A client/association plans to bestow an award upon a legislator in recognition of service to the community. The proposed award is a piece of glassware made by a world-renowned glassmaker and has a retail value well over $75, which exceeds the limit for legal gifts under the Lobbying Act. The award is to be permanently etched with the legislator's name and the honor it represents. It is to be presented at a board meeting of the association.
Is the item, with a value exceeding $75, excluded from the gift ban under the statute?
Section 1 (m) of the Lobbying Act clearly states that no lobbyist or client may offer or give a gift with a value in excess of $75 to any public official. However, Section 1(c) (j) creates exclusions. One of the categories of gifts covered by the exclusions refers to "… (2) plaques, certificates or other ceremonial items" (emphasis added).
The intent of the Lobbying Act, as it applies to the exclusion found in Section 1 (c) (j) (2), is clear; the item must be ceremonial in nature. The openness of the ceremony is vital to fulfill the gift exclusion of the Lobbying Act if viewed, as it must, in its entirety and with its purpose of disclosure in mind. To allow the giving of a "valuable" item at a private occasion would be counter to the intent of the law and obviate the exclusion.
Further it is the opinion of the Commission that "ceremonial items" should not be reasonably presumed to be more functional than ceremonial. For example, a Rolex watch, engraved on the back in recognition of some achievement, would not be an excluded gift if a lobbyist or a client presented it to a public official under any circumstance. The functionality of such items must be considered in determining the intent of the giver when making such a gift. A presumption of practicality and usefulness for everyday purposes minimizes the chances that such an item would be considered excludable as a ceremonial item under the Lobbying Act.
In the instant case the actual glassware is permanently etched to memorialize the honor to the recipient. Its practical, general functionality is severely limited at best. The fact that the presentation will take place at a board meeting of the association is troublesome, but if the press and public are invited to attend the presentation, the ceremonial nature of the item would be satisfied and the item would be allowable and excluded as a gift under the Lobbying Act.
APPROVED BY COMMISSION: MAY 14, 2001
CONCURRING: ALBERT S. CALLAN, CHAIR; JOSEPH A. DUNN, VICE CHAIR; BARTLEY F. LIVOLSI, MEMBER and STEWART C. WAGNER, MEMBER./S/