by the Chief Administrative Officer and those individuals providing services to the House under consultant contracts.  The Gift Rule applies equally to full time and part time employees, employees in district offices and in the Washington, DC offices, permanent and temporary employees, and employees on Leave Without Pay status.

[9] House Rule 23, cl. 4; House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(1)(A)(i).  For the purposes of all guidance in the Ethics Manual, the term “Members” includes all Members, Delegates, and the Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico.
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[10] House Rule 23, cl. 19.
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Interns who are not paid by the House and fellows who are not paid by the House are not House employees.  Detailees, except in limited circumstances, are also not House employees.  The Committee recommends that each office using the services of a non-House employee still require the non-House employee to adhere to all the House Rules to protect the integrity of the House.

[11] See 2 U.S.C. § 72a(f).  Detailees should contact their Designated Agency Ethics Official for gift questions relating to detailees personally.  Any questions that relate to the office or the Member, however, are still governed by the House Rules.
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Interns and fellows who are paid by the House, including through the House Paid Internship Program, the Wounded Warrior Program, and the Gold Star Families Fellowship, are House employees. 

[12] For more information about the Gold Star Families Fellowship, please call the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) at 202-226-1965.
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Members-elect are subject to the Gift Rule when their pay and allowances begin.  For Members elected in a regular election, pay and allowances begin at the start of the new Congress.  For Members elected in a special election, pay and allowances begin the day after the special election.

Generally the Gift Rule does not apply to spouses and family members of Members, officers, and employees.  However, the gifts they, or anyone else, receive may be subject to the Gift Rule if

  • the Member, officer, or employee knew about and agreed to the gift; and
  • the Member, officer, or employee has reason to believe the gift was given because of the Member, officer, or employee’s official position. 
[13] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(2)(B)(i).
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  • Example.  Your child is getting married.  A lobbyist you’ve met with many times, but who does not know your child personally, offers to help pay for the catering costs at the wedding.  This gift was offered because of your official position and is subject to the Gift Rule. 
  • Example.  Your spouse is an award-winning author.  Your spouse’s latest work is nominated for a prestigious award, and your spouse is invited to attend the awards dinner at no cost.  This gift was offered to your spouse because of your spouse’s achievements and is not subject to the Gift Rule. 
  • Example.  A friend offered you two tickets to a baseball game.  You cannot attend the game.  You ask your friend to offer the tickets to your child’s t-ball coach instead.  Because you knew about the gift and suggested to whom to offer the gift, the baseball tickets are subject to the Gift Rule.

The Gift Rule applies to Members, officers, and employees at all times, even during lapses in appropriations or if you are on Leave Without Pay status, family leave, annual leave, sick leave, or administrative leave. 

[14] See Comm. on Ethics, Ethics Guidance Related to Operations During a Lapse in Appropriations (Jan. 19, 2018).
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V. Source of a Gift

Who provides the gift is just as important as what the gift is and why it was given.  It is your responsibility to determine who the source of the gift is.  If a person is using their own personal funds to provide your gift, that person is the gift’s source.  But, if the person will be reimbursed or receive a tax deduction for your gift, that person is not providing a personal gift.  If a company, foreign government, or domestic government ultimately pays for your gift, that company, foreign government, or domestic government is the gift’s source.  If someone is merely passing along a gift from another person, the person passing along the gift is not the relevant source.

If a person affiliated with a company gives you a gift, both the person and the company are the gift’s sources. 

  • Example.  Your best friend’s father works for a company with a corporate apartment.  The company allows its employees to stay there while in town for business, but not for any personal use such as a vacation.  The company instructs your best friend’s father to offer the apartment to you the next time you are in town.  The company, not your best friend’s father, is the gift’s source.

If multiple people or organizations give you a gift, the gift is from all of the sources collectively.  You may not divide the value of a gift between sources to try to fit the gift into an exception to the Gift Rule. 

  • Example.  Two nonprofit organizations that do not employ or retain registered federal lobbyists give you a gift worth $70.  You may not divide the gift’s value between the organizations to say each organization gave you a gift worth $35.  The gift’s total value is $70.

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VI. Recipient of a Gift

You must look to the intentions of the gift’s donor to determine who is the gift’s “recipient.”  If someone brings a gift and says it is “for the office,” then the gift will be considered a gift to everyone in the office who takes advantage of the gift.  If someone brings a gift and says it is for a particular person, even if that person shares with others, the gift is a gift just to the original recipient. 

  • Example.  A constituent orders pizza for the office.  The employees who eat the pizza are the gift’s recipients.  See No Thank You Gifts and Exceptions to the Gift Rule for Permissible Gifts for whether staff can accept the pizza.
  • Example.  An organization sends a box of its sample products to the Member.  Even though the box’s contents can be separated, because the box was addressed to the Member, the Member is the recipient.

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VII. Do Not Ask for a Gift

You may not ask for a gift for yourself or someone else.  Even if you would otherwise be able to accept the gift, you may not accept the gift if you or someone else asked for it.  This restriction applies to anything that may benefit the office or you, personally.  The Committee does not apply this restriction to requesting gifts from relatives or establishing a gift registry for a special occasion, if the gifts are not for official activities. 

[15] 5 U.S.C. § 7353(a).  Specifically, you may not solicit anything of value from someone who is seeking official action from or doing business with Congress, or whose interests may be impacted by your official duties.  This prohibition does not include solicitations for campaign contributions.  See 136 Cong. Rec. H1647 (daily ed. Apr. 24, 1990) (regarding technical corrections to the Ethics Reform Act of 1989); Comm. on Ethics, Member, Officer, and Employee Participation in Fundraising Activities (May 2, 2019).  Members and staff may assist with fundraising to benefit political organizations registered under section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code, including federal and state political organizations.  Members and staff may also fundraise directly for state level ballot measure committees that are qualified under state law, but not fundraise for an organization that intends to donate all or some of its proceeds to a state level ballot measure committee. Comm. on Ethics, Member, Officer, and Employee Participation in Fundraising Activities.
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  • Example (Impermissible).  You were invited on a privately-sponsored trip.  You cannot go, but your colleague can and is interested.  You ask the trip sponsor to invite your colleague instead.  Because you asked for the gift, your colleague may not accept it.  You may, however, tell the trip sponsor that you are no longer the correct contact, but that your colleague now handles the relevant matters.
  • Example (Impermissible).  You are out of the office when a group comes to your office with stress balls for everyone.  Your desk mate asks if the group could leave one for you.  Because your desk mate asked for the gift, you may not accept it.
  • Example (Impermissible).  Your office is throwing a farewell party for one of your departing colleagues.  You know people in the private sector who might be willing to donate refreshments.  You may not request donations from those people.
  • Example (Permissible).  You are buying a new home and need $10,000 for your down payment.  You may ask your parents for the money for the down payment, and you may accept the gift if your parents give you the money.

You may be able to help with solicitation or fundraising efforts that benefit charitable endeavors.  You may also be allowed to solicit a gift in connection with the Congressional Art Competition, the App Challenge, or other officially-sanctioned competitions.  See Members, Officers, and Employees Participating in Fundraising Activities and Request to Solicit for Officially-Sanctioned Competitions.

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VIII. No Bribes, Illegal Gratuities, or Thank You Gifts

A Warning.  People can and do face severe criminal penalties for violating these restrictions.  Members accused of violating these restrictions have also been expelled from the House or resigned before a final Committee decision was reached.

[16] Punishments for bribery include a fine of up to three times the amount of the bribe, imprisonment up to fifteen years, and disqualification from holding any federal office.  See 18 U.S.C. § 201 (b).  Punishments for seeking or receiving an illegal gratuity also include a fine and imprisonment up to two years.  Id. at (c).
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[17] Congressman Duke Cunningham resigned from the House after pleading guilty to engaging in tax evasion and criminal conspiracy to violate, among other things, the bribery statute through his acceptance of a wide variety of extravagant items and millions of dollars’ worth of payments, travel, and other benefits.  Even after his retirement, there were continuing reports concerning possible violations of House rules and standards, including that he accepted hotel rooms, limousines, and other services in exchange for performing official acts.  Information, United States vs. Randall “Duke” Cunningham, No. 05-CR-2137 (S.D. Cal. 2005); Comm. on Standards of Official Conduct, Summary of Activities, 109th Congress, H.R. Rep. No. 109-744, at 20 (2007). 

Although not prosecuted under the bribery statute, Congressman Robert Ney resigned from the House after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, making false statements, and aiding and abetting his former chief of staff’s post-employment restrictions.  As part of his plea agreement, he admitted that he corruptly solicited and accepted trips, meals, concert and sporting tickets, thousands of dollars in gambling chips, and tens of thousands of dollars of campaign contributions and in-kind contributions with the intent to be influenced and induced to take official actions.  Plea Agreement Attachment A, United States v. Robert W. Ney, No. 06-CR-272 (D.D.C. 2006); Comm. on Standards of Official Conduct, Summary of Activities, 109th Congress, H.R. Rep. No. 109-744, at 16-17 (2007).

Congressman James Traficant was expelled from the House after he was convicted of conspiracy to violate the bribery statue by agreeing to and performing official acts for various individuals in exchange for free labor, materials, supplies, and equipment for use at his farm.  United States v. James A. Traficant, Jr., 368 F.3d 646 (6th 2004), aff’g No. 4:01-CR-207 (N.D. Ohio 2002).  During its investigation, the Committee stated that some of those official acts included intervening in matters pending before federal and state authorities.  The Committee found that Congressman Traficant’s actions were “of the most serious character meriting the strongest possible Congressional response” and recommended that the House adopt a resolution to expel Congressman Traficant, which the House did.  Comm. on Standards of Official Conduct, In the Matter of Representative James A. Traficant, Jr., H.R. Rep. No. 107-594, at 2 (2002); H.R.  Res. 495, 107th Cong. (2002); 148 Cong. Rec. H5375-5393 (daily ed. July 24, 2002).

In the 1980s, the Committee conducted many investigations into alleged bribes and illegal gratuities.  The Committee recommended expulsion for Congressman Mario Biaggi for accepting free vacation trips from the creditor of a government contractor on whose behalf Congressman Biaggi intervened with local authorities.  Congressman Biaggi resigned before the House could act.  Comm. on Standards of Official Conduct, In the Matter of Representative Mario Biaggi, H.R. Rep. No. 100-506 (1988).  The Committee also investigated three Members on charges of accepting money in exchange for promising to aid purportedly wealthy foreigners seeking to immigrate to the United States, part of the Department of Justice’s “ABSCAM” probe.  See Comm. on Standards of Official Conduct, In the Matter of Representative Michael J. Myers, H.R. Rep. No. 96-1387 (1980); Comm. on Standards of Official Conduct, In the Matter of Representative John W. Jenrette, Jr. , H.R. Rep. No. 96-1537 (1980); Comm. on Standards of Official Conduct, In the Matter of Representative Raymond F. Lederer, H.R. Rep. No. 97-110 (1981).  Congressman Myers was expelled from the House and Congressmen Jenrette and Lederer resigned.  See H.R. Res. 794, 96th Cong. (1980), reprinted in 126 Cong. Rec. 28953-28978 (Oct. 2, 1980).  Finally, the Committee investigated Congressman Daniel Flood for receiving payments, either directly or through an assistant, from a series of individuals over a five-year period, in exchange for agreements to attempt to influence various government agencies.  Comm. on Standards of Official Conduct, In the Matter of Representative Daniel J. Flood, H.R. Rep. No. 96-856, at 5-16 (1980).  Congressman Flood also resigned his position with the House.
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You may not accept gifts offered in exchange for official actions.  The restrictions apply to official actions you are asked to take in the future and in return for official actions you already took.  The restrictions apply whether you are engaging in quid pro quo, or just being offered a reward for your official actions.  The gift and the official action must have a specific link. 

[18] See 5 U.S.C. § 7353(b)(2)(B); 18 U.S.C. § 201.  The Committee is aware of recent court decisions that further define the types of official actions covered under 18 U.S.C. § 201.  See e.g., McDonnell v. United States, 576 U.S. __, 136 S. Ct. 2355 (2016); United States v. Jefferson, 289 F. Supp. 3d 717 (E.D.V.A. 2017) (vacating a portion of Congressman Jefferson’s convictions following McDonnell v. United States).  The Department of Justice enforces this statute; however, the Committee has the authority to investigate actions that violate the House Code of Conduct, House Rule 23, clauses 1 and 2, even if those actions are not prosecuted by the Department of Justice.
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[19] Bribery occurs when a federal official “directly, or indirectly, corruptly” receives or asks for “anything of value personally or for any other person or entity, in return for . . . being influenced in the performance of any official act.”  Id. at (b)(2)(A).  An illegal gratuity results when an official directly or indirectly seeks or receives personally anything of value other than “as provided by law . . . for or because of any official act performed or to be performed.”  Id. at (c)(1)(B).  Bribery requires a quid pro quo, or “a specific intent to give or receive something of value in exchange for an official act[,]” and illegal gratuity “may constitute merely a reward for some future act that the public official will take (and may have already determined to take), or for a past act that he has already taken.”  United States v. Sun-Diamond Growers, 526 U.S. 398, 404-405 (1999). 
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[20] Sun-Diamond Growers, 526 U.S. at 405-408.
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You may still accept gifts that are expressions of goodwill or general appreciation that are not tied to a specific official action.  You may also accept token gifts in the form of perishable items like home baked goods or flowers, or decorative items for display in the office or donated to charity.

[21] A true “gift” is a “voluntary transfer” of property, made “without compensation.” Gift, Black’s Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019).
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[22] This view is similar to that in the regulations of the Executive Branch’s Office of Government Ethics.  See 5 C.F.R. § 2536.206(a)(2) (Example 1).
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Additionally, you may not receive any compensation for assisting people and organizations outside the House with matters before the federal government, or in any particular matter where the federal government is a party or has a direct and substantial interest.  You also may not solicit or accept anything of value, including campaign contributions, for helping someone get a federal position.  See Conflicts of Interest for more information about these prohibitions.

[23]  House Members and employees may not accept compensation for representing anyone before a federal department, agency, officer, or court in any particular matter in which the United States is a party or has a direct and substantial interest.  18 U.S.C. § 203.  Officers and employees have similar restrictions even if they are not receiving compensation.  See 18 U.S.C. § 205.  These statutes are administered by the Department of Justice, and any advice the Committee provides about these statutes is advisory only.
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[24] 18 U.S.C. § 211. 
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  • Example (Impermissible).  A lobbyist offers a Member a substantial campaign contribution if the Member introduces certain legislation.  The lobbyist violated the bribery statute for the offer, and the Member would violate the bribery statute if the Member accepted.
  • Example (Impermissible).  A Member introduces legislation and manages the bill through passage solely because she believes it will benefit the country.  A lawyer also favors the legislation because it will benefit his clients.  The lawyer sends the Member a book valued at less than $50 with a note that expresses appreciation for the Member’s work on the bill.  The Member may not accept the book from the lawyer and must return it to the lawyer. 
  • Example (Additional Action Required).  A constituent sends the official office an email asking for assistance with a casework matter.  In the email, the constituent also offers to make a campaign contribution to the Member’s re-election campaign.  The Member may not accept the campaign contribution.  Additionally, the Committee recommends the Member or staff contact the constituent to let the constituent know the Member may not accept a campaign contribution associated with casework or any official actions.  The Member may perform the casework after contacting the constituent.
  • Example (Additional Action Required).  During the holidays a trade association send a Member a fruit basket with a note that says, “Seasons’ Greetings to you and your staff.”  The gift is not connected to any official action and may be accepted if it meets one of the Gift Rule exceptions.
  • Example (Impermissible).  A constituent who served on the Member’s service academy nominations panel was so moved by the experience that the constituent offered to give the Member two wine glasses valued at $40 total to the Member as a thank you.  The Member may not accept the wine glasses.
  • Example (Impermissible).  An intern in the DC office gave a Capitol tour to visiting constituents.  At the end of the tour, the constituents gave the intern a $25 gift card to a local coffee shop as a thank you.  The intern must return the gift card to the constituents.  The Committee recommends staff who oversees the interns ensure interns are aware of these rules.
  • Example (Permissible).  A caseworker in the district receives a flower arrangement from a local flower shop, sent by a constituent the caseworker helped.  The flower arrangement has a card that thanks the caseworker for the casework’s successful outcome.  The caseworker may accept the flower arrangement.
  • Example (Permissible).  Following the successful outcome of a casework matter, the constituent gives the caseworker a cake the constituent baked themselves.  The caseworker may accept the home baked cake.
  • Example (Permissible).  Same example as above, but instead the constituent embroidered the caseworker's name on a small piece of fabric for display in the official office.  The caseworker may accept the embroidered fabric as a token decorative item.
  • Example (Impermissible).  A constituent writes to you asking for an internship in the office and includes a necktie with the internship application.  The constituent owns a small business making and selling similar neckties.  The necktie is not intended for display in the official office, but rather for you to wear.  You may not accept the necktie in connection with the internship request.

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IX. Impermissible Gifts

If you receive a gift you may not accept, you must take the appropriate action to return or pay for the gift.  Which action is appropriate depends on the gift’s nature.  Your options are discussed below.

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     A. Decline the Gift

If someone offers you a gift you either may not accept, or do not want to accept, you may simply decline the gift.  See Gifts from Foreign Governments and International Organizations if a foreign government official is offering the gift.

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     B. Return Gift to Donor

You may always return a gift to the person who gave it to you, whether the gift does not meet an exception to the Gift Rule, or you simply do not want it.  You should return the item promptly.  If the gift came to the official office, please contact the Committee on House Administration for ways to pay for return postage. 

[25]  The Gift Rule restrictions do not apply to anything a Member, officer, or employee does not use and promptly returns to the donor.  House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(A).
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     C. Pay Fair Market Value

If you receive a gift you may not accept, you may pay fair market value for the gift and keep it.  If you pay fair market value, the item will no longer be a gift, but rather a commercial transaction.  How the Committee calculates fair market value varies depending on the gift.  See How to Value a Gift to determine what amount you should repay.

[26] The Gift Rule does not apply to anything for which a Member, officer, or employee pays market value.  House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(A).
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[27] Generally, the Committee looks to what would be a reasonable price for something similar in an arms’-length transaction.  Any difficulty the recipient may have in paying the fair market value is not a factor in determining how much would need to be repaid.  See Comm. on Ethics, In the Matter of Allegations Relating to Representative Jean Schmidt, H.R. Rep. No. 112-195, at 19 (2011).
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    D. Perishable or Unreturnable Gifts

If you receive a gift you do not wish to pay for and is impracticable to return because it is perishable, you may donate the gift to a charity or throw it away.  You may also donate a tangible item or throw it away if you have made every effort to return it and you cannot find the donor.  Donating or destroying a non-perishable tangible gift is an extreme measure.  You should make every possible effort to return the gift first. 

[28]  House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(6).
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[29]  House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(6); Comm. on Ethics, In the Matter of Officially-Connected Travel by House Members to Azerbaijan in 2013, H.R. Rep. No. 114-239, at 10-11 (2015).
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If you receive cash that you cannot return, despite every effort, you must send it to the U.S. Treasury.  Please contact the Committee for instructions on sending cash to the U.S. Treasury.

