This week’s Ethics Tip preps you to have a great time tomorrow on Cinco de Mayo. Since everyone seems to embrace any sort of holiday around here (You’re probably not REALLY Irish, right? But you went to a pub on St. Patrick’s Day, didn’t you?) we’ve put together a short tipsheet on buying drinks for your favorite Congressional staffers at the bar this Cinco de Mayo.
Remember the gift rule: no lobbyist may offer any thing of value to a member of Congress or Congressional staffer. But there is an exception for food and drink of nominal value. The guidance is a little complicated, so stick with us here:
When can an item of food and drink of nominal value be offered by a lobbyist to a Member/staffer?
The recent interpretations by the House and Senate thics committees would suggest some possible rules of thumb:
Drinks at the Bar – A Guide
|Food / Beverages Offered||Setting and Circumstances||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”|
|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|
|Bottle of wine at the bar||Offered to anyone who wants a glass||Probably, but only if no food and only if wine is of nominal value||Yes, offered in a group, social setting and only if the wine is of nominal value|
|Bottle of wine at the bar||Organized wine tasting, invitations sent to specific people||Yes, provided the wine is of nominal value, because there is no food and it is an organized social event||Yes, provided the wine is of nominal value|
|Margaritas and nachos||Lobbyist pays check for everyone in the bar on Cinco de Mayo night||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|
|Margaritas and nachos||Cinco de Mayo 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|