Gifts are given all the time for all sorts of reasons, like birthdays, anniversaries, and sometimes for no reason at all, merely a gesture of kindness. Sometimes it's better not to give or to receive a gift, though.

Governor Paterson

Late in August 2010, the results of an investigation of New York Governor David Paterson were announced. The investigation concerned Paterson's receipt of five tickets to the first game of the 2009 World Series. He took two aides, his son, and his friend's son to the game.

The problem is, he didn't pay for the tickets at the time - at least the four he should have paid for, that is, all of the tickets but the he used. The New York State Commission on Public Integrity (CPI) began the investigation after it found that Paterson paid for the four tickets after he was pushed for an answer by the local media.

Ultimately, it was decided that Paterson wasn't completely truthful when he told the CPI, under oath, that he intended all along to pay for the four tickets.

Ethics, Gift and Bribery Laws

Gov. Paterson ran into trouble with the state's ethics laws on public officials' accepting gifts. New York makes it illegal for public officials to ask for or accept gifts with more than "nominal value" when it appears the gift is intended to influence him, or reasonably could be expected to influence him, in the performance of his official duties. The World Series tickets had a face cost of $ 425 apiece - more than "nominal" value.

It's been reported that the CPI has recommended that Paterson pay a $90,000 fine for taking the tickets. As of early September 2010, there's no word on whether the state's attorney general will charge him with the crime of perjury for not being truthful with CPI investigators.

Know the Rules

That fruit basket a contractor sends to a county official as a "thank you" after his company lands a big public works contract may get the contractor and the official in trouble. The laws vary from state to state, but here some general guidelines:

  • If the gift is any way connected to a public official's decision to act or not to act, don't offer or accept the gift
  • Current and former government officials are typically covered by gift and bribery laws
  • Generally, a "gift" doesn't include things like food, holiday and birthday cards, and items with low "intrinsic value," like a "certificate of appreciation." Full-blown meals at high-end restaurants, however, may not qualify for the food exception, though
  • Gift are allowed if the public official and gift-giver are related (by blood or marriage) or they have a personal friendship
  • There's usually a dollar limit on permissible gifts. For instance, there's the $20/$50 rule under the federal gift law. Federal officers and workers can accept a gift worth $20 or less at any one time, but they can't accept more than $50 per year from any single gift-giver

Companies often have gift policies as well and you should check with your human resources' department before accepting any gifts.

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Tagged as: Government, giving gifts, receiving gifts, government lawyer