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X. General Gift Rule Provisions

The Gift Rule starts with the premise that you may not accept a gift unless it meets an exception to the Gift Rule.  Both the Gift Rule and other sources, such as the Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act (FGDA) and the Mutual Education and Cultural Exchange Act (MECEA), provide many exceptions.  A gift only needs to meet one exception for you to accept it.

[30] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(1)(A)(i).
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[31] For example, if you may accept a book under the informational materials exception, you may accept that book even if the fair market value is more than $50.  Because the book meets the exception for informational materials, you also would not have to apply the exception for gifts less than $50 and that book would not count towards the annual limit of less than $100 that goes with the less than $50 per instance exception.
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Even if you may be able to accept a gift under a technical reading of any exception discussed below, you should still be mindful of the motives behind any gift.  You should always exercise discretion and be careful to avoid even the appearance of impropriety when accepting a gift. 

[32] The Office Code of Conduct for the House prohibits Members, officers, and employees from receiving any benefit “by virtue of influence improperly exerted from the position of such individual in Congress.”  House Rule 23, cl. 4.  Additionally, the Code of Ethics for Government Service states you should “never discriminate unfairly by the dispensing of special favors or privileges to anyone, whether for remuneration or not; and never accept for [yourself] or [your] family, favors or benefits under circumstances [that] might be construed by reasonable persons as influencing the performance of [your] governmental duties.”  Code of Ethics for Government Service ¶ 5.  See also Comm. on Standards of Official Conduct, Investigation of Financial Transactions Participated in and Gifts of Transportation Accepted by Representative Fernand J. St. Germain, H.R. Rep. No. 100-46, at 3, 9, 43 (1987) (“[T]he Committee would admonish all Members to avoid situations in which even an inference might be drawn suggesting improper action.”).
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You should consider the following factors when deciding whether to accept a gift.

  • Whether the gift meets an exception to the Gift Rule
  • Source and value of the gift
  • Frequency of gifts from one source
  • Possible motives of the donor
  • Possible conflicts of interest with official duties
  • Whether accepting the gift violates the spirit of the Gift Rule
[33] See Comm. on Ethics, In the Matter of Allegations Relating to Representative Don Young, H.R. Rep. No. 113-487, at 4 (2014) (issuing a letter of reproval despite repayment because the Member’s acceptance of impermissible gifts “demonstrated a lack of appropriate safeguards and an inattention to the relevant standards of conduct”).
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[34] See Comm. on Standards of Official Conduct, In the Matter of Representative Charles H. Wilson (of California), H.R. Rep. no. 96-930, at 4-5, 19-20 (1980) (knowingly accepting gifts from individuals with direct interests in legislation before Congress); Comm. on Standards of Official Conduct, In the Matter of Representative Daniel J. Flood, H.R. Rep. No. 96-856, at 5-15 (1980) (alleging Congressman Flood accepted payments to influence official actions).
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[35] House Rule 23, cl. 2.
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XI. Exceptions to the Gift Rule for Permissible Gifts

The examples provided in this section are specific to each Gift Rule exception being discussed.  If an example’s conclusion is that you may not accept the gift, the analysis is limited to the exception being discussed only.  You may be able to accept the gift under a different exception to the Gift Rule.   

You may need to report gifts on a Financial Disclosure Statement or Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act form. 

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     A. Gifts of Nominal Value

You may accept an item valued at less than $10 ($9.99 or less before tax), or a greeting card, baseball cap, or t-shirt, regardless of the source, with some caveats.  The caveats are

[36] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(W).  Through the 105th Congress, the Committee allowed Members and staff to accept a variety of low value, tangible items under this provision.  At the start of the 106th Congress. however, the House determined that such a broad reading of the nominal value provision was no longer appropriate and instituted the less than $10 limit.  H.R. Res. 9, 106th Cong. (1999).
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  • You may not accept cash or cash equivalents, like gift cards;
  • You may not accept food or beverages in a one-on-one setting; and
  • You should be mindful of potential conflicts if you are repeatedly offered nominal value gifts from a single source, even if the gifts technically satisfy the requirements of the exception.
[37] Under the gift rule prior to the 110th Congress, Members and staff were allowed to accept gifts, including food and refreshments, from virtually anyone under the less than $50 provision, even if the source was a registered federal lobbyist, foreign agent, or organization that employs or retains a registered federal lobbyist.  With the gift rule amendments in the 110th Congress, the House determined food and refreshments of a nominal value offered by a registered federal lobbyist, foreign agent, or organization that employs or retains a registered federal lobbyist may only be accepted at business meetings, receptions, and similar events that are not one-on-one encounters. H.R. Res. 6, 110th Cong. (2007); Comm. on Standards of Official Conduct, Gift Rule Amendments at the Beginning of the 110th Congress (Feb. 6, 2007).
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  • Example (Permissible).  Your local baseball team won the World Series.  The baseball team sends you a box with 10 World Series baseball caps with a note for everyone in the office who would like one to take one.  You and your colleagues may each accept one baseball cap.
  • Example (Impermissible).  A registered federal lobbyist you work with often invites you to discuss an upcoming bill over a cup of coffee.  You may not allow the registered federal lobbyist to pay for your coffee, but you may still meet with the lobbyist and pay for your own coffee.
  • Example (Impermissible).  A constituent sends you a handwritten note thanking you for all your hard work over the years and encloses a $5 gift card.  You may keep the handwritten note, but you must return the gift card.

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     B. Gifts Worth Less Than $50

You may accept a gift worth less than $50 ($49.99 or less before tax) from someone who is not a registered federal lobbyist, foreign agent, or entity that employs or retains a registered federal lobbyist or foreign agent, with some caveats.   The caveats are

[38] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(1)(B)(i).  “Registered federal lobbyist” means a lobbyist who is registered under the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA).  House Rule 25, cl. 5(g).  The LDA is the successor statute to the Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act cited in House Rule 25, clause 5(g).  Because the LDA defines “lobbyist” to mean “any individual” who engages in certain activities set forth in the LDA, the Committee interprets the prohibitions for registered federal lobbyists to include both the individuals who are registered and lobbying firms.  More information about the LDA and its searchable database can be found here

“Foreign agent” means an agent of a foreign principal who is registered with the Department of Justice under the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA).  More information about the FARA and the database can be found here.  
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  • The cumulative value of gifts you may accept under this exception in a calendar year from a single source must be less than $100 ($99.99 or less before tax);
  • A gift worth less than $10 ($9.99 before tax) does not count towards the cumulative limit;
  • You may not accept cash or cash equivalents, like gift cards; and
  • You may not buy down the gift’s value to get it below $50.

You do not have to maintain formal records related to gifts you accept under this exception, but you must make a good faith effort to comply with these terms. 

[39] Id.
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  • Example (Permissible).  You were invited to dinner by a group that does not employ or retain a registered federal lobbyist or foreign agent.  Your meal and beverages before tax and tip cost $45.  You may accept the group’s offer to pay for your meal. 
  • Example (Impermissible).  A registered federal lobbyist invites you to dinner and offers to pay.  You may not accept the offer, regardless of the meal’s value.  You may still go to dinner with the lobbyist and pay for your own meal.
  • Example (Impermissible).  An organization that does not employ or retain a registered federal lobbyist or foreign agent offers you tickets to a baseball game with a face value of $65.  You may not pay $16 to buy down the value so the gift is less than $50.  You must pay the ticket’s entire face value to accept it.
  • Example (Impermissible).  An organization that does not employ or retain a registered federal lobbyist or foreign agent has a monthly speaker series over dinner.  The dinners are $20 per person.  In that calendar year, you already attended four dinners and would now like to attend a fifth dinner.  Because the fifth dinner’s value would make a total of $100 in cumulative yearly gifts from that organization, you may not accept the fifth dinner, nor may you pay $1 to bring the cumulative value to $99.  You may still attend the event and pay for your own dinner.

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     C. Gifts from Relatives

You may accept anything that a relative offers you, if your relative is the source of the gift, and not merely passing along a gift from someone else.  The following individuals are your relatives.

[40] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(C) (incorporating 5 U.S.C. app. § 109(16)).
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  • Parent
  • Child
  • Sibling
  • Aunt or Uncle
  • Great Aunt or Great Uncle
  • First Cousin
  • Niece or Nephew
  • Spouse
  • Fiancé(e)
  • Grandparent
  • Grandchild
  • Mother or Father-in-Law
  • Daughter or Son-in-Law
  • Sister or Brother-in-Law
  • Stepparent
  • Stepchild
  • Stepsibling
  • Half sibling
  • Grandparent of your spouse
[41] A spouse is someone to whom you are legally married.
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[42] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(C); 5 U.S.C. app. § 109(16).
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If a person is not on this list, such as a second cousin or a godparent, you may be able to accept a gift under a different exception to the Gift Rule

  • Example (Permissible).  Your parents offer to buy you a car using their personal funds.  You may accept the car.
  • Example (Permissible).  Your grandparents offer to pay off your student loans by writing you a check.  You may accept the check from your grandparents.
  • Example (Permissible).  You received Committee approval to accept a trip from your significant other to whom you are not engaged or married.  While on that trip, your significant other proposes and presents you with an engagement ring.  Once you accept the proposal, you may also accept the engagement ring as a gift from your now fiancé(e).
  • Example (Permissible).  Your grandmother wants to give you her heirloom dining room table.  You may accept the table.  See Bequests and Inheritances if your grandmother wishes to leave you the table in her will.
  • Example (Impermissible).  Your long-time family friend gives your parents a gift to give to you.  Because your long-time family friend is really the gift’s source, and your parents are just passing the gift along, you may not accept the gift as one from a relative.  You may be able to accept the gift under a different gift exception.

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     D. Gifts Based on Personal Friendship

You may be able to accept a gift that is offered because of personal friendship and not related to your position with the House.  This exception does not require that you be friends with someone before you joined the House, nor does it prohibit friendships with registered federal lobbyists or foreign agents.  But you should always be mindful of why you were offered the gift and who the true source of the gift may be.

[43] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(D).
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If the gift’s fair market value exceeds $250, you must seek formal Committee approval to accept a gift offered because of personal friendship, even if the gift meets all the requirements discussed below.  If the fair market value of a gift is $250 or less, you may decide for yourself if the gift meets the requirements.  The Committee views trips as a whole; therefore, the value of a trip would be the transportation expenses, lodging expenses, and meal expenses that someone else offers to pay on your behalf.  You can find the form to request approval from the Committee to accept the gift based on personal friendship here.  The Committee will consider your request through its formal advisory opinion process.  If you can, please submit your request early to give the Committee enough time to review, analyze, and make a decision.

To accept a gift under personal friendship, you must consider the circumstances of the offer, including, but not limited to

  • the nature of your relationship with your friend, including any past exchange of gifts;
  • if your friend paid or will pay for the gift personally, or if your friend will seek a business reimbursement or tax deduction; and
  • if the same or similar gift was or will be offered to another Member, officer, or employee.
[44] Id. at (D)(ii).  The second and third prong consider whether the recipient has actual knowledge of the donor’s circumstances.

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See Travel on Non-Commercial Aircraft for offers to travel on private planes.

  • Example (Additional Action Required).  Your former roommate is now a registered federal lobbyist.  For years you have gone to basketball games together.  Sometimes you would pay for the tickets and sometimes your former roommate would pay for the tickets.  Your former roommate has an extra ticket to a playoff game that your roommate paid for personally and invites you to come.  Because you and your former roommate have been friends for a while, have a history of exchanging gifts, and your former roommate paid for the extra ticket personally, you may be able to accept the ticket.  Depending on the ticket’s fair market value, you may need to seek Committee approval before accepting it.
  • Example (Impermissible).  You are friendly with a registered federal lobbyist who often comes to your office and whom you see at official events.  You do not socialize with the lobbyist outside of work.  The lobbyist invites you to dinner at their personal expense.  Because you do not have a friendship relationship with the lobbyist, you may not allow the lobbyist to pay for your dinner.  You are welcome to still go to dinner with the lobbyist and pay for your own meal and drinks.
  • Example (Impermissible).  A person you recently met asked you out on a first date and offers to pay.  Other than meeting this person previously, you have not socialized with the person.  You believe you were asked out because of where you work.  You may not accept the offer to pay for the first date under personal friendship.  If you develop a relationship with this person, you may be able to accept future offers to pay for dates.  If the person is not a registered federal lobbyist or foreign agent, you may accept the offer if the date’s total value before tax and tip is $49.99 or less.
  • Example (Additional Action Required).  Your significant other, to whom you are not engaged or married, surprises you with a trip abroad for your birthday.  Your significant other offers to pay for flights, lodging, and meals while you are on the trip.  Because the trip’s value likely exceeds $250, you will need to seek Committee approval before accepting your significant other’s offer.
  • Example (Additional Action Required).  You and your significant other take a trip.  You both pay your own way.  While on the trip, your significant other purchases a piece of art worth more than $250 for your birthday and has it shipped to your home.  The gift was spontaneous, and you did not have the opportunity to request Committee approval beforehand.  You may request retroactive approval to accept the piece of art.  If the Committee does not approve your request for some reason, you may pay your significant other back for the piece of art.
  • Example (Permissible).  Your best friend works for a lobbying firm.  The lobbying firm is having their holiday party and all their employees can bring a guest.  The lobbying firm does not place restrictions on whom the guest can be.  Your best friend asks you to be their guest.  Because your best friend can bring whomever they want, the gift is your best friend’s to offer.  If the per person value of the food and drinks for the holiday party is less than $250, you may accept your best friend’s offer to attend the holiday party.
  • Example (Permissible).  Your roommate works for a downtown law firm.  The law firm has a box at a major league baseball stadium.  The law firm allows its staff to bring a guest to the baseball games and sit in the firm’s box.  The law firm does not place restrictions on whom the guest can be.  Your roommate invites you to the game as their guest.  Because your roommate can bring whomever they want, you may accept and sit in the law firm’s box at the baseball game.
[45] Fiancé(e)s are considered relatives.  Therefore, if your fiancé(e) makes the same offer of a trip abroad, you may accept it as a gift from a relative.  See Gifts from Relatives for more information.
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     E. Gifts from other Members, Officers, or Employees

You may accept a gift from another Member, officer, or employee of the House or Senate if the person giving you the gift is either your direct or indirect supervisor or your peer.  You may not accept a gift from someone you supervise unless the gift is given for a special occasion.  Special occasions include birthdays, holidays, marriages, births or adoption of children, anniversaries, retirements, deaths, and other similar occasions for which gifts are traditionally given.  You should never be pressured to make or contribute to a gift.

[46] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(F).
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[47] See 5 U.S.C. § 7351(a) (a federal employee may not give a superior a gift, solicit a contribution from another employee for a gift to a superior, or accept a gift from an employee receiving less pay).  The Committee has the authority to implement this section, including to allow for gifts to superiors for special occasions.  Id. at (c).
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Providing personal services without compensation may also be a gift.  Supervisors should not accept uncompensated personal services from subordinate staff for services the supervisor would usually pay for if there is no connection to legitimate, official activity. 

[48] See Staff of Comm on Ethics, 115th Cong., In the Matter of Allegations Relating to Representative Thomas Garrett 5, 32-34 (Comm. Print 2019).
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[49] Id. at 34.
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  • Example (Permissible).  You are a district caseworker working part time while also going to school.  Your employing Member and your Chief of Staff would like to use their personal funds to help you pay for textbooks.  You may accept that gift from your supervisors.
  • Example (Permissible).  A Member wants to give all her colleagues a copy of a book that helped inform her policy positions.  The Member would like to use personal funds to purchase those books.  The other Members may accept that book as a gift from their peer.
  • Example (Permissible).  Your Chief of Staff is getting married.  Everyone in the office would like to contribute to a gift card to your Chief of Staff’s favorite restaurant as a wedding gift.  If no one feels pressured to contribute, you may pool your funds and give the gift card to your Chief of Staff.  Your Chief of Staff may also accept the gift card for this special occasion.
  • Example (Impermissible).  Your employing Member completed the first session of their first term in office.  The staff would like to contribute to a gift to celebrate your Member’s first year in office.  Your Member may not accept that gift from the staff because it is not a special occasion for which gifts are traditionally given.
  • Example (Impermissible).  Your employing Member asks you to pick up their children from school.  Because this activity bears no connection to legitimate, official activity, you should not perform this service for your employing Member.

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     F. Gifts of Personal Hospitality

You may stay in someone’s home or personally-owned facility, or eat a meal at someone’s home, as long as the person who offers the personal hospitality is not a registered federal lobbyist or foreign agent.  You may not accept the offer of personal hospitality if the purpose is business-related or the property is used for a business purpose, such as being rented out to others. 

[50] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(P) (incorporating 5 U.S.C. app. § 109(14)).  If the individual providing the gift is reimbursed by a business or seeks a business expense deduction for the hospitality, that hospitality is a business expense and not personal hospitality.  Bipartisan Task Force Report, 135 Cong. Rec. 30743.  Similarly, any property or facilities owned by a corporation or a firm, even if the individual providing the gift is the sole owner of the corporation or firm, are not personally owned by the individual and may not be used for personal hospitality.
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[51] Id.; 5 U.S.C. app. § 109(14) (“[H]ospitality extended for a non-business purpose by an individual, not a corporation or organization, at the personal residence of that individual or his family or on property or facilities owned by that individual or his family.”).  See, e.g., Comm. on Ethics, In the Matter of Allegations Relating to Representative Don Young, H.R. Rep. No. 113-487, at 38, 57, 61 (2014) (discussing various trips taken by Representative Young that did and did not meet the exception for personal hospitality).
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This exception only applies to lodging and meals in the home or personally-owned facility.  The exception does not apply to meals at restaurants while visiting someone, nor to someone paying for your hotel room while visiting.  Those gifts may be allowed under separate exceptions.

  • Example (Permissible).  You are going to visit your college roommate, who offers to let you stay in their apartment.  Your college roommate personally rents the apartment and is not a registered federal lobbyist or foreign agent.  You may accept your college roommate’s offer to stay in their apartment, and you may accept any meals your college roommate may make for you in their apartment.
  • Example (Impermissible).  Your friend owns a beach house and offers to let you and your family stay there for a week.  Your friend rents out the beach house on a weekly basis.  Because the beach house is used for a business purpose, you may not accept your friend’s offer as personal hospitality.  See Gifts Based on Personal Friendship for an exception that may apply.
  • Example (Impermissible).  You were invited to an “off-the-record” dinner at a local philanthropist’s home.  The dinner’s purpose is to discuss policy initiatives on which the philanthropist works.  Even if the philanthropist is not a registered federal lobbyist or foreign agent, you may not accept the meal as personal hospitality because the dinner has a business purpose.  See Free Attendance at Events for other ways you may be able to accept the offer.
  • Example (Permissible in Part).  You recently met someone at a party locally with whom you spent most of your time sharing your love of skiing.  Your new acquaintance invited you to spend the weekend at their condominium in Colorado to go skiing.  Your new acquaintance also offered to pay for your lift tickets and take you out to some local restaurants.  Your new acquaintance is not a registered federal lobbyist or foreign agent and personally owns the condominium.  Your new acquaintance does not rent out the condominium.  You may accept the lodging in the condominium over the weekend, but you may not accept the lift tickets or the meals at the local restaurants as personal hospitality. 
  • Example (Permissible).  A constituent knows that you like to duck hunt.  The constituent personally owns a piece of property with a lake where the constituent often goes to duck hunt and allows his friends to duck hunt as well.  The constituent does not charge others to hunt on his property.  The constituent is not a registered federal lobbyist or foreign agent.  The constituent offers to bring you along the next time he goes hunting.  You may accept the constituent’s offer.

