Gifts and Gratuities

Under the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) Advisory Opinion 08-01, 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 a disqualified source

The Joint Commission recently enacted the Public Integrity Reform Act (PIRA), Chapter 399 of the Laws of 2011. This will be in effect until the commission issues formal guidance on gifts and other related matters. As noted in the commission’s Interim Advisory on Gifts (PDF):

Specifically, the Public Integrity Reform Act amended the definition of “gift” in two ways:

  1. Excluded from the definition of “gift” food or beverage valued at $15 or less.
     
  2. Clarified the “widely attended event” exception to apply to an event offered by the sponsor at which (a) at least 25 individuals who are not from the governmental entity in which the public official serves attend or were, in good faith, invited to attend, and (b) is related to the public official’s duties or responsibilities or allows the public official to perform a ceremonial function appropriate to his or her position. For the purposes of this exclusion, a public official’s duties or responsibilities shall include:
     
    1. attending an event or a meeting at which a speaker or attendee addresses an issue of public interest or concern as a significant activity at such event or meeting; or
       
    2. for elected public officials, or their staff attending with or on behalf of such elected officials, attending an event or a meeting at which more than one‐half of the attendees, or persons invited in good faith to attend, are residents of the county, district, or jurisdiction from which the elected public official was elected.

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. A gift may be in many forms, such as money, service, loan, travel, lodging, meals, refreshments, entertainment, or discounts. 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 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 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 full text of Public Officers Law §73 and §74 is available on the New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics site.


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Ethics (Main)

Conflict of Interest

Gifts & Gratuities

Financial Disclosure
Public Officers Law
§73-a