Executive branch employees are subject to restrictions on the gifts that they may accept from sources outside the Government. Generally they may not accept gifts that are given because of their official position or that come from certain interested sources ("prohibited sources"). Those sources include persons (or an organization made up of such persons) who:
- Are seeking official action by the employee's agency.
- Are doing or seeking to do business with the employee's agency.
- Are regulated by the employee's agency.
- Have interests that may be substantially affected by performance or nonperformance of the employee's official duties.
There are a number of exceptions to the ban on gifts from outside sources. These exceptions would allow the acceptance of gifts in the following circumstances:
- Where the value of the gift is $20 or less.
- Where the gift is based solely on a family relationship or personal friendship.
- Where the gift is based on an outside business or employment relationship.
- Where the gift is in connection with certain political activities.
Employees may accept gifts of free attendance at certain widely attended gatherings provided that there has been a determination that attendance is in the interest of the agency. Invitations from non-sponsors of the event may be accepted provided that certain additional conditions are met.
There are also exceptions for discounts, awards and honorary degrees, certain social events, and meals, refreshments and entertainment in foreign countries.
These exceptions are subject to some limitations on their use. For example, an employee can never solicit or coerce the offering of a gift. Nor can an employee use exceptions to accept gifts on such a frequent basis that a reasonable person would believe that the employee was using public office for private gain.
Some other things are not treated as gifts and may be accepted without any limitations. Modest refreshments (such as coffee and donuts), greeting cards, plaques and other items of little intrinsic value, rewards and prizes open to the general public, and pension benefits from a former employer are just a few examples.
If an employee has received a gift that cannot be accepted, the employee may return the gift or pay its market value. If the gift is perishable and it is not practical to return it, the gift may, with approval, be given to charity or shared in the office.