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     G. Gifts from Federal, State, or Local Governments

You may accept anything that is paid for by the federal government, a state or local government, or secured under a contract with the federal government.  The domestic government agency or entity must directly pay for the gift and may not merely be a conduit for someone else. 

[52] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(O).  “Government contracts” under this provision mean federal government contracts.  See, e.g., 5 C.F.R. § 2635.203(7); 57 Fed. Reg. 35,014 (Aug. 7, 1992) (“The exclusion is intended to cover items the Government procures for use by its employees under a Government contract or knowingly obligates itself to pay for.”).
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[53] See Comm. on Rules, Amending the Rules of the House of Representative to Provide for Gift Reform, H.R. Rep. No. 104-337, at 11 (1995).
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To determine if an entity is a domestic governmental entity, the Committee looks to whether the entity is treated as a government entity for other purposes.  The Committee considers these entities to be government entities.

  • United States federal government
  • United States state and federal district governments
  • United States municipal governments
  • Commonwealths and territories of the United States
  • Smithsonian Institute
  • Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA)
  • Tennessee Valley Authority
  • California Joint Powers Authorities such as the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California
  • Public universities, including Pennsylvania state-related universities
[54] An interstate compact entered into by the State of Maryland, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the District of Columbia, and was approved by Congress, established WMATA as a governmental agency, with funding derived from the federal government and state governments, as well as from rider fares.
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[55] See Cal. Gov’t Code §§ 6500-6599.3 (joint powers authorities).
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[56] See 22 Pa. Code § 31.2 (Pennsylvania state-related universities are instrumentalities of the commonwealth).
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The Committee does not consider these entities to be government entities.

  • Native American tribes
  • Amtrak
  • Regional Federal Home Loan Banks
[57] The Committee carefully considered the matter of Native American tribes and found nothing in the legislative history of the current gift rule or its predecessors indicating an intent to treat Native American tribes as state or local government entities for these purposes.  The Committee also does not consider Native American tribes to be foreign governments.  Additionally, many Native American tribes employ or retain registered federal lobbyists.  Your ability to accept gifts from those Native American tribes will be limited by the Gift Rule exceptions relevant to organizations that employ or retain registered federal lobbyists.
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[58] “Amtrak is not a department, agency, or instrumentality of the United States Government . . .”  49 U.S.C. § 24301(a)(3).
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These lists are not exhaustive.  Please contact the Committee if you have questions about a particular entity.

  • Example (Permissible).  A public university offers you tickets to an upcoming football game.  The university uses its general funds to pay for your ticket.  You would be sitting in the university president’s box.  You may accept the tickets.
  • Example (Impermissible).   A private university offers you tickets to an upcoming football game.  You may not accept the tickets as a gift from a state government, but you may be able to accept the tickets under a different exception.
  • Example (Additional Action Required).  The company running a national lab invites you to tour its facility and offers to take you out to lunch afterwards to discuss your observations.  If providing tours and meals to congressional observers is part of the company’s contract with the Department of Energy, you may accept as a gift secured by a federal government contract.  If not, you may be able to accept under a different exception.

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     H. Gifts from Foreign Governments and International Organizations

The Emoluments Clause of the Constitution limits your ability to accept gifts from foreign governments.  The Emoluments Clause prohibits you, as a federal government official, from receiving “any present . . . of any kind whatever” from a foreign government or its representatives without the consent of Congress. 

[59] U.S. Const. Art. I, § 9, cl. 8.
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Congress consented to gifts, including travel, from foreign governments by enacting two federal statutes, FGDA and MECEA.  House rules also allow you to accept gifts under these two statutes.  See Travel Paid for by a Foreign Government for more information about travel allowed under FGDA and MECEA.

[60] Congress consented to other programs outside of FGDA and MECEA, including the U.S.-Korea National Assembly Exchange Program.  However, FGDA and MECEA are the most common methods that foreign governments use to offer Members, officers, and employees gifts and travel.
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[61] Members, officers, and employees may accept “[a]n item, the receipt of which is authorized by the [FGDA], the [MECEA], or any other statute.”  House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(N).
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FGDA also allows you to accept certain tangible gifts and decorations from the following entities.

  • Foreign governments;
  • International or multinational organizations whose membership is made of units of foreign governments and their agents or representatives;
  • Quasi-governmental organizations closely affiliated with, or funded by, foreign governments; or
  • Private organizations closely affiliated with, or funded by, foreign governments.
[62] 5 U.S.C. § 7342(a)(2).  To determine whether an organization is part of a foreign government, the Committee looks to a number of factors including the level to which the organizations is funded by the federal government, whether the organization is controlled by a foreign government, and whether another U.S. government agency determined the organization is part of a foreign government.  Members, officers, and employees may only accept gifts from organizations that meet this definition under FGDA or MECEA.  See Comm. on Ethics, In the Matter of Officially-Connected Travel by House Members to Azerbaijan in 2013, H.R. Rep. No. 114-239 (2015); Comm. on Ethics, In the Matters of Allegations Relating to Travel to Taiwan by Representatives William Owens and Peter Roskam in 2011, H.R. Rep. No. 113-226 (2013).
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See the Committee’s FGDA Regulations for in-depth requirements.

[63] The Committee’s implementing regulations are issued pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 7342(a)(6)(A), (g)(1) and apply to House Members, officers, and employees.  The regulations were first published on January 23, 1978.  124 Cong. Rec. 452-53.
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FGDA also applies to your spouse or dependents.

[64] 5 U.S.C. § 7342(a)(1)(G).
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          i. Tangible Gifts

[65] 5 U.S.C. § 7342(c).
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While you are on American soil, you may only accept tangible gifts that are of “minimal value tendered and received as a souvenir or mark of courtesy.”  Minimal value is set by the General Services Administration on a tri-annual basis and is calculated based on the Consumer Price Index.  You can find the current minimal value here.  If you are unsure of the value, the Office of the Clerk can appraise the item.  Tangible gifts include trinkets, meals, entertainment, or local transportation to attend an event.

[66] 5 U.S.C. § 7342 (c)(1)(A).
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[67] 5 U.S.C. § 7342(a)(5).
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[68] 5 U.S.C. § 7342(g)(2)(B); (a)(6)(A).
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If you are abroad, you may accept tangible gifts worth more than minimal value if refusing the gift would cause offense or embarrassment.  But you accept those gifts on behalf of the United States government and must turn over the gifts when you return to the United States, report the gifts on the FGDA Disclosure Form, and seek Committee approval if you would like to retain the gifts for official display purposes.

You must aggregate the value of tangible gifts given to you in the same presentation from the same source to determine if the group of gifts is more than minimal value.  You must also aggregate gifts given in the same presentation from the spouse of a foreign official as well as the foreign official themselves.  And you must aggregate gifts given to your spouse in the same presentation as well as gifts given to you.

  • Example (Permissible).  You are invited to an embassy dinner and they offer to pay for your cab ride to the embassy.  You may accept both the dinner at the embassy and the cab ride if those gifts combined are minimal value or less.
  • Example (Impermissible).  A foreign official meets with you in your office and presents you with a gold-plated tea kettle worth more than minimal value.  You may not accept the tea kettle.
  • Example (Additional Action Required).  While on a CODEL abroad, a foreign official presents you with the same gold-plated tea kettle worth more than minimal value.  If refusal would cause offense or embarrassment, you may accept the tea kettle on behalf of the United States.  When you return from your trip, you must turn the gift over to the Clerk of the House and report the gift to the Committee on the FGDA Disclosure Form.  If you would like to retain the tea kettle for display in your official office, you must seek written approval from the Committee.
  • Example (Impermissible).  The contract foreign agent for a foreign government invites you to dinner to discuss upcoming legislation.  Because the foreign agent would be paying, even if ultimately reimbursed by the foreign government, you may not accept the offer.  You may still go and pay for your own dinner.

          ii. Decorations

[69] 5 U.S.C. § 7342(d).
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You may accept and personally wear a decoration of minimal value from a foreign government if it was given

  • In recognition of active field service in a time of combat operations, or
  • For other outstanding or unusually meritorious performance.

If you are offered a decoration of more than minimal value and you would like to keep it for personal use, you must seek and receive Committee approval prior to accepting the decoration. 

Without prior approval, you may only accept a decoration of more than minimal value on behalf of the United States.  You would need to turn over the decoration, report the decoration on the FGDA Disclosure Form, and seek Committee approval if you would like to retain the decoration for official display purposes.

  • Example (Permissible).  A foreign government wants to present you with its highest civilian honor for your assistance to their country.  The decoration is less than minimal value.  You may accept, wear, and retain the decoration for your personal use.
  • Example (Permissible).  The same foreign government wishes to present you with the same award, but the decoration is more than minimal value.  You seek and receive approval from the Committee before accepting the decoration.  You may accept the decoration, wear the decoration, and retain the decoration for your personal use.
  • Example (Additional Action Required).  Same as the previous example but you did not seek and receive approval from the Committee before accepting the decoration.  You may accept the decoration on behalf of the United States, but you must turn it over to the Clerk of the House or seek Committee approval to display it in your official office.

          iii. Medical Treatment

[70] 5 U.S.C. § 7342(c)(1)(B).
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You may accept medical treatment from a foreign government if the treatment is provided for an unexpected illness or injury that requires immediate attention while in the host country.  You may also accept medical treatment from a foreign government if you seek and receive Committee approval prior to accepting the treatment.

  • Example (Permissible).  You break your leg while on vacation abroad.  The foreign government offers to pay to have your leg set so you can fly home.  You may accept the offer of medical treatment.

          iv. Educational Scholarship

[71] Id.
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You may accept an educational scholarship from a foreign government if you seek and receive Committee approval prior to accepting the scholarship.  You may not accept transportation to and from the United States under this exception unless transportation is a term of the scholarship.

  • Example (Additional Action Required).  You are offered a scholarship to study at a foreign public academic institution abroad.  The scholarship covers travel to and from the United States, plus tuition and room and board for the academic year.  The public academic institution and the scholarship are funded by the foreign government.  You must receive Committee approval before accepting the scholarship.
[72] Although rare, educational scholarships are offered to federal government officials from foreign academic institutions.  This provision of FGDA applies only to educational scholarships offered or funded by foreign governments, or provisions of foreign governments, including public institutions.  See, e.g., Letter from Robert B. Shanks, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, O.L.C., to Walter T. Skallerup, General Counsel, Department of the Navy (Mar. 17, 1983), https://www.justice.gov/olc/page/file/936131/download (allowing a scientist employed by the Naval Research Laboratory to accept an educational scholarship from the German Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, which is funded by the German government, to conduct research in Germany).
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          v. Reporting Requirements

If you received gifts or travel from a foreign government under FGDA, you must report those gifts on a separate form and return the form to the Committee.  If you accepted in-country travel expenses, regardless of value, you must return the form to the Committee within 30 days of returning from your trip.  If you accepted gifts or decorations of more than minimal value, you must return the form to the Committee within 60 days of receiving the gift or decoration.  You can find the form here

[73] The Department of State makes FGDA disclosures public in the Federal Register each year.  5 U.S.C. § 7342(f)(1).
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If you file financial disclosure statements, you must also report tangible gifts, decorations, medical treatment, or educational scholarships of more than minimal value on your annual financial disclosure statement.  

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     I. Home State Products

You may accept tangible products that are manufactured, produced, or grown in your home state.  These products must be intended to promote your state, and be for display or distribution to visitors in your office.  The home state products should be of nominal value, less than $10, to each recipient.  Home state products that are more than nominal value may be displayed in a public area of your office. 

[74] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(V).  Home state products can be manufactured, produced, or grown anywhere in your state, not just your district.  This provision does not include items that are merely distributed in your state, but are manufactured, produced, or grown elsewhere. 
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[75] The Committee understands Members and staff may occasionally avail themselves of individually packaged home state products.  The home state product exception does not prohibit occasional use, but individually packaged home state products must be intended for, and actually distributed to, visitors to your office.
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Home state products may not be traded between offices, including for intern or staff labor to assist with projects.

  • Example (Permissible).  Your state is known for growing peanuts.  A peanut farmer in your state sends your office three large boxes of single serving sized peanuts.  You may accept those peanuts and place them in your office reception area for visitors to take.
  • Example (Impermissible).  That same peanut farmer sends you a large tin of peanuts intended just for your consumption.  You may not accept the peanuts as a home state product, but you may be able to accept them under a different exception to the Gift Rule.
  • Example (Permissible).  An aerospace company makes rocket engines in your state.  They send you a scale model of one of the rocket engines.  You may accept the scale model and place it in your office reception area for visitors to see.
  • Example (Permissible).  The holidays are approaching, and a local tree farmer offers to send you a Christmas tree.  You may accept the tree and put it on display in your office reception area for visitors to see.
  • Example (Permissible).  Your state invested heavily in its wine-producing regions and a local winery would like to send you six bottles of wine for display.  You may accept the bottles and put them on display in your office reception area.  Please contact the Office of General Counsel at 202-225-9700 for guidance about providing alcohol on House grounds.
  • Example (Permissible).  A soda manufacturer has a bottling plant in your state and offers you single-serving cans of the various sodas it bottles at its plant.  You may accept the cans of soda.
  • Example (Additional Action Required).  A well-known ice cream producer is in your state.  The company offers to provide you with single-serving sized ice cream cups and a freezer to keep them in.  You may accept the ice cream as a home state product.  You may also accept the freezer on loan from the company.  See Artwork and Other Gifts of Unusual Nature on Loan to the House for the requirements of the loan agreement.

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     J. Free Attendance at Events

The events discussed below can be held in-person or virtually.  A virtual event, including a webinar or a live-stream event, must still meet the criteria discussed below.  If an event is held virtually, you may not accept a gift card or meal voucher in place of food for events under these exceptions.

          i. Receptions

You may attend an event if only nominal value food and drink that is not a meal is served.  Events that fall in this category are often evening receptions with light to medium appetizers or hors d’oeuvres, briefings over coffee and pastries or bagels, and afternoon briefings with snacks, such as cookies or chips.  The Committee does not assign a per person dollar limit, but you should be mindful of not accepting food and beverages in excess of these examples.  For example, a reception serving only high-cost items like champagne and caviar or a 25-year Scotch tasting would not be nominal value.  Low-cost meals, like pizza, hot dogs, or sandwiches, are still meals that you may not accept under this exception to the Gift Rule.  You may be able to accept those meals under different event exceptions.

[76] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(U).
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[77] See Comm. on Rules, Amending the Rules of the House of Representatives to Provide for Gift Reform, H.R. Rep. No. 104-337, at 11 (1995) (“Food and refreshments of nominal value not offered as part of a meal (reception food)”); Comm. on Standards of Official Conduct, New Gift Rule, at 3 (Dec. 7, 1995) (allowing “coffee and donuts, [and] hors d’oeuvres at a reception”); Comm. on Standards of Official Conduct, Gifts and Travel booklet, at 32 (April 2000) (specifically describing the kinds of food and refreshments that may be accepted, including coffee, juice, pastry, or bagels usually offered at a breakfast reception or meeting, and hors d’oeuvres, appetizers, and beverages usually offered at an evening reception).
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You may not accept food and beverages under this exception in a one-on-one setting with a registered federal lobbyist or foreign agent, entity that employs or retains a registered federal lobbyist or a foreign agent.

Who extends the invitation to you for these events and whether the event has tables and chairs or silverware are not factors to determine whether this exception to the Gift Rule applies. 

Generally, you may still attend a reception if background music is played during the event, even if the music is live.  However, background music played by famous musicians, or a reception that is really a concert may change the event’s nature.

  • Example (Permissible).  You receive an invitation to an evening event with cocktails and finger foods.  The event will have tables and plates for your food.  You may attend the event, regardless of who invited you.
  • Example (Impermissible).  Your colleague forwards you an invitation to an event they will be attending.  The event will feature a carving station, salad station, and a collection of breads.  Because this event will offer a meal, it is not a reception.
  • Example (Impermissible).  You are invited to lunch briefing and the organization sponsoring the briefing plans to pass out boxed lunches.  Because this event will offer a meal, even though a low-cost meal, it is not a reception.
  • Example (Permissible).  You are invited to an evening reception with appetizers and background music played by a jazz quartet.  You may attend the event.
  • Example (Impermissible).  You are invited to an evening reception with appetizers and music performed by last year’s Grammy winner for best artist.  The Grammy winner will sing for two hours.  Although the food and drink are nominal value, the event’s nature is a concert and is not a reception.

          ii. Widely-Attended Events

You may accept an unsolicited offer of free attendance for a widely-attended event for you and one guest.  “Free attendance” includes all or part of the cost of admission; local transportation to and from the event; and the food, refreshments, entertainment, and instructional materials provided to all event attendees.  Free attendance does not include entertainment collateral to the event or food and refreshments outside the group setting of the event, such as giveaways.  Your guest may be anyone, as long as the event organizer offered you an unsolicited second ticket.

[78] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(4)(A); (B).
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[79] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(4)(D).
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[80] Id.  Giveaways may be accepted if they meet the requirements of another exception to the Gift Rule.  The most commonly used exceptions are the less than $50 exception and the nominal value exception.
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[81] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(4)(B).
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A widely-attended event must meet three criteria.  Remember, an event may be a widely-attended event for you but may not be a widely-attended event for your colleague.  The three criteria are

  • You are invited by the event organizer directly;
    • The event organizer is the organization(s) doing the work to put the event on, not a monetary event sponsor or table sponsor.
  • The event organizer has a reasonable expectation that at least 25 people will also attend who are not Members, Senators, officers, or employees of Congress or their spouses; and
    • Those 25 attendees must come from a variety of backgrounds, including the Executive Branch, but may not solely be the employees of a single organization.
  • Your attendance is related to your official or representational duties.
    • You could be speaking in your official capacity, learning about a topic that will assist your work with the House, or meeting with constituents.
    • Whether your participation is related to your official or representational duties is a decision for you and your superiors, if any, to make.
    • Purely entertainment, personal pleasure, professional development, or charitable activities are not related to your official or representational duties.
      • Merely watching a feature film, a sporting event, or show is generally purely entertainment.
[82] “Event organizer” and “event sponsor,” as those terms relate to events, mean “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.”  Comm. on Rules, Amending the Rules of the House of Representatives to Provide for Gift Reform, H.R. Rep. No. 104-337, at 12 (1995).  Gold or silver level sponsors or table sponsors are not included in the definition of event organizer or event sponsor for the purposes of these exceptions to the Gift Rule.  But, there may be more than one event organizer if those entities “play[] significant, active role[s] in organizing the event in a manner that is roughly comparable” to another event organizer or sponsor.  S. Comm. on Gov’t Affairs, Congressional Gifts Reform Act, S. Rep. No. 103-255, at 14 (1994) (Senate committee report on revisions to the Senate gift rule).
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[83] Attendance can be open to individuals from throughout a given industry or profession, or to a range of people interested in the issue.  See Comm. on Rules, Amending the Rules of the House of Representatives to Provide for Gift Reform, H.R. Rep. No. 104-337, at 12 (1995).
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[84] Comm. on Rules, Amending the Rules of the House of Representatives to Provide for Gift Reform, H.R. Rep. No. 104-337, at 12 (1995).
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Organizations that provide only financial assistance to the event organizer but are not assisting with the logistics for the event may still want to invite you.  You may not accept an invitation from these organizations directly.  The fiscal sponsors may instead request the event organizer invite you directly.  You may only accept that invitation if

  • The event organizer retains ultimate control over the guest list and seating arrangements, and
  • The event organizer is the only entity listed on the invitation and the only entity extending the invitation.

