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House Ethics Circulates Advice on Holiday Gifts, Job Negotiations

The House Ethics Committee circulated a memo Tuesday providing advice on holiday gifts and job negotiations for members and staffers.

The holiday memo gently reminded lawmakers and staffers that the House gift rule applies “even during the holiday season” before describing procedures to accept certain presents, attend parties and the steps that should be taken if an “unacceptable” gift is received.

The committee has, for example, “provided for a common-sense exception for voluntary gifts extended on special occasions,” the memo said, that allows lawmakers and supervisors to accept certain presents from their subordinates. The rules still prohibit requesting such a gift or taking one from anyone who “seeks official action” in Congress.

Members and staff may attend holiday receptions and accept gifts as long as the per person price of the hospitality or gift is worth less than $50 and doesn’t come from a lobbyist, foreign agent or entity that lobbies. The total value of gifts and invitations from the hosting party to the recipient also must be less than $100 during the calendar year. Inexpensive items such as baseball hats, T-shirts and anything worth less than $10 are also acceptable, even from an organization that lobbies.

In a memo on post-House employment, the committee advises lawmakers that they should “familiarize themselves with these restrictions, especially the criminal restrictions on post-employment contact that have been the subject of recent attention” by the Justice Department. It also tells staffers that they should pay particular attention to “criminal restrictions on post-employment communications.”

Both advisories go through the proper steps for negotiating offers for future employment while individuals are still employed by the House, disclosing such discussions to the Ethics Committee and what “benefits” can be accepted from prospective employers. A separate section in each memo reiterates lobbying activities that are prohibited after leaving the House, and for what duration.

Covered staff making $130,000 or more during 2012 may not “knowingly communicate with or appear before the employee’s former employing office or committee with the intent to influence” for one year after leaving. Members for one year cannot “knowingly communicate with or appear before any Member, officer, or employee of the House or Senate, or current employees of any other legislative office, with the intent to influence.”

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