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Gifts

An overview on the gift restrictions for State officers and employees
Gifts
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Gifts

Overview

State officers and employees generally are prohibited from soliciting or accepting gifts of more than “nominal value”1 from individuals and entities that do business with the State. There are several exceptions to this prohibition. The rules on whether the acceptance of a gift is permissible are contained in the regulation 19 NYCRR Part 933. 

1“Nominal value” is not specifically defined. JCOPE will generally consider something that has a fair market value of $15 or less to be of nominal value.

Who is covered under the gift rules?

“Covered Person” includes:
  • Statewide elected officials

  • Legislative members and employees

  • Officers and employees of New York State departments, boards, bureaus, divisions, commissions, councils, or other State agencies (other than unpaid and per diem officers of such entities)

  • Members, directors, and employees of New York State public authorities and public benefit corporations (other than unpaid and per diem members and directors of such entities)

Unpaid and per diem officers are excluded from Public Officers Law § 73; however, they are still bound by the conflict of interest rules found in Public Officers Law § 74. 

What is a gift? What is not a gift?

The Commission will generally consider something that has a fair market value of $15 or more to be a gift.  A gift includes, but is not limited to, money, services, loans, travel, lodging, meals, refreshments, entertainment, forbearance (agreeing to change the terms for repayment of a debt), or a promise having a monetary value.

 

Things to consider:
  • You cannot redirect an impermissible gift to a third party, including your spouse or child or a charitable organization. 

  • If you accept multiple permissible gifts from the same source - even if each gift is worth less than $15 - you could, depending on the circumstances, violate Public Officers Law § 74 by creating an actual or an apparent conflict of interest or an appearance of improper influence.
 
Are there exceptions?

Yes, although some agencies may have gift rules that are stricter than those outlined in the Public Officers Law and applicable gift regulations. Please speak to your agency Ethics Officer regarding your agency’s specific policies on the acceptance of gifts.  The following items are not considered "gifts" under the regulations. You may accept these items or services from anyone (including an "Interested source"1) as long as the acceptance does not create an actual or apparent conflict of interest or give the impression of improper influence.

  • Awards or plaques in recognition of public service;
  • Honorary degrees;
  • Promotional items with no resale value;
  • Discounts available to the general public, e.g., wireless providers offer discounts to all government employees;
  • Gifts from family members and personal relationships where it is clear that the relationship is not being used as a pretext to give an otherwise impermissible gift;
  • Contributions to political campaigns;
  • Meals and beverages provided to participants at professional and educational programs;
  • Local travel payments for tours related to one's official activity; 
  • Food or beverage valued at $15 or less per event; and,
  • Complimentary attendance at certain events.
 

Allowable Events and Professional Functions 

A State officer or employee who is covered under the gift regulations may accept complimentary attendance, including food and beverage, at certain events and functions, provided specific conditions are met.

 

Complimentary attendance, including food and beverage, at a Bona Fide Charitable Event or a Bona Fide Political Event
  • Bona Fide Charitable Event – event’s primary purpose must be to provide financial support to an organization that is either registered as a charity with the Attorney General’s Office (unless exempt) or qualified under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.
  • Bona Fide Political Event – event’s primary purpose must be to provide financial support to a political organization or a candidate for public office (as defined in the Public Officers Law).

 

Complimentary attendance at a Widely Attended Event

The following four conditions must be satisfied to qualify for the “Widely Attended Event” exclusion:

  1. Complimentary admission must be offered by the sponsor of the event; and,
  2. 25 individuals who are not from your agency attend or are in good faith invited to attend; and,
  3. (a) The event is related to your official duties or responsibilities or allows you to perform a ceremonial function appropriate to your position; or, (b) a speaker or attendee at the event addresses an issue of public interest or concern; and,
  4. You inform your Ethics Officer in writing of the Widely Attended Event before the event takes place.
 

Things to consider:

  • Complimentary food and beverage at a Widely Attended Event is only permissible if food and beverage are offered to all participants.
  • The exclusion does not cover entertainment, recreational, or sporting activity unless the presentation addressing the public interest or concern is delivered during the entertainment, recreational, or sporting activity.

 

Complimentary attendance at an Informational Event

An Informational Event is an event or meeting where the primary purpose to provide information about a subject or subjects related to a State officer or employee's official responsibilities.

A State officer or employee who is covered under the gift regulations may accept travel reimbursement or payment for transportation, meals, and accommodations for attending, or serving as a panelist or speaker at an Informational Event where the following conditions are met:

  • Such reimbursement or payment is made by a governmental entity or by a New York State accredited public or private institution of higher education that hosts the event on its campus; and,
  • The State office or employee may accept lodging from an institution of higher education only: (a) at a location on or within close proximity to the host campus; and (b) for the night preceding and the nights of the days on which the individual actually attends the Informational Event.

Step-by-Step Gift Analysis

The Commission has developed the following analysis to assist you in determining if the acceptance of a gift is permissible.  Generally, gifts from an “interested source” are prohibited.  As defined above, an interested source is a person or entity that does business or wants to do business with your agency, or is regulated by your agency. Generally, an interested source is any person or entity that may wish to influence a decision by you or your agency.

 

Is the item or service valued at $15 or less or does it fall into one of the gift exclusion?
  • Yes - The item or service may be ordinarily accepted.  There may be some circumstances, however,  where acceptance is not permitted because it would create an actual or apparent conflict of interest under Public Officers Law § 74.

 

  • No - Is the gift from an Interested Source?

    • Yes - Gift is presumptively prohibited unless it is not reasonable to infer that the Gift was (i) intended or expected to influence your or (ii) intended as a reward for official action.

    • No - Gift is ordinarily permissible unless it could be reasonably inferred that the Gift was (i) intended or expected to influence you or (ii) intended as a reward for official action.

 

Informational Resources

  •  

    Ethics Reminder: Widely Attended Events

    The Joint Commission on Public Ethics periodically releases Ethics Reminders. Each reminder is a brief and easy to understand synopsis of the laws and rules under the Commission’s jurisdiction. Ethics Reminders are issued to assist those subject to the Commission’s jurisdiction in understanding and complying with their obligations under the law.

     

    Download

  •  

    Ethics Reminder: Just say no thank you to gifts

    The Joint Commission on Public Ethics periodically releases Ethics Reminders. Each reminder is a brief and easy to understand synopsis of the laws and rules under the Commission’s jurisdiction. Ethics Reminders are issued to assist those subject to the Commission’s jurisdiction in understanding and complying with their obligations under the law.

     

    Download

  •  

    Ethics Reminder: Tis the Season to Remember the Ethics Rules for Gifts

    The Joint Commission on Public Ethics periodically releases Ethics Reminders. Each reminder is a brief and easy to understand synopsis of the laws and rules under the Commission’s jurisdiction. Ethics Reminders are issued to assist those subject to the Commission’s jurisdiction in understanding and complying with their obligations under the law.

     

    Download

Contact The JCOPE Attorney of the Day

The Commission administers an "Attorney of the Day" program to help provide State officials and employees, lobbyists, and clients of lobbyists with free, confidential advice, both formal and informal, on navigating the State's ethics and lobbying laws. 

Contact us by phone:
Hotline - Press "2" to speak to the attorney of the day   800-87-ETHICS (873-8442)
Contact us by email:
Mailing Address:

New York State

Joint Commission on Public Ethics

540 Broadway 

Albany, New York 12207