Posts Tagged ‘food’

Paying for Drinks on St. Patricks Day

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011 by Brittany

In a town with many Irish pubs, it’s to be expected that Washington, D.C., would go all out for St. Patrick’s Day. Lobbyists can’t buy a Guinness specifically for a congressional member or staffer, but the ethics committees have given some guidance on when they might be able to cover a round of drinks for a group of people that includes a congressional member or staffer.


Drinks at the Bar Rules

Since the House and Senate have guidance on the exemption for food and drinks of nominal value, it’s sometimes unclear what exactly that guidance permits.

So when can a lobbyist offer an item of food and drink of nominal value to a Member or staffer?

Some possible rules of thumb, based on recent House and Senate ethics committee interpretations:

Table 5-2: Drinks at the Bar – A Guide

Food / Beverages Offered Setting and Circumstances Ok by Senate rules? Ok by House rules?
Pitcher of beer at the bar Spontaneous, accidental; no invitations, not a  planned event Probably, because it is drinks only, no food Yes, offered in a group, social setting
Pitcher of beer at the bar Emailed invitations to specific people:  “Meet at Tortilla Coast 5 to 7 on Thursday” Yes, because it is an “organized event” Yes, offered in a group, social setting
Beers and nachos Lobbyist pays check for everyone in the bar on St. Patrick’s Day Probably, but only if the nachos offered do not exceed $10 value Yes, offered in a group, social setting and nachos are light appetizers, not part of a meal
Beers and nachos St. Patrick’s Day gathering organized by a certain group, lobbyist pays a share of the costs  Yes, an organized social event akin to a reception, nachos are light appetizers, not part of a meal Yes, offered in a group, social setting, also organized event akin to a reception and nachos are light appetizers, not part of a meal

Senate standard is food items from lobbyists and others valued at $10 or less and offered at an organized event, media interview or other appearance where such food items are normally offered to others.

House standard is “group or social setting”

For more information or to purchase the Lobbying Compliance Handbook click here.

Tuesday Ethics Tip: Meal Definition Edition

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010 by Vbhotla

The House and Senate Ethics Rules are very strict regarding providing food and meals (notice they are two different things) to Members and Staffers. Lobbyists and lobbying organizations must be especially careful that they stay within the rules – because they are not allowed to give “any thing of value” to a Member or staffer, provision of food or a meal must fall within one of several exceptions.

The Ethics rules recognize certain food as a meal, regardless of its cost. Even low-cost meals such as pizza, hot dogs, or sandwiches are counted as meals.

Meals at a Glance As Defined by Ethics Rules

Meal Menu Is a Meal Menu NOT a Meal
Breakfast Full breakfast: eggs, bacon, etc. Continental breakfast: Bagels, muffins, doughnuts, juice, coffee, tea
Lunch Sandwiches, hot dogs, pizza, soups, luncheon entrees, salads, hamburgers Light appetizers – not as part of a meal
Dinner Sandwiches, hot dogs, pizza, soups, dinner entrees, salads, hamburgers; carving stations, pasta stations Light appetizers, no heavy hors d’oeuvres offered as a substitute for a meal

If you are a lobbyist or your organization employs or retains a lobbyist, in order to offer and pay for a Member or staffer’s meal under the menu descriptions above, it must fall within one of the exceptions listed below for it to be legally offered to a Member/staffer.

There are specific circumstances where a lobbyist or lobbying entity is allowed to pay for a meal of a Member/staffer in the House and Senate and one additional type of meal which applies only to Senators and Senate staff. The meal exceptions include meals served at, by or involving:

  • A charitable event
  • A widely attended event
  • A constituent event in Washington, D.C. (applies to House and Senate)
  • A Senate “constituent event” – held in home state of senator
  • An educational event
  • Training in the interest of the House and/or Senate
  • Circumstances involving personal friendship
  • Circumstances in which the meal is received/offered in his/her role other than as congressional Member or employee
  • A meal incident to a site visit
  • A federal, state, or local government entity
  • A foreign government
  • A relative
  • A political fundraising event
  • An awards ceremony or occasion where a Member/staffer is being honored

For each exception noted above, there are several factors that must ALL be present in order for the exception to apply. Seek guidance when planning a meal or event where food may be served and Members or staffers invited. Check out our Cinco de Mayo Post for guidance on offering drinks.

This post is condensed from the Lobbying Compliance Handbook.