Remember the Wining and Dining Restrictions When Entertaining Public Employees and Elected Officials
It was recently announced that the process has begun to raise the amount that can be spent when providing food and drink to public employees and elected officials from the current $58.00 per event limit. So now seems like a good time to revisit the restrictions found in the Louisiana Code of Governmental Ethics (“Ethics Code”) on providing “food, drink, or refreshment” to public employees and elected officials.
The starting point for the limitation on food, drink, and refreshment to public employees and elected officials begins with the Ethics Code’s general principle that no public servant is permitted to solicit or accept, directly or indirectly, any thing of economic value as a gift or gratuity from any person who has or is seeking a contractual, business, or financial relationship with the public servant’s agency. It is also important to remember that, for purposes of the Ethics Code, a public servant is broadly defined as anyone, whether compensated or not, who is a public employee, appointed or elected official (except judges for which another set of rules apply), or anyone in the performance of a governmental function (even if not employed by a governmental entity in the traditional manner).
The Ethics Code also contains a specific provision concerning the limitation on food, drink, and refreshment to public employees and elected officials. It provides that when wining and dining a public servant – regardless of whether a public employee or elected official – no person shall provide to the public servant any food, drink, or refreshment of which the total value exceeds $58.00 for a single event at which the food, drink, or refreshment is provided to the public servant.
Naturally, when it comes to the Ethics Code, it is exceptionally important to keep in mind its definitions and exceptions.
The amount expended per public servant at a single event shall not exceed $58.00, regardless of the number of persons providing the food, drink, or refreshment. In other words, even if multiple persons act together and take a public servant to lunch, the total amount that they can collectively spend on that public servant cannot exceed $58.00.
When the reverse occurs and it is a group of public servants that are on the receiving end of the food, drink, or refreshment, the methodology for determining compliance with the $58.00 limit is calculated by dividing the total cost of the food, drink, and refreshments by the number of persons invited to the event.
It is also important to keep in mind that the Ethics Code defines the term “event” to mean a single activity, occasion, reception, meal, or meeting at a given place and time.
The Ethics Code also contains a specific exception from the $58.00 limitation on food, drink, and refreshment regarding certain types of organization meetings. The $58.00 per event limitation does not apply to a gathering held in conjunction with a meeting related to a national or regional organization or to a meeting of a statewide organization of governmental officials or employees, provided that at least ten persons associated with the organization are invited to the gathering.And about that $58.00 per event limit, the Louisiana Board of Governmental Ethics has determined that, as the applicable provision of the Ethics Code does not include language relating to tax or gratuity, the $58.00 limit per event is on actual food, drink, or refreshment and does not include tax or gratuity.