Gifts and Gratuities
Under Title 19, NYCRR, Part 933, Gift Regulations for Public Officers, employees are prohibited from soliciting or accepting gifts of more than nominal value when it may be reasonably inferred that the gift:
- is intended to influence them, or
- could reasonably be expected to influence them in the performance of their official duties, or
- is intended as a reward for any official action, or
- is from an interested source. A gift from an interested source is presumptively prohibited. An interested source is defined as a person or entity that has certain dealings or involvement with an individual’s agency; has contracts with, or seeks contracts with, you or your agency; is a registered lobbyist or client of a lobbyist that lobbies your agency; is the spouse or minor child of a registered lobbyist; is involved in ongoing litigation that is adverse to Purchase College; has received or applied for funds from Purchase College at any time during the previous year, up to and including the date of the proposed or actual receipt of the funds; attempts to influence Purchase College in an official action.
Definition of Nominal Value and Gifts
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) defines “nominal value” as a fair market value of more than $15. According to JCOPE, a gift includes “money, service, loan, travel, lodging, meals, refreshments, entertainment, forbearance, or a promise having a monetary value.”
Acceptance of these items is not subject to the gift analysis required under Public Officers Law §73. However, acceptance is subject to an analysis under Public Officers Law §74.
- Anything for which a covered person has paid fair market value
- Anything for which the state has paid or secured by state contract
- Gifts from friends or family members
- Contributions reportable under Article 14 of the Election Law
- Awards, plaques, and other ceremonial items
- Honorary degrees
- Provision of local transportation to inspect facilities in New York State
- Meals for participants at a professional or educational program
- Food or beverage valued at $15 or less per occasion
- Promotional items that have no substantial resale value and bear an entity’s name, logo, or message. (Examples: pens, mugs, calendars, hats, and t-shirts)
- Reimbursement of expenses for speakers at informational events. This applies only when a governmental entity or in-state accredited institution of higher learning is paying the expenses or reimbursing the covered person.
- Complimentary attendance, including food and beverage, at a bona fide charitable or political event (defined below):
- Bona Fide Charitable Event: The event’s primary purpose must be to provide financial support to an organization that is either registered as a charity with the Office of the Attorney General (unless exempt) or qualified under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code
- Bona Fide Political Event: The event’s primary purpose must be to provide financial support to a political organization or a candidate for statewide office
- Goods and services and discounts for goods and services. The goods and services, or the discounts, must be offered to: (i) the general public or a segment of the general public that is not based on status as a covered person; or (ii) all covered persons; or (iii) a select group of covered persons under certain circumstances.
- Rewards or prizes given to competitors in contests or events (including random drawings). The reward or prize must be offered to the general public or a segment of the general public defined on a basis other than status as a covered person.
- Complimentary attendance, including food and beverage, offered by the sponsor of a widely attended event (two requirements):
Parameters of exclusion: Food and beverage are only permissible if offered to all participants. The exclusion does not cover entertainment, recreational, or sporting activity unless the presentation addressing the public interest or concern is delivered during the entertainment, recreational, or sporting activity. State officers and employees must provide written notification to their ethics officer before attending a widely attended event.
- At least 25 people (not including employees from the attendee’s agency) attend or were, in good faith, invited to attend; and
- The event is related to the attendee’s duties
(a) All covered persons: Requirement II is satisfied when there is a speaker at the event who addresses an issue of public interest or concern that is a significant activity at the event
(b) Elected officials (and staff): Requirement II is satisfied either by (a) above or when at least 50 percent of the people in attendance (or who were, in good faith, invited) are residents of the jurisdiction from which the attendee was elected; or
- The attendee is performing a ceremonial function appropriate to his or her position
Purchase College employees must adopt an attitude and mode of operation that is above criticism and avoid any type of conduct that would give any suggestion of a conflict of interest. The value of a gift is the retail cost to purchase it; the value of a ticket entitling you to food, refreshments, entertainment, etc. is the face value of the ticket; if no value is indicated, the value is the actual cost to the giver. The offer of reciprocity, or even actual reciprocity, does not reduce the value of a gift given to you. You may not designate a friend, family member, or entity (for example, a charity) to receive a gift that you cannot receive.
The underlying principle is the same for multiple gifts, even of nominal value, from a single source given over a 12-month period. Employees “must strive to avoid creating any appearance that would suggest that they are being improperly influenced in discharging their public responsibilities by refusing multiple nominal gifts from the same donor.”
The full text of Public Officers Law §73 and §74 is available on the New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics site.
Updated Aug. 18, 2014
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