Federal Lobbying Ethics: The Gift Rule

03 January 2023 Legal News: Federal Public Affairs Publication
Author(s): John R. West Kate M. Kros Jared B. Rifis

As a rule, a Member, officer, or employee may not accept any gift, except as the rule provides (relevant exceptions listed below).  Members-elect are subject to the Gift Rule when their pay and allowances begin.

Gifts that lobbyists are NOT allowed to give:

  • Cash or cash equivalent (stock, gift card, voucher);
  • Food or beverages (and what might be considered a meal) in a one-on-one setting;
  • Anything provided to an entity that is maintained or controlled by a Member, officer, or employer of the House;
  • A charitable contribution on the basis of a designation, recommendation, or other specification of a Member, officer, or employee of the House;
  • A contribution or other payment to a legal expense fund established for the benefit of a Member, officer, or employee of the House;
  • A financial contribution or expenditure relating to a conference, retreat, similar event, sponsored by or affiliated with an official congressional organization for or on behalf of Members, officers, or employees of the House.

Items that can be accepted must be valued at less than $10, such as a greeting card, or clothing item.

Exceptions to the Gift Rule

1.  Briefings as Widely-Attended Events

If the sponsor of the briefing is not a registered lobbyist and does not employ or retain such a person, then House Members and employees may generally accept a gift, including a meal, valued at less than $50.  If the sponsor does employ or retain a lobbyist, free attendance and House/Senate-catered food may still be acceptable if the event qualifies as a widely attended event.   

A widely-attended event must meet the following criteria in the House and Senate:

Charity fundraising events are permissible if the “free attendance” includes all or part of the cost of admission; local transportation to and from the event; food, refreshments, entertainment, and instructional materials for all event attendees.  The event’s primary purpose must be to raise funds to benefit an organization qualified under 170(c) of the Internal Revenue Code. 

Educational events may be attended for smaller groups (without the 25 non-Congressional attendee min. requirement); universities, foundations, think tanks, non-profits, or non-advocacy organizations can host them.

  1. The invitation comes from the event organizer directly;
    • Secondary groups (consultants, etc.) are allowed to send follow-ups to this invitation.
  2. The event organizer invites 25+ people with the reasonable expectation that they can attend and are not members, Senators, officers, or employees of Congress or their spouses;
    • Those 25 invitees cannot include persons associated with the organizing host(s)
  3. The event is open to the public or a range of people (professionals in a specific industry, etc.);
  4. Attendance is related to official or representational duties;
    • There must be a substantive agenda for the event;
    • This could entail learning about a topic that will assist with House work or meeting with constituents, etc.  Purely entertainment, professional development, or charitable activities are not official duties.

2.  Receptions

Members and employees may attend an event (free attendance) and accept food or refreshment of a nominal value (appetizers, hors d’oeuvres, refreshments).  There is no per person dollar limit, however no meals (including low-cost) are allowed to be accepted.


John R. West

Public Affairs Advisor

Kate M. Kros

Public Affairs Advisor

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