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Ethics Commission

Accepting Gifts


What is a gift?

Gifts are any payment that confers a personal benefit on the recipient when the recipient does not give something of equal or greater value in return. A gift also includes rebates and discounts in the price of anything of value unless the rebate or discount is made in the regular course of business to members of the public.

Why are there gift limits?

Restrictions on accepting gifts prevent outside interests from giving things of value to city officials and employees. These restrictions prevent outside interests from exercising, or appearing to exercise, an improper influence over City decision-making.

I am a High Level Filer. What gifts can I accept?

A high level filer may accept gifts from any source, as long as the total value of gifts from that source does not exceed $590 in any calendar year. (Note that lobbyists may not give high level filers gifts that exceed $10 per month.)

I am a local code filer. What gifts can I accept?

A local code filer may accept any gift, regardless of value, from any source he or she is not required to report on a statement of economic interests. If, on the other hand, a local code filer is required to disclose the receipt of gifts from that source on a statement of economic interests, then the filer cannot accept gifts valued at more than $590 in any calendar year from that source. (Note that lobbyists may not give most local code filers gifts that exceed $10 per month.)

How do I determine the value of a gift I received?

The reportable value of a gift is generally equal to its fair market or face value. If the fair market value of a gift cannot be readily determined because the gift is unique or unusual, you must make a reasonable approximation, taking into account the price of similar items. If similar items are not available as a guide, you must make a good faith estimate.

If I accept a $380 gift from someone in March, can I accept a $250 gift from the same person in November of the same year?

If you are a high level filer, the answer is no. If you are a local code filer, then you may accept both gifts only if you are not required to disclose the receipt of gifts from that person on your statement of economic interests. If you are a local code filer and the gift donor is a reportable source, then you may not lawfully accept both gifts because the aggregate value of the gifts exceeds the $590 limit.

Can I accept a $300 gift in December, and a $300 gift from the same person in the following month?

Yes. The gift limitation amount applies to a calendar year, and is reset on January 1 of every odd-numbered year.

Are meals considered gifts?

Yes. A meal is a gift, unless one of the exceptions to the gift limitation regulations applies. For example, if a city official has a social relationship with another individual, and that individual provides a meal to the city official in his or her home, the meal is not a "gift" so long as the individual is present and does not deduct the meal as a business expense.

What about taking turns paying for lunches or rounds of golf?

If you are involved in an ongoing social relationship wherein you and another person take turns paying for meals, movie tickets, rounds of golf, or similar social activities, the payments made by the other person on your behalf will not be a gift to you so long as the amount of these payments are substantially equal to the total payments you made for the other person (within the calendar year). Note that any single payment of $590 or more does not fall within this reciprocal exchange rule.

Is an admission to an event considered a gift?

Probably. Admission to an event where members of the general public can attend by purchasing a ticket is usually considered a gift, valued at the price stated on the ticket. Admission to events for which one requires an invitation is also typically a gift, and is valued at the pro rata cost of the catering, food, beverages, and other tangible items provided to the guests. Different rules apply to political fundraisers and non-profit fundraisers. To determine the value of a particular ticket or invitation, see the ethics commission's fact sheet on Tickets and Invitations to Events.

What about wedding gifts? Birthday presents?

The value of a wedding gift does not count against the $590 gift limitation amount. Note, however, that wedding gifts are reportable on the recipient's statement of economic interests if the donor is a reportable source. Furthermore, presents exchanged on holidays, birthdays, and similar occasions are not reportable gifts (or count against the $590 limit) so long as the presents exchanged are not substantially disproportionate in value (and are not from a lobbyist).

Someone gave my son a car stereo. Is it a gift to me?

It depends. Under some circumstances, a gift given to a family member will be treated as a gift to you. Gifts given to members of your immediate family will not be treated as gifts to you only if there is an established working, social, or similar relationship between the donor and the family member and there is no evidence to suggest that the donor intended to influence you regarding a municipal decision. A gift to your spouse, for example, will be treated as a gift to you if the donor has City business that will come before you. See the ethics commission's fact sheet on Accepting Gifts for more information.

I received a $200 gift from a group of people. Is it reportable?

It depends. If you received a gift valued at $50 or more from a group of persons, it's not reportable unless: (a) a reportable source donated $50 or more to the overall value of the gift; or (b) a reportable source's donation to the overall value of the gift, combined with other gifts that person gave you during the reporting period, collectively reached the $50 reporting threshold.

I won a prize playing Lotto. Can I accept it?

Yes. You won a prize or award in a bona fide competition that is not related to your status as a City Official, City employee, or candidate for City elective office and it is therefore not considered a gift. When such prizes are valued at $500 or more, they are generally reportable as income on your statement of economic interests. Note, however, that prizes won in the California State Lottery are not reportable.

An organization wants to give me a plaque to honor me for work I did as a city official. Can I accept it?

Yes, as long as the value of the plaque is less than $250. Otherwise, it will be treated as a gift (if from a reportable source) and subject to the $590 gift limit.

If I give away a gift, does it still count as a gift?

Yes. If you receive a gift and then give it to someone else, it is still considered a gift to you.

If I throw away a gift, does it still count as a gift?

Yes. Discarding a gift does not change the fact that you accepted it. If, however, the gift is a pass or ticket which you do not use and do not give to another person, then it is not considered a gift.

I still have questions. How do I get help?

The ethics commission is available to provide telephonic or written advice regarding these matters.