It is that time of the year again – governmental ethics violations when gift giving to public employees. Louisiana’s governmental ethics laws significantly restrict – in fact, virtually eliminate – the giving of gifts to public employees from businesses in the private sector that do business with them. That innocent holiday gift is actually against the law. Simply put, when it comes to gift giving and governmental ethics, they simply do not mix.
Louisiana law prohibits a public employee from being given “anything of economic value” by anyone seeking a contractual, business, or financial relationship with the public servant’s agency or anyone who is seeking to influence the passage or defeat legislation by the public servant’s agency. This means that traditional gift baskets of Louisiana spices, pecans, wine, or any other product is a violation of the governmental ethics law if the giver has a business relationship with the public employee’s agency. And it is not only a violation of the ethics law to give a public employee such a gift; rather, the public employee’s acceptance of the gift also violates Louisiana’s governmental ethics law.
Practically, the only thing that a person or company can give to a public employee with whom they have a contractual business or financial relationship is a greeting card; or a calendar or pen that does not have any resale value. But you can give your child’s teacher a nominal gift. You can also pay for a public employee’s meal as long as its value does not exceed $62.00 and you are dining with them.
But he/she is my friend! The standard excuse for violating the governmental ethics laws during the holiday season. Louisiana’s governmental ethics laws do not recognize this excuse as a defense to a violation. Simply put, friendship – no matter how close – does not matter.
Businesses need to keep in mind that they can probably not give the gift they may want to give to a public employee. Always check with legal counsel.
Otherwise, for each gift you give in violation of the governmental ethics laws you face a $10,000.00 fine and possible criminal charges. As for the recipient, the penalty can be all of those penalties and forfeiture of the gift. For both, the giver and receiver, the penalty always includes a public sanction – which could affect the giver’s ability to do business in the future in the State of Louisiana and, for the recipient, could be detrimental to their future success.