Ohio ethics laws regulate the gifts and entertainment that state government employees and public officials may receive as well as the reporting requirements that may apply. Both the value of the item given and the source must be considered. Companies must pay particular attention to the prohibition against public employees receiving gifts or entertainment from “prohibited sources.” Prohibited sources are defined as any individuals, companies, organizations or other entities that do business with, are regulated by, or have interested matters before the public entity.
Recently, two employees of The Ohio State University (OSU) Medical Center were fired because they unethically took $4,901 in meals from an OSU vendor — a prohibited source under Ohio law. In Cleveland, former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora continues to make headlines after he was found guilty on corruption-related charges. Mr. Dimora admitted to receiving expensive meals, trips and other things of value from people looking to do business with the county.
It is common for state government employees or public officials to have personal friends who are or work for a prohibited source. When this occurs, the public position supersedes the friendship and gifts of a substantial value from prohibited sources are not allowed. However, so long as the personal friend is not a prohibited source, gifts from personal friends are permitted. The Ohio Ethics Commission (OEC) suggests using the following criteria to determine if a gift or entertainment is prohibited from a personal friend:
- The length and nature of the pre-existing relationship
- If the individual has commonly exchanged gifts with the giver prior to becoming a state government employee or public official
- Whether the giver personally paid for the gift or entertainment or sought reimbursement from its business entity
- If the giver also gave the same or similar gift or entertainment to other state government employees or public officials
In all cases, any public employee or official who files a financial disclosure with the OEC must disclose the source of all gifts or entertainment valued over $75.