Every business—large and small—knows the value of maintaining good relations with the members of Congress who represent its state and legislative district and those who serve on committees with jurisdiction over its industry. Similarly, businesses seek to maintain cordial relations with those in the executive branch of the federal government charged with regulating their industries. How better to enhance these relationships than with tickets to the big game or a sold-out concert?
Those contemplating extending such invitations, however, need to beware of gift rules and restrictions applicable to members of Congress or to their staffers, and similar rules that govern the offering, giving, or acceptance of gifts by federal officials and employees of the executive branch. The rules are particularly restrictive for registered lobbyists, lobbying firms and for companies that employ them. Legislation enacted in 2007 makes the violation of such rules by lobbyists and those employing them a crime punishable by substantial fines and even prison time.
The legislative branch gift rules permit the giving or acceptance of gifts from one source of less than $50 on one occasion and less than $100 from one source on multiple occasions in a calendar year, although registered lobbyists, lobbying firms and entities employing lobbyists may not take advantage of this exception.
HLOGA has increased the maximum civil penalty for knowing failure to comply with the act's provisions to $200,000, and imposes criminal penalties of up to five years imprisonment, fines under Title 18 or both. See 2 U.S.C. § 1606, as amended by the HLOGA, Pub. L. No. 110-81, § 211(a),121 Stat. 749 (2007).