You may accept an invitation to a large media-related event, such as the White House Correspondents’ Association’s annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner or the Washington Press Club Foundation’s Annual Congressional Dinner, if you are invited by a member of the media organization sponsoring the event.

  • Example (Permissible).  You are a legislative assistant focused on environmental policy.  Your colleague is also a legislative assistant but focused on banking issues.  You both receive an invitation to a large environmental policy conference, and the event organizer offers you free attendance.  In years past, over 500 people from across government and industry have attended this conference.  After discussing the conference with your supervisor, you may accept the invitation, but your colleague likely may not.
  • Example (Impermissible).  Same example as above, but a large corporation is underwriting the conference and sends you the invitation.  The corporate sponsor has no role in planning, organizing, or executing the conference.  You may not accept the invitation from the corporate sponsor.
  • Example (Impermissible).  While at the conference, you are invited to an after-hours dinner put on by one of the advocacy organizations active on environmental policy.  The after-hours dinner is not part of the free attendance offered by the conference organizer.  You may be able to accept the offer if the after-hours dinner meets a different exception to the Gift Rule.
  • Example (Impermissible).  The owner of a local sports team offers you a ticket to an upcoming game.  Although many people will be in attendance, the game is not a widely-attended event because it is purely for entertainment purposes.
  • Example (Permissible).  Your district is home to a large annual rodeo that is very important to the district’s financial health.  The organization that puts on the rodeo offered you two tickets and seats in a prominent location so the event organizer can recognize you.  You may reasonably determine your attendance is related to your official or representational duties and accept both tickets.

          iii. Events with Constituent Groups

You may attend events that include meals with constituent groups that do not meet the 25 non-Congressional attendance requirement of widely-attended events, if the events meet the following criteria.  

[85] The Committee granted this general waiver pursuant to its waiver authority in House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(T).  The Committee did so because it recognized the Gift Rule was not intended to interfere with Members carrying out their conventional representational duties, and that meetings or events with constituent organizations may sometimes be attended by only a few constituents, particularly when the organization is from a state with a small or diffuse population.
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  • The event is regularly scheduled;
  • The event is related to your official or representation duties; and
  • The event is open to members of the constituent group, rather than just its officers or board members.

You may accept an invitation that meets the above criteria from the following event organizers.  This list is not exhaustive.

  • Civic associations
  • Senior citizens organizations
  • Veterans’ groups
  • Business, trade, or professional associations
    • For example, associations of lawyers, nurses, bankers, teachers, or farmers
  • Example (Permissible).  You are invited to a lunch meeting of a civic association in your district.  The lunch meeting is a periodic meeting open to all of the civic association’s members, but only 15 are expected to attend.  If you determine your attendance is related to your official or representational duties, you may accept the invitation.
  • Example (Impermissible).  A veterans’ group in your district would like to have an event honoring your upcoming retirement.  Only 10 members of the group will be able to attend.  Because the event is not regularly scheduled, you would not be able to accept the invitation under this exception.  You may be able to accept it under a different exception to the Gift Rule.
  • Example (Permissible).  Your teachers’ association is hosting its annual Washington fly-in.  All association members are welcome to participate in the trip, and usually about 20 members come to Washington.  One of the events during the fly-in is a dinner with the congressional delegation.  If you determine your attendance is related to your official or representational duties, you may accept the dinner.
  • Example (Impermissible).  Same example as above, but only one association member from your district attends the fly-in and would like to take you out to lunch separate from the group.  Because the lunch is not an association event, you may not accept the lunch under this exception.  You may be able to accept the lunch under a separate exception to the Gift Rule.

          iv. Educational Events

You may attend events that include meals designed for small group discussion that do not meet the 25 non-Congressional attendance requirement of widely-attended events, if the events meet the following criteria.  

[86] The Committee granted this general waiver pursuant to its waiver authority in House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(T).  The Committee did so because it recognized there are certain events that are worthwhile for Members and staff to attend, but that do not meet the numeric requirements for widely-attended events.
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  • The event is educational, such as a lecture, seminar, or discussion;
  • The event is hosted by a university, foundation, think tank, or similar nonprofit, non-advocacy organization; and
  • You are invited by the event organizer directly.

You may not accept a meal at educational events organized by registered federal lobbyists or foreign agents, organizations that employ or retain registered federal lobbyists or foreign agents, or advocacy groups.  You also may not accept a meal at educational events that are legislative briefings or strategy sessions, even if the organization hosting the event has an educational status under the Internal Revenue Code.

  • Example (Permissible).  You are invited to a luncheon series hosted by a nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank.  The luncheon series features distinguished speakers from academia discussing foreign policy updates.  The think tank invited about 15 people, some of whom are Members and staff.  You may accept the invitation and the luncheon.
  • Example (Permissible in Part).  A trade association establishes a nonprofit educational foundation.  The foundation sponsors a monthly series at which experts from the field explain aspects of their industry and the ramifications of various legislative proposals for that industry.  You and a dozen other House staff are invited to these presentations, which occur over lunch.  You may attend the event, but you may not accept the meal because these events are legislative briefings.  You may be able to accept the meal under a different exception to the Gift Rule.

          v. Training in the Interest of the House

You may accept free attendance to training that is in the interest of the House.  You may also accept any food or refreshments offered to all attendees as part of the training.  Generally, trainings “in the interest of the House” are trainings like vendor trainings on how to use a product. 

[87] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(L).
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[88] Id.
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These trainings are generally not provided by outside organizations looking to share their views with you and influence your policy decisions.  You may not accept meals in connection with presentations made by registered federal lobbyists, foreign agents, organizations that employ or retain registered federal lobbyists or foreign agents, or advocacy groups.  You also may not accept meals in connection with briefings or discussions relating to issues before Congress.

  • Example (Permissible).  The company that your office uses for managing constituent communications is hosting a training session in the Rayburn Gold Room to promote its product and provide hands-on assistance to current and potential clients.  The company plans to offer boxed lunches to everyone who attends.  You may attend the training and accept the boxed lunch.
  • Example (Impermissible).  A think-tank would like to host an event where it shares the results from a recent poll and discusses how those results can inform policy decisions.  The think tank plans to offer a boxed lunch to everyone who attends.  You may not attend this event under this exception to the Gift Rule.  But you may be able to attend under a different exception to the Gift Rule.

          vi. Charity Events

You may accept an unsolicited offer of free attendance for a charity fundraising event for you and a spouse or dependent child.  “Free attendance” includes all or part of the cost of admission; local transportation to and from the event; and the food, refreshments, entertainment, and instructional materials provided to all event attendees.  Free attendance does not include entertainment collateral to the event or food and refreshments outside the group setting of the event, such as giveaways.

[89] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(4)(C).  This exception extends to charity events such as lunches, dinners, golf or tennis tournaments, races, and cook-offs.  The purpose of this exception to the Gift Rule is to enable Members and staff “to lend their names to legitimate charitable enterprises and otherwise promote charitable goals.”  Comm. on Rules, Amending the Rules of the House of Representatives to Provide for Gift Reform, H.R. Rep. No. 104-337, at 12 (1992).
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[90] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(4)(D).
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[91] Id.  Giveaways may be accepted if they meet the requirements of another exception of the Gift Rule.  The most commonly exceptions used are the less than $50 exception and the nominal value exception.
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A charity fundraising event must meet the following criteria.

  • You are invited by the event organizer directly, and
    • The event organizer is the organization(s) doing the work to put the event on, not a monetary event sponsor or table sponsor.
  • The event’s primary purpose must be to raise funds to benefit an organization qualified under § 170(c) of the Internal Revenue Code.
    • The primary purpose is usually met if at least half of the proceeds are tax-deductible charitable contributions.
[92] “Event organizer” and “event sponsor,” as those terms relate to events, mean “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.”  Comm. on Rules, Amending the Rules of the House of Representatives to Provide for Gift Reform, H.R. Rep. No. 104-337, at 12 (1995).  Gold or silver level sponsors or table sponsors are not included in the definition of event organizer or event sponsor for the purposes of these exceptions to the Gift Rule.  But, there may be more than one event organizer if those entities “play[] significant, active role[s] in organizing the event in a manner that is roughly comparable” to another event organizer or sponsor.  S. Comm. on Gov’t Affairs, Congressional Gifts Reform Act, S. Rep. No. 103-255, at 14 (1994) (Senate committee report on revisions to the Senate gift rule).
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[93] Organizations qualified under § 170(c) of the Internal Revenue Code include organizations qualified under § 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, government entities, and certain veterans’ organizations and fraternal orders.  26 U.S.C. § 170(c).  Organizations qualified under § 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code are not included in this list.
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  • Example (Permissible).  A local company invites you to its casino night whose proceeds will be donated to a § 501(c)(3) charity in the district.  Because you were invited by the event organizer and the primary purpose is to raise funds for a charity, you may accept the invitation.
  • Example (Impermissible).  A local organization has both a § 501(c)(3) arm and a § 501(c)(4) arm.  The organization is hosting its annual fundraising dinner and those who purchase tickets or wish to donate more than the ticket price can choose whether their donations will benefit the § 501(c)(3) or the § 501(c)(4).  Because the event’s primary purpose is not to raise funds for an organization qualified under § 170(c) of the Internal Revenue Code, this event is not a charity fundraiser.
  • Example (Impermissible).  A local company invites you to its casino night.  If any money is left over after the company pays its expenses, it plans to donate the excess to a local § 501(c)(3) charity in the district.  Because the primary purpose of this event is not to raise funds for an organization qualified under § 170(c) of the Internal Revenue Code, this event is not a charity fundraiser.
  • Example (Impermissible).  A lobbying firm wishes to hold a dinner for Members and staff, at which it will announce that the firm made a substantial donation to a local charity.  This event is not a charity fundraiser because its primary purpose is not to raise funds for that charity.
  • Example (Impermissible).  A local theater is organized as a § 501(c)(3) charity.  The chairman of the board for the local theater invites you to a regular performance.  This event is not a charity fundraiser because its primary purpose is not to raise funds for the charity.  A separately scheduled fundraiser for the theater may be considered a charity fundraiser.
  • Example (Permissible in Part).  A § 501(c)(3) charity is hosting an evening fundraising reception, followed by a board meeting over dinner.  You may accept an invitation for the fundraising reception, but not stay for the board meeting, because the board meeting’s primary purpose is not to raise funds for the charity.  You may be able to attend the board meeting and accept the meal under a different exception to the Gift Rule.
  • Example (Impermissible).  An advocacy organization you work with often purchased a table at a charity fundraiser organized by another organization.  The advocacy organization invites you to be its guest and sit at its table.  You may not accept the ticket from the advocacy organization under this exception.
  • Example (Impermissible).  An event organizer offers you two tickets to its upcoming charity fundraiser.  You would like to bring your adult child as your guest.  You may not use the second ticket to bring your adult child, as you may only use a second ticket to a charity fundraiser for your spouse or a dependent child.  You may bring your adult child as your guest if you purchase a ticket from the event organizer.

You may be able to accept travel to attend a charity fundraiser.  See Travel to Attend Charity Fundraisers.

          vii. Events Sponsored by Political Organizations

You may accept an offer of free attendance to a political fundraiser or other campaign event organized by the political organization.  Free attendance to a political event includes the cost of admission, food, refreshments, entertainment, and other benefits provided by the political organization.  You may be able to accept transportation and lodging if the offer complies with the requirements in Travel for Political Purposes.  A “political organization” for this exception to the Gift Rule is one described in § 527(e) of the Internal Revenue Code.

[94] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(G)(iii).
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[95] The political organization must directly pay for your meal.  You may not accept a meal that an outside third-party provided to the political organization through in-kind donations under this exception to the Gift Rule.  You may be able to accept the meal under a different exception to the Gift Rule.
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[96] Briefly stated, under that statute, a political organization is an entity organized and operated primarily for the purpose of accepting contributions or making expenditures for the purpose of influencing the election of any individual to a public or political office.
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You may accept an invitation to an event that is primarily entertainment, such as a golf outing or a sports game, if that event is a true fundraiser for the political organization. 

[97] The term “bona fide” means “made in good faith; without fraud or deceit,” sincere, or genuine.  Bona fide, Black’s Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019).
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A meeting with an individual who merely gives you a campaign contribution is not a true fundraiser or campaign event under this exception unless

  • The event is organized and paid for by the political organization, and
  • Receipts and expenditures are appropriately reported under applicable campaign finance laws and regulations.

You may only accept an invitation to a political event if you were invited by the event organizer directly. 

[98] “Event organizer” and “event sponsor,” as those terms relate to events, mean “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.”  Comm. on Rules, Amending the Rules of the House of Representatives to Provide for Gift Reform, H.R. Rep. No. 104-337, at 12 (1995).  Gold or silver level sponsors or table sponsors are not included in the definition of event organizer or event sponsor for the purposes of these exceptions to the Gift Rule.  But, there may be more than one event organizer if those entities “play[] significant, active role[s] in organizing the event in a manner that is roughly comparable” to another event organizer or sponsor.  S. Comm. on Gov’t Affairs, Congressional Gifts Reform Act, S. Rep. No. 103-255, at 14 (1994) (Senate committee report on revisions to the Senate gift rule).
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As discussed in Campaign and Prohibition Concerning Campaign Outlays and Contributions, House staff may not purchase tickets to a political event that benefits their employing Member.

  • Example (Permissible).  You are invited by the state party to its upcoming fundraiser.  You may accept the invitation.
  • Example (Impermissible).  You are invited by the state party to a fundraiser for a presidential candidate.  The state party purchased a table at the fundraiser and is not involved in putting the event on.  You may not accept the invitation from the state party.
  • Example (Impermissible).  You are invited to a fundraiser for a § 501(c)(4) organization.  Because the event does not benefit a political organization, you may not accept the invitation under this exception.
  • Example (Impermissible).  You are invited to a fundraiser for your employing Member by a campaign donor who purchased the ticket for you.  You may not accept the ticket because it did not come from a political organization.  You also may not pay for the ticket because it is a fundraiser for your employing Member.  You may be able to accept the ticket under a different exception to the Gift Rule.

          viii. Events in Honor of Members, Officers, and Employees

Events that outside organizations put on nominally in your honor are not gifts to you, although free attendance at the event would still be a gift.  To be “nominally” in your honor, the event must meet the following criteria.

[99] An event could nominally be in honor of a single Member, officer, or employee, or a group.  For example, an event could be in honor of a caucus or a staff association.
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  • The event organizer is clear to all participants, such as at the top of the invitation;
  • You are not a host or sponsor of the event;
  • You do not receive any particular benefit from the event;
  • You did not ask the event organizer to host the event; and
  • You did not solicit support for the event.

If the event does not meet the criteria above, the event’s entire cost would be a gift to you.

  • Example (Permissible).  An advocacy group that works on environmental issues wants to host a reception in your honor because of your work on environmental issues.  The advocacy group will handle all the logistics for the event.  They may host the reception in your honor and you may attend if your free attendance meets the Gift Rule exceptions for that type of event.
  • Example (Additional Action Required).  At that same event, the advocacy group wishes to showcase your nature photography and offer it for sale.  Because you would receive a benefit from the event, the event’s entire cost would be a gift to you.  You may be able to accept the gift of the event under a different exception to the Gift Rule.
  • Example (Additional Action Required).  You are retiring at the end of the Congress.  A local nonprofit in your district wants to host a retirement event in your honor.  The event will be a fundraiser for the nonprofit, and you will be required to help fundraise for the event.  Because you are asked to solicit support for the event, the event’s entire cost would be a gift to you.  You may be able to accept the gift of the event under a different exception to the Gift Rule.
  • Example (Additional Action Required).  Your friends would like to host a retirement party in your honor.  They ask to hold the event at your home, but they plan to handle all the other logistics.  Because you would provide in-kind support for the event, the event’s entire cost would be a gift to you.  You may be able to accept the event as a gift based on personal friendship.

          ix. Inaugural and Swearing-In Events

You may wish to host or attend a Presidential Inaugural event or a Congressional Swearing-In event.  The rules for hosting or attending these events are the same as for all other events.  An offer of free attendance at an inaugural or swearing-in event must comply with an exception to the Gift Rule depending on the type of event—widely-attended event, charity fundraiser, political event, or reception.  Additionally, if the event is nominally in your honor, you may not be involved in putting on the event.  See Events in Honor of Members, Officers, or Employees.

If you wish to host a swearing-in event or a reception for visitors from your district, see Official Events.

          x. Events During National Political Conventions

Members may not attend some events during the national political conventions, even if attendance would otherwise meet an exception to the Gift Rule or if the Member purchased a ticket.  During the dates of the national political convention to select the Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates of your party, a Member may not participate in or attend an event held in their honor, if the event is paid for by a registered federal lobbyist or organization that employs or retains a registered federal lobbyist.  If the Member being honored is a Presidential or Vice Presidential candidate, this restriction does not apply.

[100] This provision only applies to Members, not to officers or employees who may also attend the national party conventions.
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[101] See Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 (HLOGA), Pub. L. No. 110-81, § 305, 121 Stat. 735, 753-754 (Sept. 14, 2007); House Rule 25, cl. 8.  The term “participate” is not defined in HLOGA or the relevant House Rule.  In the Committee’s view, the prohibition on participation in these events concerns Member attendance at the event.  Members should contact the Committee with any questions regarding whether activities other than attendance may constitute participation in such events.
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[102] Id.
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This restriction prohibits honoring a specific Member.  Unless a Member is a Presidential or Vice Presidential candidate, the Member could not be named, even in a personal capacity, on any invitations, promotional materials, or event publicity.  A Member also may not participate if the Member receives some special benefit or opportunity that others would not have, like an exclusive speaking or prominent ceremonial role.  A group of Members, such as a delegation, committee, or caucus, without naming specific Members, may still be honored under this exception.  Additionally, Members of a congressional host committee could be listed if that listing also includes non-congressional host committee members.

[103] See 153 Cong. Rec. E1759 (daily ed. Aug. 4, 2007) (statement of Rep. John Conyers, Jr.) (“This provision will have the effect of preventing lobbyists or an entity employing such lobbyists from directly paying for a party to honor a specific Member.”).
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[104] There is no numerical requirement on the size of the delegation or caucus participating in the event.
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This exception prohibits registered federal lobbyists or organizations that employ or retain registered federal lobbyists from directly paying for an event where a specific Member is honored.  Members may still participate in events hosted and organized by organizations without registered federal lobbyists, even if a registered federal lobbyist, or organization that employs or retains a registered federal lobbyist, contributed funds to the event.

