Travel to a Charity Event
Below is a condensed version of this topic; for complete guidance please refer to the House Ethics Manual, Chapter 3 on travel.
The "charity event" provision of the gift rule allows Members and staff to accept transportation and lodging in connection with a charity event only when three requirements are satisfied:
- All of the net proceeds of the event are for the benefit of an established charity, i.e., "an organization described in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 and exempt from taxation under section 501(a) of the Code";
- Reimbursement for the transportation and lodging is paid by the charitable organization; and
- The offer of free attendance is made by the charitable organization.
It is important to emphasize that under the rule, the only entity from which a Member or staff person may accept transportation or lodging to attend a charity event is the charitable organization that benefits from the event. Travel expenses to the event may not be accepted from any donor to or participant in the event, or from anyone else. Furthermore, a Member or staff person may not accept transportation or lodging expenses from the beneficiary charity if those expenses would be paid using donations that were earmarked, either formally or informally, for payment of expenses of congressional participants.36
In addition, when acceptance of transportation and lodging is otherwise permissible, the Standards Committee interprets the rule to allow a Member or staff person to accept only such expenses as are reasonably necessary for the individual to attend the event. It appears that with rare exception, only one night of lodging, or at most two, will be necessary to attend any charity event.
When attendance at a charity event is otherwise permissible, a Member or staff person may also accept an invitation to be accompanied at the event, at the expense of the charity, by his or her spouse or a dependent – but only by one or the other, not both, and not by any other individual. Members, as well as staff required to file a Financial Disclosure Statement, must disclose travel to attend a charity event on Schedule VII of that form, if the value of the travel exceeds the reporting threshold.
The rules on attendance at charity events are discussed more fully in Chapter 2 on gifts.
36 Consistent with this interpretation, a Member or staff person traveling to a charity event under this provision may not accept, for example, a flight on a corporate aircraft that is being used to fly corporate officials to the event, even if the charity reimburses the corporation for the flight. Aside from concerns on whether a corporation may lawfully accept such a reimbursement under Federal Aviation Administration regulations, under the rule, as discussed in the text, a donor to a charity event should have no role in providing travel to a participating Member or staff person.