Public Disclosure and Gifts to City Officials: What’s Required?
Gift restrictions and public disclosure requirements exist to ensure that City officials and employees act impartially when making government decisions. Ethics laws help achieve this by limiting the value of gifts that public officials can receive from certain sources (and in some situations, by prohibiting their acceptance), and by requiring officials to publicly report gifts that meet a threshold amount. Because even the most well-intentioned of gifts may create a conflict of interest for an official, or create an appearance of a conflict, limits and public disclosure can help preserve the public trust.
A gift is anything of value for which monetary or other consideration of equal or greater value is not given in return. A gift may include meals, tickets or passes to amusement parks, sporting, or other entertainment events, and rebates or discounts (unless the rebate or discount is made in the regular course of business to any member of the public without regard to an individual’s official status). A gift can also include food, beverages, and accommodations that are in connection with attending a conference, meeting or social event, as well as other tangible items, such as a goodie bag, that may be provided to attendees at an event or function. As a rule of thumb, gifts that are intended to influence City officials in their decision-making may never be accepted. A gift can include gifts to family members as well (please refer to the article State Enacts New Changes to Gift Rules).
When gifts are offered to City officials during the course of the year, those officials must first determine whether they are permitted to accept the gift under the law. This requires the official to analyze the source and value of a gift in light of state and City limits. For gifts that are accepted, accurate recordkeeping is important to assure gifts from any single source do not exceed applicable limits and that any gifts are properly reported.
According to the financial disclosure categories that apply to City officials (which are found on their departmental Conflict of Interest Code), and as a part of an annual public disclosure process, officials are required to report gifts they received the previous calendar year from sources that are considered disclosable sources of income. For purposes of public disclosure requirements, a gift is a type of income. A gift or combination of gifts from any source that is covered by an official’s disclosure category that has a value of at least $50 is required to be reported. The gift limits are cumulative, so keeping track of any gifts received throughout the year is important. For example, if a disclosable source income to an official gave the official a floral arrangement worth $25 in January, that alone would not be reportable by the official. However, if in May the same source gave the same official a box of candies valued at $25, both the flowers and candy would be reportable on the official’s annual Statement of Economic Interests because the cumulative amount of the gifts from a single source would be $50.
To further assist officials in determining whether a gift is permitted and reportable, the City Ethics Commission has created a brochure that addresses Gift Limits and Restrictions to City Officials in further detail and is available for downloading on our website at http://ethics.lacity.org. Additionally, with the April 1 Statement of Economic Interests filing deadline just around the corner, Commission staff is available to assist in answering any gift disclosure questions filers might have, as well as general disclosure questions. For assistance, please feel free to call us at (213) 978-1960 during regular business hours.