Ethics Committee Holiday Reminder: Beware of Gifts

Posted December 17, 2009 at 5:30pm

It must be the season of giving: the House ethics committee issued a reminder to Members and staff Thursday not to violate the chamber’s gift rules over the holidays.

“The House gift rule, codified at House Rule 25, clause 5, applies to all Members, officers, and employees (Members and staff) at all times, even during the holiday season,— ethics Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and ranking Member Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) wrote in a nine-page memorandum reiterating the House gift rules.

While Members and their staffers are prohibited from accepting items from lobbyists, the memorandum notes that those individuals are free to thank family members for both ugly sweaters and gift cards.

“There are no restrictions on accepting gifts, including cash or cash equivalents, of any dollar value, from relatives,— the memorandum states. “There are also no restrictions on accepting gifts from co-workers and supervisors.—

Although Members are typically prohibited from receiving gifts from their staffers, the ethics committee notes that it allows a “common-sense exception for voluntary gifts extended on such special occasions as holidays.—

Members and senior staff are still required to report such gifts on their annual financial disclosures, however.

In addition, the committee — officially known as the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct — also issued new forms Thursday for aides seeking waivers of the gift rule for items related to weddings, engagements, birth or adoption of a child, or a family death.

Members and aides seeking such waivers had previously submitted letters to the ethics committee in advance of such events if they desired a general waiver from the gift rule.

The committee also announced a similar form for Members and senior staff seeking to waive the reporting requirement for gifts received at those events.