This time of year, everyone is throwing parties and receptions to commemorate the holiday season. And, especially in Washington circles where everyone seems to know everyone else, it may be tempting to invite members of Congress or staffers to these functions. As innocent as this may be (not everyone is inviting Hillers with hopes to gain favor, some are just being nice), there are still several things to look out for when planning the functions.
- Follow the “toothpick rule” when planning the menu. If it can’t fit on a toothpick, it may be consider a meal, and therefore members and their staff are unable to eat. The good-intentioned gesture that was the invitation turns sour when invited guests are unable to eat.
- The entertainment should be of a minimal nature. A jazz trio, harpist, etc are acceptable. A headliner concert….probably not.
- Valet, coat check, party favors and gift bags can be accepted by a member or staffer only if the value of the items does not exceed $10.
It is important to note that a holiday reception would not fall under the “widely attended event” exception to the gift rules relative to meals. A widely attended event must be related to the staffer’s official duties. A good way to make sure you’re in the clear is to indicate that “light hors d’oeuvres and cocktails” will be provided on the invitation. Just be sure to make sure the event is not transformed into a lavish party, which could get both you and the member/staffer in trouble.