  • Example (Permissible).  You are the presumptive Presidential candidate.  Your party’s national political convention will be held from July 16-18 this year.  A registered federal lobbyist wants to host a reception in your honor on July 17 and wants to specifically name you on all the reception’s promotional material.  The reception will meet all the requirements for a reception.  Although the event will be hosted during the days of your national party convention and you will be named specifically, you may participate because you are the Presidential candidate.
  • Example (Permissible).  You are a delegate to your party’s national convention.  Your party’s national convention will be held from July 21-23 this year.  A registered federal lobbyist wants to host a charity fundraiser honoring your state’s delegation to the convention on July 22.  The event will be publicized as honoring the state’s delegation without naming specific names.  The event meets all the requirements for a charity fundraiser.  You may participate in the event.
  • Example (Permissible).  An organization that does not employ or retain registered federal lobbyists would like to host a reception in your honor during your party’s national political convention.  The reception will meet all the requirements for a reception.  The organization has several table sponsors, including some registered federal lobbyists.  Because the event organizer does not employ or retain any registered federal lobbyists, you may participate in the event.
  • Example (Permissible).  Your party’s national political convention will be on July 15-17 this year.  A registered federal lobbyist would like to host a reception in your honor on July 18.  The reception will meet all the requirements for a reception.  Because the event is not during the dates of your party’s national political convention, you may participate in the event.

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     K. Business Meetings

You may accept nominal value food and drinks, including coffee or water and snacks, during a business meeting.  You may not accept any food or drinks from a registered federal lobbyist during a one-on-one meeting. This exception also does not allow you to accept a meal, even a small one like a hotdog or pizza.  You may be able to accept a meal if it meets a different exception to the Gift Rule.

[105] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(U).
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See Business Site Visits for facility tours.

  • Example (Permissible in Part).  You are invited to a business meeting with the local subsidiary of a large multinational corporation.  The meeting will be in the company’s board room.  The company offers to provide lunch and drinks during the business meeting.  You may not accept the lunch.  You may accept the drinks that are offered.

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     L. Informational Materials

You may accept informational materials, such as books, articles, magazines, newspapers, CDs, DVDs, or flash drives that are sent to your office to assist with your official duties.  You may accept one copy regardless of who sent the informational material or the value.  You may not accept additional copies sent to your home, and your official copy should not be used to supplement your personal library.  You may accept informational materials from any source, including a constituent or a lobbyist.  If you are offered a subscription to a periodical, you may only accept if the subscription comes from the periodical’s publisher or distributor.

[106] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(I).  You should consider whether the material you were offered truly is informational and will benefit you in your official capacity.  For example, a copy of a tax law textbook may be informational if you are considering revisions to the tax code, but the latest fiction murder mystery may not be informational.
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[107] Comm. on Rules, Amending the Rules of the House of Representatives to Provide for Gift Reform, H.R. Rep. No. 104-337, at 11 (1995).
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You may also accept informational materials provided during an event or meeting, such as an event program or one-pager about the organization or its policy position.

You may accept informational materials that come in a set, but you may not accept periodic updates to that set.  Additionally, you may not accept full application software or access to a database under this exception.  You may, however, accept a demonstration copy of the application software that is not fully functional, to understand how the software works.  You may be able to accept full application software or access to a database under a different exception to the Gift Rule

If offered, you may accept multiple copies of an informational material for the purpose of distributing those materials to your colleagues or others.  The purpose of the multiple copies must be for distribution to a specific group, you may not keep the multiple copies for your unrestricted use, and the materials must not be created specifically for you.

  • Example  (Permissible).  A constituent sends you a copy of a bestselling book about budget reform.  The book’s list price is $60.  You may accept the book as an informational material.
  • Example (Permissible in Part).  You are offered a 5-part PBS documentary that is relevant to upcoming legislation, and you are offered a book series that is updated annually.  You may accept the PBS documentary and the initial set of books.  You may not accept annual updates to the books.
  • Example (Impermissible).  You are on the Natural Resources Committee and a constituent offers to pay for a subscription to National Geographic.  You may not accept the subscription because the offer did not come from the publisher.
  • Example (Permissible in Part).  You are working on legislation involving online tax preparation.  A tax preparation company offers you free access to its tax preparation website, which usually requires a $79 annual registration fee.  The company also offers you access to a free tutorial about how to use its website.  You may not accept the free access to the website, but you may accept the free tutorial.

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     M. Commemorative Items

You may accept a plaque, trophy, or other substantially commemorative item that is presented in person.  In person presentation, alone, does not make an object substantially commemorative.  The Committee looks to the following characteristics to determine whether an item is substantially commemorative.  This list is not exhaustive.

[108] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(S).
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  • The engravings commemorate an occasion and not just a person, including the name of the event, the presenting organization, and the date; and
  • The item does not have significant utility or artistic value.
  • Example (Impermissible).  After speaking at an event, the event organizer presents you with an expensive pen engraved with your name.  The pen does not have any other information engraved on it.  Although presented in person, the pen is not substantially commemorative.
  • Example (Permissible).  After speaking at the same event the following year, the event organizer presents you with a Waterford crystal bowl engraved with your name, the name of the event, and the date of the event.  Although the bowl has utility and is decorative, it is still substantially commemorative, and you may accept it.
  • Example (Impermissible).  An organization would like to offer you a flat screen television to honor your efforts on an issue near and dear to its heart.  The organization intends to put a small plaque on the television with your name, the date, and the reasons for the honor.  Even if presented in person, the television is not substantially commemorative.
  • Example (Impermissible).  An event's organizers commission a famous artist to paint a picture for you that will be presented after their event.  The artist plans to incorporate the name of the event in small letters in the corner of the artwork.  Even if presented in person, the commissioned artwork is not substantially commemorative.
  • Example (Impermissible).  An aircraft manufacturer in your district wants to mail you a scale model of an airplane that it builds.  The model will be inscribed with the date of the airplane’s first build.  Because it will not be presented in person, you may not accept it as a commemorative item.  You may be able to accept it under a different exception to the Gift Rule.

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     N. Gifts from Outside Business and Other Activities

You may accept gifts that are offered to you because of your activities or employment outside of the House or your spouse’s activities or employment outside of the House.  You may accept these gifts if

[109] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(G).
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  • The gifts were not offered or enhanced because of your position with the House, and
  • The gifts are customarily provided to others in similar circumstances.
  • Example (Permissible).  An organization hosts trips abroad for young Americans to visit the countries of their heritage.  The organization pays for all the travel expenses.  The application for these trips only asks for your cultural background and does not ask about your current employment or ask for a resume.  You applied for the trip and were accepted.  Because you met the criteria for the trip and your House employment was not included in the application process at all, you may accept the trip.
  • Example (Additional Action Required).  Same example above, but the organization also hosts trips for “Young Leaders” to those countries.  As part of the application process, you included your current employment, a copy of your resume, and answered essay questions about your leadership experience.  Because your House employment was part of the application process, you may not accept the trip as related to your outside activities.  You may, however, seek a waiver from the Committee to participate in the trip.  See General Waiver for more information.
  • Example (Permissible).  You serve on the board of a 501(c)(3) charity.  Each year the charity pays for one night’s lodging for each of its board members to attend the charity’s annual meeting.  Because all the board members are offered the same lodging, you may accept the offer as well.  However, you may not accept a nicer room than any of the other board members.
  • Example (Permissible).  Your spouse is a real estate agent and a top seller in the market.  For being a top seller, your spouse received an all expenses paid trip to Hawaii for your spouse and a guest.  Your spouse offers to bring you on this trip.  Because the offer is related to your spouse’s employment and is not related at all to your position with the House, you may travel with your spouse.
  • Example (Impermissible).  Same example as above.  However, although all employees at your spouse’s real estate firm may bring a guest of their choosing, the real estate firm specifically asks your spouse to invite you because you work for the House.  You may not accept the trip because it was offered due to your position with the House.
  • Example (Impermissible).  A local sports team in your district established an advisory council and asks you to join.  The advisory council mostly consists of area elected officials or their staff.  Each advisory council member gets season tickets to the sports team’s home games.  Even though you may only participate in the advisory council in your personal capacity, you were invited to participate because of your position with the House.  Therefore, you may not accept the season tickets.
  • Example (Permissible).  You started looking for a new position off the Hill.  You interviewed with one private company and were invited back for a second interview.  All second interviews with this company take place over lunch at a restaurant, and the company pays.  You may accept the lunch during the second interview.
  • Example (Impermissible).  A private company reached out to you to talk about a job offer.  The company is headquartered on the other side of the country.  Typically, the company flies its candidates out to meet at headquarters.  The company usually only covers coach class airfare, but because they would like you to be their rainmaker, they offer to pay for first class airfare for you.  You may only accept the coach class ticket from the company.  You may upgrade your ticket using your own resources or accept a free upgrade from the airline if it is a widely-available benefit.

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     O. Benefits from Previous Employers

You may accept benefits from former employers while employed by the House, if those benefits are related to the work you performed for the former employer and not related to your position with the House.  These benefits include receiving a pension, participation in a retirement plan maintained by the former employer, deferred compensation, and severance payments. 

[110] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(H).
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You may receive a severance package from a former employer while employed by the House if the severance package meets the following criteria.

  • Your former employer regularly gives its employees a severance package as part of the employees’ compensation for services performed,
  • The severance package is compensation for services performed for the former employer prior to employment with the House,
  • The severance package is no greater than that given to other similar employees who do not work for the House, and
  • The severance package’s monetary value is not enhanced because of your employment with the House.

You may accept deferred compensation for work you performed prior to starting House employment.  However, you may not receive deferred compensation for representational services before the federal government, even if the work was completed prior to starting your House employment.  See Outside Employment for information about representational services before the federal government.

[111] See 18 U.S.C. § 203 (prohibiting federal employees, including Members, officers, and employees of the House, from accepting, “directly or indirectly,” compensation for representational services before federal agencies). 
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If you have active contingency or referral fee agreements related to your former employer, please call the Committee for guidance on how to manage those agreements.

  • Example (Permissible).  You participated in a 401(k) plan with your former employer.  Your former employer matched all employee contributions.  Your former employer allows former employees to keep their investments in the company 401(k) plan but does not match contributions for former employees.  You may keep your investments in the company 401(k) plan without receiving any matching contributions.
  • Example (Impermissible).  Your former employer does not routinely offer severance packages to departing employees, but it does offer a separation bonus for any departing employees who work in Congress.  Because the separation bonus is tied to your House employment, you may not accept it.
  • Example (Permissible).  Prior to working for the House, you were a real estate agent.  All your outstanding contracts settled the week before you started your House employment, but you received the payment from your real estate broker after you started House employment.  Because the deferred payment is for work done prior to joining the House, you may accept the deferred payment.

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     P. Legal Expenses

Subject to many restrictions, you may be able to accept contributions to a Legal Expense Fund that the Committee approves or pro bono legal services. 

[112] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(E).
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          i. Legal Expense Funds

You may accept contributions to a legal expense fund that the Committee formally approves as long as those contributions fully comply with the requirements in the Committee’s Legal Expense Fund Regulations.  If you would like to establish a Legal Expense Fund, you must write to the Committee and request formal approval of the trust document and the proposed trustee.  Once approved, Legal Expense Funds become public documents.

[113] Id.
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               1. Purposes of a Legal Expense Fund

You may only establish a Legal Expense Fund if the relevant legal expenses arise in connection with

  • Your candidacy for, or election to, federal office;
  • Your official duties or position in Congress;
    • This purpose includes matters before the Committee and filing an amicus brief in a Member’s official capacity.
  • A civil action filed in a Member’s official capacity challenging the validity of a federal law or regulation;
  • A criminal prosecution against you; or
  • A civil matter bearing on your reputation or fitness for office.

You may not establish a Legal Expense Fund for matters that are primarily personal in nature, such as matrimonial action, personal injury claims, or personal contract disputes.

               2. Independent Trustee

You must find an independent trustee to manage your Legal Expense Fund.  The trustee may not have any family, business, or employment relationship with you for two years before the establishment of your Legal Expense Fund.  Additionally, the trustee may not delegate any duties to someone who has any family, business, or employment relationship with you.  Additionally, we recommend the trustee not contribute to any of your campaigns while serving as trustee.  Although the trustee provides many services to the Legal Expense Fund, you are ultimately responsible for the proper administration of the Legal Expense Fund. 

The full list of trustee duties can be found in the Legal Expense Fund Regulations.

               3. Contributions

Your Legal Expense Fund may only accept up to $5,000 in a calendar year from any individual or organization, including corporations, labor unions, and political action committees.  Your Legal Expense Fund may not accept any contributions from registered federal lobbyists or foreign agents.  In-kind contributions, including pro bono legal services and waivers of trustee’s fees, also count towards that $5,000 limit.  In-kind contributions must be valued at fair market value.  If the organization donating to the Legal Expense Fund is a partnership, limited liability company not taxed as a corporation, or an S-corporation, the contribution is attributed to the organization itself and to each partner, member, or shareholder based on each person’s share of the organization’s profits. 

[114] Gifts from relatives of any amount or gifts from personal friends that are less than $250 are not considered contributions to the Legal Expense Fund and do not count towards the $5,000 annual limit, even if you intend to use those gifts to pay for legal services.  Gifts from relatives and gifts from personal friends are considered under separate exceptions to the Gift Rule.
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[115] House Rule 25, cl. 5(e)(3).
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[116] You may accept unlimited pro bono legal services for certain legal assistance, outlined in Pro Bono Legal ServicesPro bono legal services for any other purpose are in-kind contributions to the Legal Expense Fund and subject to the annual limit.
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  • Example.  A limited liability company with three equal members would like to donate $3,000 to your Legal Expense Fund.  The three members would also like to separately donate $2,000 each to your Legal Expense Fund.  In your accounting, the limited liability company will have donated $3,000, and each member will have donated $3,000. 

If any Member, officer, or employee of the House other than you would like to help raise funds for your Legal Expense Fund, that person must separately receive approval from the Committee to assist.  Any fundraising for your Legal Expense Fund must follow all the guidelines in Member, Officer, and Employee Participation in Fundraising Activities.

               4. Use of Funds

You may only use funds in a Legal Expense Fund for the purposes approved by the Committee.  You may only use funds for the following purposes.

  • Legal expenses;
  • Expenses incurred while soliciting for the Legal Expense Fund;
  • Expenses for administering the Legal Expense Fund;
  • Federal, state, and local taxes; and
  • Expenses related to preparing the reports required by the Legal Expense Fund Regulations.

Any other expenses, including legal expenses incurred prior to establishing the Legal Expense Fund, must be approved by the Committee.

               5. Beneficiaries

You may use the Legal Expense Fund to pay for your own legal and other expenses, as the trustor and beneficiary of the Legal Expense Fund.  You may include present and former House employees as beneficiaries of the Legal Expense Fund.  If you would like to make anyone other than you a beneficiary of the Legal Expense Fund, you must receive approval from the Committee.

If you choose to make House employees beneficiaries of your Legal Expense Fund, you must follow certain requirements to ensure the House employees can engage independent and competent legal counsel.  Those requirements are listed in the Legal Expense Fund Regulations

               6. Public Disclosure and Reporting

Once the Committee approves your Legal Expense Fund, you must file the trust document with the Legislative Resource Center within one week.  If you do not file the trust document timely, you must seek re-approval from the Committee before formally establishing the Legal Expense Fund.

You must also file quarterly reports for the Legal Expense Fund with the Committee and the Legislative Resource Center.  Legal Expense Funds follow the calendar year, not the legislative year.  The reports include disclosure of certain contributions and certain expenditures.  Although the trustee may assist you with preparing the quarterly reports, you are responsible for filing the quarterly reports.

You must file quarterly reports until the Legal Expense Fund has terminated or you leave the House.  If you leave the House, you must also file a final departing Trustor report. 

Contributions to your Legal Expense Fund are gifts to you.  If you file Financial Disclosure Statements, you must also report contributions on the Gifts Schedule.

               7. Changes to the Legal Expense Fund

If you would like to change the Legal Expense Fund’s purpose, trustee, or beneficiaries, you must receive prior Committee approval. 

               8. Termination of the Legal Expense Fund

Your trustee may terminate the Legal Expense Fund at the earlier of 1) the end of the time period for which the Legal Expense Fund is established, 2) the fulfillment of the Legal Expense Fund’s purpose, or 3) at the Committee’s direction for non-compliance with the Legal Expense Fund Regulations

Within 90 days after a Legal Expense Fund’s termination, your trustee must distribute any remaining funds or assets in one of two ways.

  • You may distribute the funds and assets to the Legal Expense Fund’s contributors on a pro rata basis as determined by your trustee, or
  • You may donate the remaining funds and assets to an organization qualified under Internal Revenue Code § 501(c)(3). 

If you would like to donate the remaining funds and assets to a charitable organization, the Committee must approve the benefitting charities.  No Legal Expense Fund funds or assets may be donated to a charity that was established or is controlled by you.

          ii. Pro Bono Legal Services

You may accept unsolicited pro bono legal services for the following purposes.

[117] Unsolicited pro bono legal services that fit these categories are considered a gift to the House, not to an individual Member.  Members do not need to report the value of these services on their annual Financial Disclosure statements.
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  • File an amicus brief in your capacity as a Member;
  • Participate in a civil action challenging the validity of any federal law or regulation; or
  • Participate in a civil action challenging the lawfulness of an action of a federal agency, or a federal official acting in their official capacity.
    • The civil action must concern a matter of public interest, rather than one that is personal in nature.

Pro bono legal services mean the attorney or law firm providing the legal services is not charging for those services.  Pro bono legal services do not allow an outside third party to pay for legal expenses that you incur.  You may, however, be able to sign on to an amicus brief that is written for an outside third party in your official capacity.

[118] Comm. on Ethics, In the Matter of Allegations Relating to Representative Jean Schmidt, H.R. Rep. No. 112-195, at 16-19 (2011).
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If you are offered pro bono legal services for any other purpose, those legal services must either be allowable contributions to a Legal Expense Fund or separately approved by the Committee through its formal advisory opinion process.

  • Example (Impermissible).  You are the plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the validity of a federal regulation.  A local law firm is representing you in the action but is not charging you for the legal services.  Unbeknownst to you, a third party is paying the law firm’s fees.  You must repay that third party for the legal fees.  Even if you are unaware of a gift that is given on your behalf, you are still ultimately responsible for only accepting permissible gifts.
  • Example (Impermissible).  A law firm offers to prepare an amicus brief for Members.  The law firm does not offer its services on a pro bono basis.  A third party who will also provide legal services offers to pay the law firm’s expenses.  Because the purpose of the legal services is to write an amicus brief for Members, the Members may not accept the third party paying for those legal services.  The law firm itself must either offer its services on a pro bono basis, or the Members must pay fair market value for those services.
  • Example (Additional Action Required).  You are a candidate for local elected office.  Your opponent challenged your placement on the ballot.  When you engaged an attorney to assist with the response, the attorney offered their services on a pro bono basis.  Because the purpose for this pro bono representation does not meet one of the purposes listed above, you must receive formal Committee approval to accept the offer.
  • Example (Permissible).  An advocacy group is filing an amicus brief in a case challenging a federal regulation that you and other Members also disagree with.  The advocacy group is paying for its own legal services and the amicus brief lays out the advocacy group’s arguments.  The advocacy group asks if you would like to also sign on to the amicus brief.  Because the amicus brief is written for the advocacy group, who is paying its own legal services, you may sign on to the brief in your official capacity.

