The tradition of ethics poetry seems to have started in 1994 with a version by the Office of Government Ethics that began: “The holiday season — a time for good cheer! For egg nog, for parties, for friends to be near. But I must be careful Lest I accept free, A gift not permitted, no matter how wee.” It’s been revised and rewritten several times as ethics rules changed.
Here’s the ethics panel’s latest version sent to congressional offices this week on the back of a detailed memorandum outlining holiday rules:
THE HOUSE GIFT RULE: A RHYME FOR THE HOLIDAYSThe holidays are coming, and all through the House,
Its people were stirring & beginning to grouse,
That they needed reminders if gifts came their way,
Because within Ethics rules they wanted to stay.So the Committee has issued this pink sheet (so pretty!)
And laid down the rules, down to the nifty gritty.
The Committee dug deep, and it thought really hard,
Before issuing its guidance (with the help of its bard).Let’s start with the basics, federal statutes and such,
That apply to employees and Members as much.
Whether holiday or no, these rules always apply,
To build trust that our actions no one can buy.There’s no soliciting for gifts – it’s simply not done,
You may not ask for gifts, not even in fun.
5 USC seven three five three says
That gifts can’t be asked for, not even a Pez.And now to the gift rule, it’s Rule Twenty-Five
Clause five(a)(2)(A) into which we now dive.
You must think of “gifts” as a term that is broad,
As gifts could be loans, favors, or something quite oddAn exception is required before accepting a gift,
Keep reading this poem cuz’ the exceptions we’ll sift.
And remember these rules they apply every day,
On vacation? At home? They don’t go way.The exceptions permit your relatives to give
Without limit – go ahead – nothing to forgive.
Gifts from friends less than $250? Perhaps.
It depends on the friendship and running the traps.Gifts worth less than 50 dollars really aren’t scary,
Unless there’s a lobbyist, you can make merry.
But beware! This exception requires you to know
That the donor’s permitted before pulling that bow.Please refuse that gift card or cash sent your way,
Because gifts such as this are never okay.
So, too, thank you gifts for your official acts,
Must be refused unless nominal in fact.A government gift has us not seeing red,
Provided it comes from a state, local, or fed.
Gifts from foreign governments are limited as thus –
To less than $375 or there could be afuss.Receptions are gifts but are permitted if they,
Aren’t a meal, regardless if served from a tray.
The exception requires that food value be nominal,
So no caviar, no matter, whether phenomenal.You may be invited to events – widely attended
But your duties must be related or the invite’s upended
So too if the invitation came indirectly to you,
Or less than 25 non-Hill attendees will be there, too.How ’bout a fundraising gala/or a 501(c)(3)?
Sponsor sent the invite? Then attend with glee.
For charity fundraisers are a gift rule exception,
And you may attend and eat that party confection.Okay, now we’re cruising, let’s talk !RC 527(e)
And invitations that come directly from these.
They ‘re permitted by the gift rule and so you may go,
The answer is yes, and for this not a no!Member to Member gifts are permitted if sent,
But staffer to Member require that special event.
For gifts up the chain can really be tricky,
So care should be taken as on this we are picky.Home state products from your dear beloved state?
Please accept them for your constituents to take.
And gifts like a T-shirt, card, or baseball cap,
Of nominal value, $10 ‘s the cap.Let’s say that a gift is offered to all,
To the public, or group not too small.
It’s widely available so as to that gift,
The Committee says yes and won’t become miffed.So too if an outside employer decides
To you or your spouse a gift to provide.
This is fine so long as you and the rest
Get the same gift – no special treatment’s the test.More exceptions are there, but for now we will stop,
As we know you ‘re still reading but are ready to drop.
But please know we could give a waiver to you,
For your wedding, new baby, or something brand new.And no rule requires you to accept any gift,
You may decline without causing a rift.
Or pay for that gift using fair market cost,
You’ll be within the rules so you shouldn’t feel lost.In parting we know that holidays are fraught,
With whether gifts are permitted or not.
But knowing the gift rule should give you a reason
To relax and enjoy this holiday season.So we leave you with good cheer and hope that you call
Our Committee with questions even if small.
We are here to help you, most every day
And say to you now, have a good holiday!