New York State’s lobbying and ethics regulator, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), released a number of new rules, effective this week, including rules on the giving and receiving of gifts, honoraria, and payment for expenses.
JCOPE, which was established by the state’s Public Integrity Reform Act of 2011, is the first state agency to oversee ethics in both the executive and legislative branches of government. This week’s rules are a product of JCOPE’s comprehensive review of preexisting law and advisory opinions.
The final public official gift rule creates a presumption that gifts from persons doing business with or regulated by the state of more than $15 in value are impermissible. It is a presumption, not a ban. But before giving a gift above the $15 limit, a donor should be confident that, if regulators looked, they would conclude that it would be unreasonable under the circumstances to think that the gift could be expected to influence official duties or was intended to influence or reward official duties. For gifts from other persons, the presumption is reversed—i.e., they are permissible unless certain criteria are met. As a practical matter, however, most companies will want to review those gifts closely as well. There are also exceptions to the definition of what a “gift” is, such as attendance at certain widely attended events.
The final lobbying gift rule largely tracks the proposed rules, which we noted last year. Like the general gift rule, gifts of more than $15 in value from a lobbyist or client are presumed impermissible but not expressly banned. The rule also restricts gifts involving the spouses and unemancipated children of lobbyists, clients, and public officials, requiring additional scrutiny of such gifts. Gifts by lobbyists and clients to charities that are made on behalf of, or at the recommendation of, a public official or the official’s spouse or child are also restricted if the gift could not be given directly to the official or the official’s spouse or child.
The final rule on honoraria requires officials to seek approval prior to accepting an honorarium. Higher-level officials are subject to additional restrictions. Similarly, the final rule on acceptance of payments for expenses requires officials to seek approval before accepting payment for the cost of attendance, registration, travel, food, or lodging related to meetings or professional programs.
Any company active in New York may wish to consider reviewing its compliance practices to ensure that they are consistent with JCOPE’s new rules.