A Warning. You are responsible for complying with the Gift Rule and any other authority allowing you to accept gifts.  Before entering into any arrangement where you are not paying full fair market value, and especially for expensive arrangements such as legal services, the Committee strongly recommends you have a full understanding of what is being offered and who would be providing the gift.  You may not solicit for pro bono legal services.  The Committee and the Office of General Counsel are available to review any retainer agreements.

          iii. Campaign Funds for Legal Expenses

You may be able to use campaign funds to pay for certain legal expenses.  See Payment of Certain Legal Expenses for the Committee’s guidance on using campaign funds for legal expenses.  Please also contact the FEC‘s Office of Congressional Affairs at (202) 694-1006 to discuss additional limits FECA and its regulations place on the use of campaign funds.

[119] Specifically, restrictions on converting campaign funds to personal use.  See 11 C.F.R. pt. 113.
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     Q. Honorary Degrees

You may accept the award of an honorary degree, as well as any travel, food, refreshments, and entertainment that are also provided in connection with the honorary degree. 

[120] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(K).
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  • Example (Permissible).  You were asked to provide a commencement speech to your alma mater and the school plans to award you with an honorary degree.  The school offers to pay for your transportation and lodging expenses, as well as two dinners during commencement weekend and a post-commencement reception.  You may accept the offer from your alma mater.

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     R. Public Service Awards

You may accept a bona fide, non-monetary public service award, as well as any food, refreshments, and entertainment that are also provided in connection with the public service award. 

[121] Id.
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The Committee considers the following criteria to determine if an award is a bona fide public service award.  This list is not exhaustive.

[122] Whether a public service award is a bona fide public service award is particularly important when the award is an item with significant monetary value, such as a crystal sculpture.  If an award does not meet the criteria for a bona fide public service award, the Committee may consider whether the item being awarded meets the requirements for a commemorative item or may consider the gift under a general waiver.
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  • The nature of the organization providing the award;
  • Whether the award is part of an established program and has been awarded on a regular basis;
  • Whether the award has been presented to non-congressional awardees in the past; and
  • Whether there are specific, written criteria for the selection of the awardees.

If you were offered a public service award with a monetary component, you must write to the Committee for formal approval to accept the monetary award.  The Committee will closely examine whether the award is a bona fide public service award when deciding whether to grant you a waiver of the Gift Rule.  See General Waiver for information about the Committee’s waiver authority.

  • Example (Permissible).  Before coming to the House, you were actively involved with foster children.  You continued that work since joining the House.  A foundation that supports foster children would like to honor your service and present you with an award.  The foundation has presented this award every year for the last 20 years to someone who tirelessly works to improve the lives of foster children.  The foundation has established criteria to determine whether a recipient “tirelessly works to improve the lives of foster children.”  A Member and a Senator received the award in previous years, but generally the award is given to someone not affiliated with Congress.  The award itself is a crystal desk clock.  You may accept the bona fide public service award and any meals or entertainment provided when you are presented with the award.
  • Example (Additional Action Required).  You were active duty military prior to joining the House and continue to serve in the Reserves.  You work for the Veterans Affairs Committee and are actively involved in assisting veterans outside of your official duties.  A private organization that assists veterans would like to present you with an award for your service to veterans.  The organization has given this award for five years and no other awardee has been affiliated with Congress.  The organization is aware that you work for the Veterans Affairs Committee, but the decision to present you with the award is mostly based on your service outside the House.  The organization has written criteria for determining who should receive the award.  The award itself is a crystal bowl and $1,000.  You may accept the crystal bowl as a bona fide public service award, but you will need to write to the Committee for formal approval to accept the $1,000. 

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     S. Widely Available Opportunities and Benefits

You may accept opportunities and benefits that are similarly available to others outside the House.  Specifically, an opportunity or benefit must meet one of the following criteria.

[123] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(R).
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  • Available to the public or all federal employees, regardless of geographic location;
  • Offered to the members of a group or class where membership is not related to congressional employment;
  • Offered to members of a group or class where membership is related to congressional employment, but similar opportunities are available to large segments of the public through similar organizations, such as credit unions or employees’ associations;
  • Offered to a group or class of government employees that does not distinguish between branch of government, type of responsibility, rank, or pay grade; or
  • Reduced membership or other fees offered to government employees to participate in a professional organization, if the only restrictions on membership relate to professional qualifications.
  • Example (Permissible).  You would like to use free software to conduct a survey of your constituents.  You’ve discussed the technology and cybersecurity concerns with House Information Resources and Cybersecurity, and everyone is comfortable with you using this free software.  You’ve also cleared the survey’s content with the Franking Commission.  The software is free to anyone who sends no more than 10,000 surveys at once.  You plan to send 9,000 surveys.  You may use the software without having to pay.
  • Example (Permissible).  A hotel chain has a government employee discount that is available to all government employees, whether or not they are on official travel.  You may also accept the discount when staying at that hotel chain.
  • Example (Permissible).  You accumulated enough frequent flyer miles to earn a free first-class ticket.  The frequent flyer program is available to anyone who wishes to sign up.  You may accept the free first-class ticket.
  • Example (Permissible).  You are a member of the Congressional Federal Credit Union.  The Congressional Federal Credit Union joined with an insurance company to offer discounted car insurance rates Congressional Federal Credit Union members.  You may sign up for the discounted car insurance through the Congressional Federal Credit Union.
  • Example (Permissible).  You are a lawyer.  Your state bar provides continuing legal education classes and offers a reduced rate for those classes to its members who are government employees.  You may accept the reduced rate for those classes.
  • Example (Impermissible).  A local, privately-run gym offers reduced membership fees to congressional employees.  You must show your congressional ID to receive the reduced rate.  The gym does not extend this offer to all federal employees or all government employees.  You may not accept the reduced membership fee. 
  • Example (Permissible).  You are invited to appear on a Sunday morning talk show, which will be filmed in D.C.  You live approximately 15 miles from the studio.  The studio offers to send a car to pick you up.  The studio usually offers car service to its guests that live locally.  You may accept the car service.
[124] This example does not preclude membership in the fitness centers provided on House grounds, reduced childcare rates at the House daycare center, or any other discounts that the House procures under contract.  You may accept the discounts the House procures under contract as services provided under contracts with the federal government.  See Gifts from Federal, State, or Local Governments for more information.
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[125] Local transportation means transportation within 35 miles of the Capitol or the closest district office.
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     T. Loans

You may accept a loan from a bank or financial institution with terms generally available to the public.  You may also accept a loan from an entity that is not a financial institution as long as the loan has commercially reasonable terms, including requirements for repayment and a reasonable market-based interest rate.  If you are offered a loan from an entity other than a financial institution on generally available terms, please contact the Committee to review the terms. 

[126] Members, officers, and employees may accept loans from banks or other financial institutions on terms generally available to the public.  House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(R)(v).
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[127] Members, officers, and employees may also accept loans from an entity that is not a financial institution if the Member, officer, or employee is paying fair market value.  House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(R)(v); House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(A).
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  • Example (Permissible).  You and your spouse are buying your first home and shopping for mortgages.  One bank offers you an interest rate that is lower than all other institutions you’ve contacted.  The interest rate is the one they advertise on their website for applicants with high credit scores.  You and your spouse have high credit scores.  You may accept that loan with the interest rate.
  • Example (Impermissible).  Same as the example above, but you and your spouse do not have high credit scores and there are no other factors that could reasonably put you in the same category as applicants with high credit scores.  You may not accept the loan with the lower interest rate.
  • Example (Permissible).  You are buying a car from your best friend’s father.  He offers to let you pay him back directly over time and will charge you the current market interest rate.  You may accept the offer.
  • Example (Impermissible).  Same as the example above, but your best friend’s father offers to let you pay him back directly over time without interest.  You may not accept the offer as a commercially reasonable loan, but you may be able to accept the offer under a different gift exception.

Loan forbearance may also be a gift.  You may accept forbearance under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program or other federal student loan repayment programs.  If you are offered other loan forbearance opportunities, please contact the Committee to review the terms.

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     U. Awards, Prizes, and Raffles

You may accept an award or prize from a contest or event that is open to the public, including random drawings.  You may also accept a prize in a drawing or raffle that is not necessarily open to the public, if most of the entries are not from Members, officers, or employees of Congress, or their spouses or accompanying guests.  See Financial Disclosure for reporting requirements.

[128] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(J).
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  • Example (Permissible).  You purchased a lottery ticket in a state lottery and won.  You may keep the prize. 
  • Example (Permissible).  You attended an invitation-only event and won the 50/50 raffle.  Most of the entrants in the 50/50 raffle were not Members, officers, or employees of Congress or their guests.  You may keep the prize.
  • Example (Permissible).  You attended a reception in a House office building and dropped your business card in the bowl for a prize drawing.  Your business card was pulled.  You may only accept the prize if most of the entrants in the drawing were not Members, officers, or employees of Congress or their guests.

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     V. Campaign Contributions

You may accept lawful campaign contributions, whether to federal campaign committees or leadership PACs or to state or local campaign committees.  You may not use those campaign contributions for your own personal use or for purposes that are not bona fide campaign, political, or certain official purposes.  See Proper Use of Campaign Funds and Resources for further guidance.

[129] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(B).
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[130] House Rule 23, cl. 6; House Rule 24, cls. 1-3.
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Any proceeds from testimonial dinners or other fundraising events for you must be considered campaign contributions.  You must disclose them as required by FEC regulations and you may only use those proceeds for bona fide campaign, political, or certain official purposes.  The proceeds may not be treated as unrestricted personal gifts to you.

[131] House Rule 23, cls. 6-7.  This provision was a recommendation of the House Commission on Administrative Review.  See House Comm'n on Admin. Review, Financial Ethics, H.R. Rep. No. 95-73, at 14 (1977).

The Committee determined that a direct mail solicitation by a Member or a Member’s spouse was a fundraising event, and all proceeds had to be treated as campaign contributions.  Select Comm. on Ethics, Advisory Opinion No. 4 (Apr. 6, 1977), reprinted in H.R. Rep. No. 95-1837, at 61-62 (1977).  The Committee also found that a Member may not accept proceeds from a fundraiser conducted by a group independent of the Member for the Member’s unrestricted personal use.  Select Comm. on Ethics, Advisory Opinion No. 11 (May 11, 1977), reprinted in H.R. Rep. No. 95-1837, at 76.  The Committee noted that a major purpose of the revisions to the Official Code of Conduct was to prevent Members from “cashing in” on their official position in Congress.  Select Comm. on Ethics, Advisory Opinion No. 4, at 62 (Apr. 6, 1977).
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[132] House Rule 23, cl. 6.  Visit FEC.gov or call the FEC’s Office of Congressional Affairs for information about FEC reporting requirements and additional limitations on expenditures.
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  • Example (Permissible).  You are running for re-election to the House and hosting a testimonial dinner with $100 tickets.  The proceeds from the dinner must be reported to the FEC and you may only use those proceeds for bona fide campaign, political, or certain official purposes.
  • Example (Impermissible).  You are running for re-election to the House.  One very enthusiastic campaign supporter gives your campaign a check for three times the individual contribution limit.  You may not accept the excess contribution.  Contact the FEC for assistance with reporting and to determine whether contributions may be attributed to other election cycles.

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     W. Bequests and Inheritances

You may accept gifts that are left to you in someone’s will or through other means of inheritance.  If you file financial disclosure statements, you will not need to report the acquisition of any property through the bequest or inheritance, but you may need to report assets themselves, if they meet reporting thresholds.  See Financial Disclosure for more information about what and how to report.

[133] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(M).
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  • Example (Permissible).  In his will, your grandfather left you his antique clock worth $5,000.  You plan to put the clock in your living room.  You may accept the clock and you will not need to report the gift.
  • Example (Permissible).  Your mother leaves you her house in her will.  You plan to rent out the house. You may accept the gift.  If you file financial disclosure statements, you will need to report the house as a rental property on your financial disclosure statement while you rent it out.

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     X. Artwork and Other Gifts of Unusual Nature on Loan to the House

If you are offered artwork or other unusual gifts that do not meet the requirements for any Gift Rule exception, you may still accept the artwork or unusual gift on loan to the House.  Unusual gifts are tangible items that do not meet the requirements for any of the Gift Rule exceptions.  To accept artwork or other unusual gifts on loan to the House, you must

  • Have a written loan agreement with the item’s owner;
  • Be clear in that written agreement that the item is on loan to the House and not a gift;
  • Be clear in that written agreement that the item will be returned to the owner the earliest of
    • the item being removed from official display,
    • the Member leaving office,
    • a date certain spelled out in the agreement, or
    • when the owner requests the item be returned;
  • Include a provision in the written agreement that the House does not accept liability for any damage or loss; and
  • Include the item’s value in the written agreement.

The Office of General Counsel is available to help you prepare a written loan agreement.  The Committee also recommends you place a sticker or other marker on the item stating that the item is on loan to the House and identifying the item’s owner.

You may help facilitate donations of artwork or unusual gifts to the House Fine Arts Board or a museum in your district.  If you do, the House Fine Arts Board  or the local museum will own the artwork or unusual gift, but you may ask the House Fine Arts Board or the local museum to allow you to display the item in your official office. 

[134] The House Fine Arts Board has the authority to accept, on behalf of the House, gifts of works of fine art, historical objects, and similar property.  2 U.S.C. § 2122.
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  • Example (Additional Action Required).  An artist from another state offers you a small hand carved wooden sculpture that the artist values at $500.  After consulting with the Committee, the sculpture does not meet any of the Gift Rule exceptions, but the artist insists that you take the sculpture.  You may enter into a written loan agreement with the artist to display the sculpture in your official office.  You should contact the Office of General Counsel to draft a written agreement that meets the requirements above.

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     Y. General Waiver

If the gift you were offered does not meet any of the gift exceptions, you may ask the Committee for a waiver of the Gift Rule.  The Committee will grant the waiver in unusual cases where there is “no potential conflict of interest or appearance of impropriety.”  The Committee handles all requests for waivers through its advisory opinion process.

[135] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(T). 
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[136] Bipartisan Task Force Report, 135 Cong. Rec. 30743.
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     Z. Special Occasion Gift Waiver

You may request a Special Occasion Gift Waiver for gifts related to an engagement, wedding, birth or adoption of a child, or death in the family that would not meet an exception to the Gift Rule.  You can find the waiver form here.  The waiver covers gifts you would receive after the Committee approves your request.  Any gifts you receive prior to receiving the Committee’s approval would still need to meet an exception to the Gift Rule.  The request for and approval of any Special Occasion Gift Waiver is a confidential communication with the Committee.  If you file Financial Disclosure statements, see Financial Disclosure Reporting for Gifts for information about Financial Disclosure requirements.

[137] Or another exception such as under FGDA.
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[138] Or another exception such as under FGDA.
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You may need to decline, return, or pay for gifts that do not meet an exception to the Gift Rule or are not covered by a waiver.

[139] The Committee may, in special circumstances, grant retroactive approval to accept a gift.
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XII. Expressly Prohibited Gifts

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     A. Charitable Contributions from Lobbyists and Foreign Agents if You Solicited

You may not ask a registered federal lobbyist or foreign agent to donate to any charitable endeavor unless you asked for a donation to charity in lieu of honorarium.  Any contribution that a registered federal lobbyist or foreign agent makes at your request, other than in lieu of honorarium, is considered a gift to you, and one that you may not accept.  See Member, Officer, and Employee Participation in Fundraising Activities for more information about charitable fundraising.

[140] “Registered federal lobbyist” means a lobbyist who is registered under the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA).  House Rule 25, cl. 5(g).  The LDA is the successor statute to the Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act cited in House Rule 25, clause 5(g).  Because the LDA defines “lobbyist” to mean “any individual” who engages in certain activities set forth in the LDA, the Committee interprets the prohibitions for registered federal lobbyists to include both the individuals who are registered and lobbying firms.  More information about the LDA and its searchable database can be found here
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[141] “Foreign agent” means an agent of a foreign principal who is registered with the Department of Justice under the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA).  More information about the FARA and the database can be found here.  
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[142] House Rule 25, cl. 5(e)(2). 
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     B. Lobbyist and Foreign Agent Contributions to Legal Expense Funds

If you have a legal expense fund, you may not accept any contributions from registered federal lobbyists or foreign agents.  See Legal Expense Funds for more information about contributions you may accept.

[143] House Rule 25, cl. 5(e)(3).
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     C. Lobbyist and Foreign Agent Contributions to Entities You Control or Maintain

If you control or maintain any entity, that entity may not accept anything, including monetary and in-kind contributions, provided by registered federal lobbyists or foreign agents.  You control or maintain the entity if you are an officer or director, or any similar position depending on the business structure of the organization. 

[144] House Rule 25, cl. 5(e)(1).
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  • Example (Impermissible).  You founded a nonprofit organization that provides after-school STEM education before joining the House.  You continue to serve as an officer of the nonprofit.  A registered federal lobbyist would like to give the nonprofit computers.  Because you maintain or control the nonprofit, the nonprofit may not accept the computers.

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     D. Contributions from Lobbyists for Official Events

You may not accept financial or in-kind assistance from a registered federal lobbyist or foreign agent for an official conference, retreat, or similar event.  See Official Events for additional restrictions on accepting outside assistance for official activities.

[145] The Gift Rule expressly prohibits “[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.”  House Rule 25, cl. 5(e)(4); Comm. on Rules, Amending the Rules of the House of Representative to Provide for Gift Reform, H.R. Rep. No. 104-337, at 14 (1995) (explaining the provision prohibits “a donation to an official conference or retreat”).  Other House rules also prohibit official congressional organizations from accepting outside supplementation.  House Rule 24, cls. 1-3.
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  • Example (Impermissible).  An official congressional member organization, or caucus, is hosting its annual two-day policy meeting.  Many Members and staff plan to attend the meeting.  A lobbyist offers to pay for dinner one night during the meeting.  The caucus may not accept the contribution from the lobbyist.
  • Example (Impermissible).  A Member wants to host a retreat for the Member’s personal office staff to discuss policy planning for the upcoming Congress.  A foreign agent offers to let the Member use the foreign agent’s vacation home for free for the staff retreat.  The Member may not accept the use of the vacation home.

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XIII. Financial Disclosure Reporting for Gifts

If you file Financial Disclosure Statements, you may need to report gifts that you receive throughout the calendar year.  See Financial Disclosure for information about what to report and how to report it.

If you received a Special Occasion Gift Waiver, you may also request a Financial Disclosure Gift Disclosure Waiver.  You can find the form here.  This waiver allows you not to report any special occasion gifts you received on your annual Financial Disclosure statement.  Unlike other requests to the Committee, both the request for a Financial Disclosure Gift Disclosure Waiver and the response from the Committee will both be made public.

