The Political Reform Act imposes limits on gifts and payments received by local elected officers and designated employees of local government agencies—individuals who are required to file statements of economic interests (aka Form 700) under a local agency’s conflict of interest code.
A “gift” is a payment or other benefit that confers a personal benefit for which the official or employee did not provide payment or services of equal or greater value. A gift includes a rebate or discount in the price of anything of value unless the rebate or discount is made in the regular course of business to members of the public. (Government Code § 82028.)
A local elected official or designated public employee may not accept gifts from any single source that total a certain value in a calendar year. For calendar years 2015 and 2016, the gift limit is $460. (Government Code § 89503; 2 C.C.R. § 18940.2.)
At the end of each year, these officials and employees must report gifts received from various sources. Gifts from a single source aggregating to $50 or more must be disclosed. If gifts from one source in 12 months exceed the $460 limit for calendar year 2015 or 2016 limit, the Political Reform Act imposes restrictions including disqualification of an official from participating in any action or decision involving the source of the gifts. (Government Code § 87103(e).)
The gift limit is adjusted every two years to reflect changes in the Consumer Price Index. The Fair Political Practices Commission has just increased the limit to $470 for calendar years 2017 and 2018. The $460 limit applies for the rest of 2016 and should be used when filing annual Form 700s for this year, which are due in March or April 2017 (depending on the nature of the filer). The $50 reporting threshold has not changed.
Filing an accurate Form 700 and avoiding disqualification by staying under the gift limit are critical legal and ethical obligations of local agency officials. The reporting requirements can be complicated. The FPPC’s website (click here) offers a host of resources for Form 700 filers, and the FPPC provides confidential email and telephone advice. Any remaining questions or uncertainties about these obligations should be addressed to legal and financial advisers.