Inauguration Day may be a holiday in DC, but the congressional and executive branch gift rules still apply.  Today, the House Committee on Ethics issued guidance to House Members and staff regarding Inauguration events.  Today’s House guidance offered some clarity regarding who may pay for and who may attend certain kinds of events, specifically:

  • Member Receptions – A private entity may not pay the cost of a Member’s own swearing-in or Inauguration Day reception.  While a Member may host his or her own reception, a private entity funding such an event “would constitute an impermissible gift” under the House Rules.
  • Privately Sponsored Inaugural Events – Members and staff may accept offers of free attendance at privately sponsored Inauguration events only if it is allowable under a specific exception to the House gift rule’s general ban on gifts, such as the exceptions for “widely attended” events  and for receptions with what the new House Ethics Committee guidance calls “moderate hors d’oeuvres” and beverages that are not served as a meal.

Knowing which executive branch officials and employees may be included on an Inauguration event guest list may prove to be quite tricky this year.  The Office of Government Ethics issued guidance about executive branch officials and employees attending Inauguration events on January 15, 2009; however, the federal gift rules have changed in some important ways.  Notably, President Obama’s Lobbyist Gift Ban, Executive Order 13490, prohibits political appointees from accepting gifts from lobbyists under some commonly-used gift rule exceptions, including the executive branch gift rule exception for free attendance at “widely attended gatherings.”

Companies and associations that host Inauguration events should also keep in mind that if they invite state and local public officials (many of whom will be in town for the Inauguration), they will need to evaluate whether applicable state and local gift rules permit the officials to attend.

We would not be surprised to see inaugural event guidance issued soon by the Senate Ethics Committee, as Washington gears up for the quadrennial day of parties and events.