[146] Gifts above the Financial Disclosure reporting threshold do not need to be disclosed if a publicly available request for a waiver is granted.  Ethics in Government Act (EIGA), 5 U.S.C. app. § 102(a)(2)(C). 
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Endnotes

[1] Code of Ethics for Government Service ¶10, H. Con. Res. 175, 85th Cong., 2d Sess., 72 Stat. pt 2, B12 (1958).  Both the House and Senate concurred that all federal government employees and officeholders should follow this code.

[2] Id.  at ¶ 5.  See also 135 Cong. Rec. H8764 (daily ed. Nov. 16, 1989) (debate on Ethics Reform Act of 1989, quoting Paul Volcker, Chairman of the National Commission on the Public Service); United States v. Podell, 436 F. Supp. 1039, 1042 (S.D.N.Y. 1977), aff’d 572 F.2d 31 (2d Cir. 1978).

Over the years, both the House and Senate regularly recognized the concerns that arise from Members, officers, and employees accepting gifts.  Special Subcomm. on the Establishment of a Comm’n on Ethics in Gov’t, Senate Comm. on Labor and Public Welfare, 82d Cong., Ethical Standards in Government 23 (Comm. Print 1951) (“What is proper to offer to public officials, and what is it proper for them to receive? . . . Even small gratuities can be significant if they are repeated and come to be expected . . . .The difficulty comes in drawing the line between the innocent or proper and that which is designing or improper.  At the moment a doubt arises as to propriety, the line should be drawn.”); House Bipartisan Task Force on Ethics, 101st Cong. Report on H.R. 3660, 101st Cong., 1st Sess. 6 (Comm Print 1989), reprinted in 135 Cong. Rec. 30740, 30742 (daily ed. Nov. 21, 1989) (hereinafter “Bipartisan Task Force Report”) (“Regardless of any actual corruption or undue influence upon a Member or employee of Congress, the receipt of gifts or favors from private interests may affect public confidence in the integrity of the individual and in the institution of the Congress.  Legitimate concerns of favoritism or abuse of public position may be raised by disclosure of frequent or expensive gifts from representatives of special interests, or valuable gifts from anyone other than a relative or personal friend.”); S. Comm. on Gov’t Affairs, Congressional Gifts Reform Act, S. Rep. No. 103-255, at 3-4 (1994) (“[I]t seems appropriate to single out registered lobbyists and foreign agents for special treatment, because this category includes people who are, by definition, in the business of seeking to influence the outcome of public policy decisions.  Because registered lobbyists and foreign agents are paid to influence the actions of public officials, including legislative branch officials, their gifts are uniquely susceptible to the appearance that they are intended to purchase access or influence.”).

[3] General statutory authority for the House Gift Rule comes from 5 U.S.C. § 7353.  That statute gives the supervising ethics office the authority to issue rules or regulations implementing the statute.  Id. at § (b)(1).  The Committee and the House as a whole are the supervising ethics office for the House.  Id. at (d)(1)(A).  Therefore, the House votes on the Gift Rule at the beginning of every Congress in the House Rules.  The current House Gift Rule can be found in House Rule 25, clause 5.  All provisions of the Gift Rule are interpreted and enforced solely by the Committee.  House Rule 25, cl. 5(h).

[4] The Gift Rule has gone through many iterations over the years.  The first version was included in the first House Code of Official Conduct and approved in 1968 limited gifts from people who had a direct interest in legislation.  That version largely remained in place until the Bipartisan Task Force on Ethics reviewed the rule and found it “often impractical, if not impossible” to determine a donor’s interest in legislation.  Bipartisan Task Force Report, 135 Cong. Rec. 30742; see also House Comm'n on Admin. Review, Financial Ethics, H.R. Rep. No. 95-73, at 13-14 (1977) (expressing similar concerns and recommending changes to the Gift Rule that ultimately were not included in the following Congress’s House Rules).  The subsequent Ethics Reform Act of 1989, as amended by the Legislative Branch Appropriations Act for fiscal year 1992, amended the rule to instead place an annual monetary limit on many gifts, with exceptions for gifts of minimal value, gifts from relatives, personal hospitality, and “local meals,” rather than requiring a determination about the donor’s interest in legislation.  See Ethics Reform Act of 1989, Pub. L. 101-194, §801(a), 103 Stat. 1716, 1771 (1989), amended by Pub. L. 102-90, §314(d), 105 Stat. 447, 469 (1991).

In 1995, the House overhauled the Gift Rule, placing new, significant limits on the gifts Members, officers, and employees may accept.  H.R. Res. 250, 104th Cong. (1995) (amending House Rule 52 to add Gift Rule reforms); see also 141 Cong. Rec. H13064-95 (daily ed. Nov. 16, 1995); id. H13844-45 (daily ed. Nov. 30, 1995).  The House Rules Committee cited three main reasons for the Gift Rule revisions.  First, “a perception that special interest groups maintain undue influence over the legislative process, and Members of Congress are granted perquisites and privileges unavailable to average Americans” degraded the public’s trust in Congress.  Second, “Congress [had] fallen behind the executive branch in the area of gift reform.”  And third, the Senate had already enacted a comprehensive gift rule revision in July 1995.  Comm. on Rules, Amending the Rules of the House of Representatives to Provide for Gift Reform, H.R. Rep. No. 104-337, at 8 (1995).  One proponent described the subtle and problematic ways that gifts from lobbyists buy access and ultimately power through building goodwill.  “It can mean the difference between getting your calls returned or your letter taken seriously, and that can translate into millions, even billions of dollars, at the expense of ordinary Americans who have no lobbyists to represent them.”  To Limit the Acceptance of Gifts, Meals, and Travel by Members of Congress and Congressional Staff, and for Other Purposes: Hearing on S. 885 Before the Subcomm. on Oversight of the Senate of the S. Comm. on Gov’t Affairs, 103d Cong., 5-6 (1993) (statement of Sen. Lautenberg).  The House made a few changes to the Gift Rule between the 104th and 108th Congresses, including provisions addressing gifts valued below $50, perishable foods sent to House offices, and travel to charity events.  See H.R. Res. 9, 106th Cong. (1999); 145 Cong. Rec. H208-211 (daily ed. Jan. 6, 1999) (adding the less than $50 limit to mirror the Senate gift rule); H.R. Res. 5, 108th Cong. (2003) (adding rules related to how to allocate perishable food and accepting travel to attend charity event).

In the 110th Congress, the House amended the Gift Rule in the wake of several public corruption investigations and prosecutions.  The amendments to the Gift Rule include 1) prohibiting gifts under $50 from registered federal lobbyists, agents of a foreign principal (“foreign agent”), and the private entities that employ or retain registered federal lobbyists or foreign agents; 2) limiting involvement by, and the length of trips sponsored by, registered federal lobbyists, foreign agents, and private entities that employ or retain registered federal lobbyists or foreign agents for privately-sponsored, officially-connected travel; 3) requiring the Committee to pre-approve all privately-sponsored, officially-connected travel; 4) instructions on how to value tickets; and 5) clarifying events for which free attendance may be accepted.  H.R. Res. 6, 110th Cong (2007); H.R. Res. 437, 110th Cong. (2007); see also 153 Cong. Rec. H23 (daily ed., Jan. 4, 2007) (statement of Rep. Steny H. Hoyer) (“[T]his rules package includes sweeping ethics reforms that begin to address some of the most egregious transgressions of the recent past.”).

[5] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(2)(A).

[6] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(2)(B)(ii).

[7] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(1)(B)(ii).

[8] Select Comm. on Ethics, Final Report, H.R. Rep. No. 95-1837, at 9 (1979).

[9] House Rule 23, cl. 4; House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(1)(A)(i).  For the purposes of all guidance in the Ethics Manual, the term “Members” includes all Members, Delegates, and the Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico.

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[10] House Rule 23, cl. 19.

[11] See 2 U.S.C. § 72a(f).  Detailees should contact their Designated Agency Ethics Official for gift questions relating to detailees personally.  Any questions that relate to the office or the Member, however, are still governed by the House Rules.

[12] For more information about the Gold Star Families Fellowship, please call the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) at 202-226-1965.

[13] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(2)(B)(i).

[14] See Comm. on Ethics, Ethics Guidance Related to Operations During a Lapse in Appropriations (Jan. 19, 2018).

[15] 5 U.S.C. § 7353(a).  Specifically, you may not solicit anything of value from someone who is seeking official action from or doing business with Congress, or whose interests may be impacted by your official duties.  This prohibition does not include solicitations for campaign contributions.  See 136 Cong. Rec. H1647 (daily ed. Apr. 24, 1990) (regarding technical corrections to the Ethics Reform Act of 1989); Comm. on Ethics, Member, Officer, and Employee Participation in Fundraising Activities (May 2, 2019).  Members and staff may assist with fundraising to benefit political organizations registered under section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code, including federal and state political organizations.  Members and staff may also fundraise directly for state level ballot measure committees that are qualified under state law, but not fundraise for an organization that intends to donate all or some of its proceeds to a state level ballot measure committee. Comm. on Ethics, Member, Officer, and Employee Participation in Fundraising Activities.

[16] Punishments for bribery include a fine of up to three times the amount of the bribe, imprisonment up to fifteen years, and disqualification from holding any federal office.  See 18 U.S.C. § 201 (b).  Punishments for seeking or receiving an illegal gratuity also include a fine and imprisonment up to two years.  Id. at (c).

[17] Congressman Duke Cunningham resigned from the House after pleading guilty to engaging in tax evasion and criminal conspiracy to violate, among other things, the bribery statute through his acceptance of a wide variety of extravagant items and millions of dollars’ worth of payments, travel, and other benefits.  Even after his retirement, there were continuing reports concerning possible violations of House rules and standards, including that he accepted hotel rooms, limousines, and other services in exchange for performing official acts.  Information, United States vs. Randall “Duke” Cunningham, No. 05-CR-2137 (S.D. Cal. 2005); Comm. on Standards of Official Conduct, Summary of Activities, 109th Congress, H.R. Rep. No. 109-744, at 20 (2007). 

Although not prosecuted under the bribery statute, Congressman Robert Ney resigned from the House after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, making false statements, and aiding and abetting his former chief of staff’s post-employment restrictions.  As part of his plea agreement, he admitted that he corruptly solicited and accepted trips, meals, concert and sporting tickets, thousands of dollars in gambling chips, and tens of thousands of dollars of campaign contributions and in-kind contributions with the intent to be influenced and induced to take official actions.  Plea Agreement Attachment A, United States v. Robert W. Ney, No. 06-CR-272 (D.D.C. 2006); Comm. on Standards of Official Conduct, Summary of Activities, 109th Congress, H.R. Rep. No. 109-744, at 16-17 (2007).

Congressman James Traficant was expelled from the House after he was convicted of conspiracy to violate the bribery statue by agreeing to and performing official acts for various individuals in exchange for free labor, materials, supplies, and equipment for use at his farm.  United States v. James A. Traficant, Jr., 368 F.3d 646 (6th 2004), aff’g No. 4:01-CR-207 (N.D. Ohio 2002).  During its investigation, the Committee stated that some of those official acts included intervening in matters pending before federal and state authorities.  The Committee found that Congressman Traficant’s actions were “of the most serious character meriting the strongest possible Congressional response” and recommended that the House adopt a resolution to expel Congressman Traficant, which the House did.  Comm. on Standards of Official Conduct, In the Matter of Representative James A. Traficant, Jr., H.R. Rep. No. 107-594, at 2 (2002); H.R.  Res. 495, 107th Cong. (2002); 148 Cong. Rec. H5375-5393 (daily ed. July 24, 2002).

In the 1980s, the Committee conducted many investigations into alleged bribes and illegal gratuities.  The Committee recommended expulsion for Congressman Mario Biaggi for accepting free vacation trips from the creditor of a government contractor on whose behalf Congressman Biaggi intervened with local authorities.  Congressman Biaggi resigned before the House could act.  Comm. on Standards of Official Conduct, In the Matter of Representative Mario Biaggi, H.R. Rep. No. 100-506 (1988).  The Committee also investigated three Members on charges of accepting money in exchange for promising to aid purportedly wealthy foreigners seeking to immigrate to the United States, part of the Department of Justice’s “ABSCAM” probe.  See Comm. on Standards of Official Conduct, In the Matter of Representative Michael J. Myers, H.R. Rep. No. 96-1387 (1980); Comm. on Standards of Official Conduct, In the Matter of Representative John W. Jenrette, Jr. , H.R. Rep. No. 96-1537 (1980); Comm. on Standards of Official Conduct, In the Matter of Representative Raymond F. Lederer, H.R. Rep. No. 97-110 (1981).  Congressman Myers was expelled from the House and Congressmen Jenrette and Lederer resigned.  See H.R. Res. 794, 96th Cong. (1980), reprinted in 126 Cong. Rec. 28953-28978 (Oct. 2, 1980).  Finally, the Committee investigated Congressman Daniel Flood for receiving payments, either directly or through an assistant, from a series of individuals over a five-year period, in exchange for agreements to attempt to influence various government agencies.  Comm. on Standards of Official Conduct, In the Matter of Representative Daniel J. Flood, H.R. Rep. No. 96-856, at 5-16 (1980).  Congressman Flood also resigned his position with the House.

[18] See 5 U.S.C. § 7353(b)(2)(B); 18 U.S.C. § 201.  The Committee is aware of recent court decisions that further define the types of official actions covered under 18 U.S.C. § 201.  See e.g., McDonnell v. United States, 576 U.S. __, 136 S. Ct. 2355 (2016); United States v. Jefferson, 289 F. Supp. 3d 717 (E.D.V.A. 2017) (vacating a portion of Congressman Jefferson’s convictions following McDonnell v. United States).  The Department of Justice enforces this statute; however, the Committee has the authority to investigate actions that violate the House Code of Conduct, House Rule 23, clauses 1 and 2, even if those actions are not prosecuted by the Department of Justice.

[19] Bribery occurs when a federal official “directly, or indirectly, corruptly” receives or asks for “anything of value personally or for any other person or entity, in return for . . . being influenced in the performance of any official act.”  Id. at (b)(2)(A).  An illegal gratuity results when an official directly or indirectly seeks or receives personally anything of value other than “as provided by law . . . for or because of any official act performed or to be performed.”  Id. at (c)(1)(B).  Bribery requires a quid pro quo, or “a specific intent to give or receive something of value in exchange for an official act[,]” and illegal gratuity “may constitute merely a reward for some future act that the public official will take (and may have already determined to take), or for a past act that he has already taken.”  United States v. Sun-Diamond Growers, 526 U.S. 398, 404-405 (1999). 

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[20] Sun-Diamond Growers, 526 U.S. at 405-408.

[21] A true “gift” is a “voluntary transfer” of property, made “without compensation.” Gift, Black’s Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019).

[22] This view is similar to that in the regulations of the Executive Branch’s Office of Government Ethics.  See 5 C.F.R. § 2536.206(a)(2) (Example 1).

[23]  House Members and employees may not accept compensation for representing anyone before a federal department, agency, officer, or court in any particular matter in which the United States is a party or has a direct and substantial interest.  18 U.S.C. § 203.  Officers and employees have similar restrictions even if they are not receiving compensation.  See 18 U.S.C. § 205.  These statutes are administered by the Department of Justice, and any advice the Committee provides about these statutes is advisory only.

[24] 18 U.S.C. § 211. 

[25]  The Gift Rule restrictions do not apply to anything a Member, officer, or employee does not use and promptly returns to the donor.  House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(A).

[26] The Gift Rule does not apply to anything for which a Member, officer, or employee pays market value.  House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(A).

[27] Generally, the Committee looks to what would be a reasonable price for something similar in an arms’-length transaction.  Any difficulty the recipient may have in paying the fair market value is not a factor in determining how much would need to be repaid.  See Comm. on Ethics, In the Matter of Allegations Relating to Representative Jean Schmidt, H.R. Rep. No. 112-195, at 19 (2011).

[28]  House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(6).

[29]  House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(6); Comm. on Ethics, In the Matter of Officially-Connected Travel by House Members to Azerbaijan in 2013, H.R. Rep. No. 114-239, at 10-11 (2015).

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[30] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(1)(A)(i).

[31] For example, if you may accept a book under the informational materials exception, you may accept that book even if the fair market value is more than $50.  Because the book meets the exception for informational materials, you also would not have to apply the exception for gifts less than $50, and that book would not count towards the annual limit of less than $100 that goes with the less than $50 per instance exception.

[32] The Office Code of Conduct for the House prohibits Members, officers, and employees from receiving any benefit “by virtue of influence improperly exerted from the position of such individual in Congress.”  House Rule 23, cl. 4.  Additionally, the Code of Ethics for Government Service states you should “never discriminate unfairly by the dispensing of special favors or privileges to anyone, whether for remuneration or not; and never accept for [yourself] or [your] family, favors or benefits under circumstances [that] might be construed by reasonable persons as influencing the performance of [your] governmental duties.”  Code of Ethics for Government Service ¶ 5.  See also Comm. on Standards of Official Conduct, Investigation of Financial Transactions Participated in and Gifts of Transportation Accepted by Representative Fernand J. St. Germain, H.R. Rep. No. 100-46, at 3, 9, 43 (1987) (“[T]he Committee would admonish all Members to avoid situations in which even an inference might be drawn suggesting improper action.”).

[33] See Comm. on Ethics, In the Matter of Allegations Relating to Representative Don Young, H.R. Rep. No. 113-487, at 4 (2014) (issuing a letter of reproval despite repayment because the Member’s acceptance of impermissible gifts “demonstrated a lack of appropriate safeguards and an inattention to the relevant standards of conduct”).

[34] See Comm. on Standards of Official Conduct, In the Matter of Representative Charles H. Wilson (of California), H.R. Rep. no. 96-930, at 4-5, 19-20 (1980) (knowingly accepting gifts from individuals with direct interests in legislation before Congress); Comm. on Standards of Official Conduct, In the Matter of Representative Daniel J. Flood, H.R. Rep. No. 96-856, at 5-15 (1980) (alleging Congressman Flood accepted payments to influence official actions).

[35] House Rule 23, cl. 2.

[36] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(W).  Through the 105th Congress, the Committee allowed Members and staff to accept a variety of low value, tangible items under this provision.  At the start of the 106th Congress. however, the House determined that such a broad reading of the nominal value provision was no longer appropriate and instituted the less than $10 limit.  H.R. Res. 9, 106th Cong. (1999).

[37] Under the gift rule prior to the 110th Congress, Members and staff were allowed to accept gifts, including food and refreshments, from virtually anyone under the less than $50 provision, even if the source was a registered federal lobbyist, foreign agent, or organization that employs or retains a registered federal lobbyist.  With the gift rule amendments in the 110th Congress, the House determined food and refreshments of a nominal value offered by a registered federal lobbyist, foreign agent, or organization that employs or retains a registered federal lobbyist may only be accepted at business meetings, receptions, and similar events that are not one-on-one encounters. H.R. Res. 6, 110th Cong. (2007); Comm. on Standards of Official Conduct, Gift Rule Amendments at the Beginning of the 110th Congress (Feb. 6, 2007).

