In a town with many Irish pubs, itâs to be expected that Washington, D.C., would go all out for St. Patrickâs Day. Lobbyists canât 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.
Since the House and Senate have guidance on the exemption for food and drinks of nominal value, itâs 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 â 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 aÂ 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:Â âMeet at Tortilla Coast 5 to 7 on Thursdayâ||Yes, because it is an âorganized eventâ||Yes, offered in a group, social setting|
|Beers and nachos||Lobbyist pays check for everyone in the bar on St. Patrickâs 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. Patrickâs Day gathering organized by a certain group, lobbyist pays a share of the costsÂ||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 âgroup or social settingâ
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