This week, the New York Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), which is refining New York’s ethics rules, found  itself debating whether a cup of coffee is an item of “nominal value.”

What constitutes an item of “nominal value” can be a challenging question, especially if it is not defined by a dollar amount.  A common rule of thumb in many jurisdictions, including New York, has been that “nominal value” is roughly equivalent to the cost of a cup of coffee.  But, knowing  where to draw the line can be a problem.

Some suggest JCOPE should define nominal value with a dollar amount, perhaps $5.  An old fashioned cup of joe may be 99 cents somewhere, but a venti gingerbread  latté with extra syrup is $5.35 at my local Starbucks.  Perhaps a cup of coffee is not so nominal after all.