[38] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(1)(B)(i).  “Registered federal lobbyist” means a lobbyist who is registered under the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA).  House Rule 25, cl. 5(g).  The LDA is the successor statute to the Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act cited in House Rule 25, clause 5(g).  Because the LDA defines “lobbyist” to mean “any individual” who engages in certain activities set forth in the LDA, the Committee interprets the prohibitions for registered federal lobbyists to include both the individuals who are registered and lobbying firms.  More information about the LDA and its searchable database can be found here

“Foreign agent” means an agent of a foreign principal who is registered with the Department of Justice under the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA).  More information about the FARA and the database can be found here.  

[39] Id.

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[40] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(C) (incorporating 5 U.S.C. app. § 109(16)).

[41] A spouse is someone to whom you are legally married.

[42] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(C); 5 U.S.C. app. § 109(16).

[43] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(D).

[44] Id. at (D)(ii).  The second and third prong consider whether the recipient has actual knowledge of the donor’s circumstances.

[45] Fiancé(e)s are considered relatives.  Therefore, if your fiancé(e) makes the same offer of a trip abroad, you may accept it as a gift from a relative.  See Gifts from Relatives for more information.

[46] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(F).

[47] See 5 U.S.C. § 7351(a) (a federal employee may not give a superior a gift, solicit a contribution from another employee for a gift to a superior, or accept a gift from an employee receiving less pay).  The Committee has the authority to implement this section, including to allow for gifts to superiors for special occasions.  Id. at (c).

[48] See Staff of Comm on Ethics, 115th Cong., In the Matter of Allegations Relating to Representative Thomas Garrett 5, 32-34 (Comm. Print 2019).

[49] Id. at 34.

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[50] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(P) (incorporating 5 U.S.C. app. § 109(14)).  If the individual providing the gift is reimbursed by a business or seeks a business expense deduction for the hospitality, that hospitality is a business expense and not personal hospitality.  Bipartisan Task Force Report, 135 Cong. Rec. 30743.  Similarly, any property or facilities owned by a corporation or a firm, even if the individual providing the gift is the sole owner of the corporation or firm, are not personally owned by the individual and may not be used for personal hospitality.

[51] Id.; 5 U.S.C. app. § 109(14) (“[H]ospitality extended for a non-business purpose by an individual, not a corporation or organization, at the personal residence of that individual or his family or on property or facilities owned by that individual or his family.”).  See, e.g., Comm. on Ethics, In the Matter of Allegations Relating to Representative Don Young, H.R. Rep. No. 113-487, at 38, 57, 61 (2014) (discussing various trips taken by Representative Young that did and did not meet the exception for personal hospitality).

[52] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(O).  “Government contracts” under this provision mean federal government contracts.  See, e.g., 5 C.F.R. § 2635.203(7); 57 Fed. Reg. 35,014 (Aug. 7, 1992) (“The exclusion is intended to cover items the Government procures for use by its employees under a Government contract or knowingly obligates itself to pay for.”).

[53] See Comm. on Rules, Amending the Rules of the House of Representative to Provide for Gift Reform, H.R. Rep. No. 104-337, at 11 (1995).

[54] An interstate compact entered into by the State of Maryland, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the District of Columbia, and was approved by Congress, established WMATA as a governmental agency, with funding derived from the federal government and state governments, as well as from rider fares.

[55] See Cal. Gov’t Code §§ 6500-6599.3 (joint powers authorities).

[56] See 22 Pa. Code § 31.2 (Pennsylvania state-related universities are instrumentalities of the commonwealth).

[57] The Committee carefully considered the matter of Native American tribes and found nothing in the legislative history of the current gift rule or its predecessors indicating an intent to treat Native American tribes as state or local government entities for these purposes.  The Committee also does not consider Native American tribes to be foreign governments.  Additionally, many Native American tribes employ or retain registered federal lobbyists.  Your ability to accept gifts from those Native American tribes will be limited by the Gift Rule exceptions relevant to organizations that employ or retain registered federal lobbyists.

[58] “Amtrak is not a department, agency, or instrumentality of the United States Government . . .”  49 U.S.C. § 24301(a)(3).

[59] U.S. Const. Art. I, § 9, cl. 8.

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[60] Congress consented to other programs outside of FGDA and MECEA, including the U.S.-Korea National Assembly Exchange Program.  However, FGDA and MECEA are the most common methods that foreign governments use to offer Members, officers, and employees gifts and travel.

[61] Members, officers, and employees may accept “[a]n item, the receipt of which is authorized by the [FGDA], the [MECEA], or any other statute.”  House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(N).

[62] 5 U.S.C. § 7342(a)(2).  To determine whether an organization is part of a foreign government, the Committee looks to a number of factors including the level to which the organizations is funded by the federal government, whether the organization is controlled by a foreign government, and whether another U.S. government agency determined the organization is part of a foreign government.  Members, officers, and employees may only accept gifts from organizations that meet this definition under FGDA or MECEA.  See Comm. on Ethics, In the Matter of Officially-Connected Travel by House Members to Azerbaijan in 2013, H.R. Rep. No. 114-239 (2015); Comm. on Ethics, In the Matters of Allegations Relating to Travel to Taiwan by Representatives William Owens and Peter Roskam in 2011, H.R. Rep. No. 113-226 (2013).

[63] The Committee’s implementing regulations are issued pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 7342(a)(6)(A), (g)(1) and apply to House Members, officers, and employees.  The regulations were first published on January 23, 1978.  124 Cong. Rec. 452-53.

[64] 5 U.S.C. § 7342(a)(1)(G).

[65] 5 U.S.C. § 7342(c).

[66] 5 U.S.C. § 7342 (c)(1)(A).

[67] 5 U.S.C. § 7342(a)(5).

[68] 5 U.S.C. § 7342(g)(2)(B); (a)(6)(A).

[69] 5 U.S.C. § 7342(d).

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[70] 5 U.S.C. § 7342(c)(1)(B).

[71] Id.

[72] Although rare, educational scholarships are offered to federal government officials from foreign academic institutions.  This provision of FGDA applies only to educational scholarships offered or funded by foreign governments, or provisions of foreign governments, including public institutions.  See, e.g., Letter from Robert B. Shanks, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, O.L.C., to Walter T. Skallerup, General Counsel, Department of the Navy (Mar. 17, 1983), https://www.justice.gov/olc/page/file/936131/download (allowing a scientist employed by the Naval Research Laboratory to accept an educational scholarship from the German Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, which is funded by the German government, to conduct research in Germany).

[73] The Department of State makes FGDA disclosures public in the Federal Register each year.  5 U.S.C. § 7342(f)(1).

[74] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(V).  Home state products can be manufactured, produced, or grown anywhere in your state, not just your district.  This provision does not include items that are merely distributed in your state, but are manufactured, produced, or grown elsewhere. 

[75] The Committee understands Members and staff may occasionally avail themselves of individually packaged home state products.  The home state product exception does not prohibit occasional use, but individually packaged home state products must be intended for, and actually distributed to, visitors to your office.

[76] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(U).

[77] See Comm. on Rules, Amending the Rules of the House of Representatives to Provide for Gift Reform, H.R. Rep. No. 104-337, at 11 (1995) (“Food and refreshments of nominal value not offered as part of a meal (reception food)”); Comm. on Standards of Official Conduct, New Gift Rule, at 3 (Dec. 7, 1995) (allowing “coffee and donuts, [and] hors d’oeuvres at a reception”); Comm. on Standards of Official Conduct, Gifts and Travel booklet, at 32 (April 2000) (specifically describing the kinds of food and refreshments that may be accepted, including coffee, juice, pastry, or bagels usually offered at a breakfast reception or meeting, and hors d’oeuvres, appetizers, and beverages usually offered at an evening reception).

[78] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(4)(A); (B).

[79] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(4)(D).

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[80] Id.  Giveaways may be accepted if they meet the requirements of another exception to the Gift Rule.  The most commonly used exceptions are the less than $50 exception and the nominal value exception.

[81] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(4)(B).

[82] “Event organizer” and “event sponsor,” as those terms relate to events, mean “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.”  Comm. on Rules, Amending the Rules of the House of Representatives to Provide for Gift Reform, H.R. Rep. No. 104-337, at 12 (1995).  Gold or silver level sponsors or table sponsors are not included in the definition of event organizer or event sponsor for the purposes of these exceptions to the Gift Rule.  But, there may be more than one event organizer if those entities “play[] significant, active role[s] in organizing the event in a manner that is roughly comparable” to another event organizer or sponsor.  S. Comm. on Gov’t Affairs, Congressional Gifts Reform Act, S. Rep. No. 103-255, at 14 (1994) (Senate committee report on revisions to the Senate gift rule).

[83] Attendance can be open to individuals from throughout a given industry or profession, or to a range of people interested in the issue.  See Comm. on Rules, Amending the Rules of the House of Representatives to Provide for Gift Reform, H.R. Rep. No. 104-337, at 12 (1995).

[84] Comm. on Rules, Amending the Rules of the House of Representatives to Provide for Gift Reform, H.R. Rep. No. 104-337, at 12 (1995).

[85] The Committee granted this general waiver pursuant to its waiver authority in House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(T).  The Committee did so because it recognized the Gift Rule was not intended to interfere with Members carrying out their conventional representational duties, and that meetings or events with constituent organizations may sometimes be attended by only a few constituents, particularly when the organization is from a state with a small or diffuse population.

[86] The Committee granted this general waiver pursuant to its waiver authority in House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(T).  The Committee did so because it recognized there are certain events that are worthwhile for Members and staff to attend, but that do not meet the numeric requirements for widely-attended events.

[87] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(L).

[88] Id.

[89] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(4)(C).  This exception extends to charity events such as lunches, dinners, golf or tennis tournaments, races, and cook-offs.  The purpose of this exception to the Gift Rule is to enable Members and staff “to lend their names to legitimate charitable enterprises and otherwise promote charitable goals.”  Comm. on Rules, Amending the Rules of the House of Representatives to Provide for Gift Reform, H.R. Rep. No. 104-337, at 12 (1992).

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[90] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(4)(D).

[91] Id.  Giveaways may be accepted if they meet the requirements of another exception of the Gift Rule.  The most commonly exceptions used are the less than $50 exception and the nominal value exception.

[92] “Event organizer” and “event sponsor,” as those terms relate to events, mean “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.”  Comm. on Rules, Amending the Rules of the House of Representatives to Provide for Gift Reform, H.R. Rep. No. 104-337, at 12 (1995).  Gold or silver level sponsors or table sponsors are not included in the definition of event organizer or event sponsor for the purposes of these exceptions to the Gift Rule.  But, there may be more than one event organizer if those entities “play[] significant, active role[s] in organizing the event in a manner that is roughly comparable” to another event organizer or sponsor.  S. Comm. on Gov’t Affairs, Congressional Gifts Reform Act, S. Rep. No. 103-255, at 14 (1994) (Senate committee report on revisions to the Senate gift rule).

[93] Organizations qualified under § 170(c) of the Internal Revenue Code include organizations qualified under § 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, government entities, and certain veterans’ organizations and fraternal orders.  26 U.S.C. § 170(c).  Organizations qualified under § 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code are not included in this list.

[94] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(G)(iii).

[95] The political organization must directly pay for your meal.  You may not accept a meal that an outside third-party provided to the political organization through in-kind donations under this exception to the Gift Rule.  You may be able to accept the meal under a different exception to the Gift Rule.

[96] Briefly stated, under that statute, a political organization is an entity organized and operated primarily for the purpose of accepting contributions or making expenditures for the purpose of influencing the election of any individual to a public or political office.

[97] The term “bona fide” means “made in good faith; without fraud or deceit,” sincere, or genuine.  Bona fide, Black’s Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019).

[98] “Event organizer” and “event sponsor,” as those terms relate to events, mean “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.”  Comm. on Rules, Amending the Rules of the House of Representatives to Provide for Gift Reform, H.R. Rep. No. 104-337, at 12 (1995).  Gold or silver level sponsors or table sponsors are not included in the definition of event organizer or event sponsor for the purposes of these exceptions to the Gift Rule.  But, there may be more than one event organizer if those entities “play[] significant, active role[s] in organizing the event in a manner that is roughly comparable” to another event organizer or sponsor.  S. Comm. on Gov’t Affairs, Congressional Gifts Reform Act, S. Rep. No. 103-255, at 14 (1994) (Senate committee report on revisions to the Senate gift rule).

[99] An event could nominally be in honor of a single Member, officer, or employee, or a group.  For example, an event could be in honor of a caucus or a staff association.

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[100] This provision only applies to Members, not to officers or employees who may also attend the national party conventions.

[101] See Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 (HLOGA), Pub. L. No. 110-81, § 305, 121 Stat. 735, 753-754 (Sept. 14, 2007); House Rule 25, cl. 8.  The term “participate” is not defined in HLOGA or the relevant House Rule.  In the Committee’s view, the prohibition on participation in these events concerns Member attendance at the event.  Members should contact the Committee with any questions regarding whether activities other than attendance may constitute participation in such events.

[102] Id.

[103] See 153 Cong. Rec. E1759 (daily ed. Aug. 4, 2007) (statement of Rep. John Conyers, Jr.) (“This provision will have the effect of preventing lobbyists or an entity employing such lobbyists from directly paying for a party to honor a specific Member.”).

[104] There is no numerical requirement on the size of the delegation or caucus participating in the event.

[105] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(U).

[106] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(I).  You should consider whether the material you were offered truly is informational and will benefit you in your official capacity.  For example, a copy of a tax law textbook may be informational if you are considering revisions to the tax code, but the latest fiction murder mystery may not be informational.

[107] Comm. on Rules, Amending the Rules of the House of Representatives to Provide for Gift Reform, H.R. Rep. No. 104-337, at 11 (1995).

[108] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(S).

[109] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(G).

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[110] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(H).

[111] See 18 U.S.C. § 203 (prohibiting federal employees, including Members, officers, and employees of the House, from accepting, “directly or indirectly,” compensation for representational services before federal agencies). 

[112] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(E).

[113] Id.

[114] Gifts from relatives of any amount or gifts from personal friends that are less than $250 are not considered contributions to the Legal Expense Fund and do not count towards the $5,000 annual limit, even if you intend to use those gifts to pay for legal services.  Gifts from relatives and gifts from personal friends are considered under separate exceptions to the Gift Rule.

[115] House Rule 25, cl. 5(e)(3).

[116] You may accept unlimited pro bono legal services for certain legal assistance, outlined in Pro Bono Legal ServicesPro bono legal services for any other purpose are in-kind contributions to the Legal Expense Fund and subject to the annual limit.

[117] Unsolicited pro bono legal services that fit these categories are considered a gift to the House, not to an individual Member.  Members do not need to report the value of these services on their annual Financial Disclosure statements.

[118] Comm. on Ethics, In the Matter of Allegations Relating to Representative Jean Schmidt, H.R. Rep. No. 112-195, at 16-19 (2011).

[119] Specifically, restrictions on converting campaign funds to personal use.  See 11 C.F.R. pt. 113.

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[120] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(K).

[121] Id.

[122] Whether a public service award is a bona fide public service award is particularly important when the award is an item with significant monetary value, such as a crystal sculpture.  If an award does not meet the criteria for a bona fide public service award, the Committee may consider whether the item being awarded meets the requirements for a commemorative item or may consider the gift under a general waiver.

[123] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(R).

[124] This example does not preclude membership in the fitness centers provided on House grounds, reduced childcare rates at the House daycare center, or any other discounts that the House procures under contract.  You may accept the discounts the House procures under contract as services provided under contracts with the federal government.  See Gifts from Federal, State, or Local Governments for more information.

[125] Local transportation means transportation within 35 miles of the Capitol or the closest district office.

[126] Members, officers, and employees may accept loans from banks or other financial institutions on terms generally available to the public.  House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(R)(v).

[127] Members, officers, and employees may also accept loans from an entity that is not a financial institution if the Member, officer, or employee is paying fair market value.  House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(R)(v); House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(A).

[128] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(J).

[129] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(B).

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[130] House Rule 23, cl. 6; House Rule 24, cls. 1-3.

[131] House Rule 23, cls. 6-7.  This provision was a recommendation of the House Commission on Administrative Review.  See House Comm'n on Admin. Review, Financial Ethics, H.R. Rep. No. 95-73, at 14 (1977).

The Committee determined that a direct mail solicitation by a Member or a Member’s spouse was a fundraising event, and all proceeds had to be treated as campaign contributions.  Select Comm. on Ethics, Advisory Opinion No. 4 (Apr. 6, 1977), reprinted in H.R. Rep. No. 95-1837, at 61-62 (1977).  The Committee also found that a Member may not accept proceeds from a fundraiser conducted by a group independent of the Member for the Member’s unrestricted personal use.  Select Comm. on Ethics, Advisory Opinion No. 11 (May 11, 1977), reprinted in H.R. Rep. No. 95-1837, at 76.  The Committee noted that a major purpose of the revisions to the Official Code of Conduct was to prevent Members from “cashing in” on their official position in Congress.  Select Comm. on Ethics, Advisory Opinion No. 4, at 62 (Apr. 6, 1977).

[132] House Rule 23, cl. 6.  Visit FEC.gov or call the FEC’s Office of Congressional Affairs for information about FEC reporting requirements and additional limitations on expenditures.

[133] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(M).

[134] The House Fine Arts Board has the authority to accept, on behalf of the House, gifts of works of fine art, historical objects, and similar property.  2 U.S.C. § 2122.

[135] House Rule 25, cl. 5(a)(3)(T). 

[136] Bipartisan Task Force Report, 135 Cong. Rec. 30743.

[137] Or another exception such as under FGDA.

[138] Or another exception such as under FGDA.

[139] The Committee may, in special circumstances, grant retroactive approval to accept a gift.

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[140] “Registered federal lobbyist” means a lobbyist who is registered under the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA).  House Rule 25, cl. 5(g).  The LDA is the successor statute to the Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act cited in House Rule 25, clause 5(g).  Because the LDA defines “lobbyist” to mean “any individual” who engages in certain activities set forth in the LDA, the Committee interprets the prohibitions for registered federal lobbyists to include both the individuals who are registered and lobbying firms.  More information about the LDA and its searchable database can be found here

[141] “Foreign agent” means an agent of a foreign principal who is registered with the Department of Justice under the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA).  More information about the FARA and the database can be found here.  

[142] House Rule 25, cl. 5(e)(2). 

[143] House Rule 25, cl. 5(e)(3).

[144] House Rule 25, cl. 5(e)(1).

[145] The Gift Rule expressly prohibits “[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.”  House Rule 25, cl. 5(e)(4); Comm. on Rules, Amending the Rules of the House of Representative to Provide for Gift Reform, H.R. Rep. No. 104-337, at 14 (1995) (explaining the provision prohibits “a donation to an official conference or retreat”).  Other House rules also prohibit official congressional organizations from accepting outside supplementation.  House Rule 24, cls. 1-3.

[146] Gifts above the Financial Disclosure reporting threshold do not need to be disclosed if a publicly available request for a waiver is granted.  Ethics in Government Act (EIGA), 5 U.S.C. app. § 102(a)(2)(C). 

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