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Iowa Gift Law

In 1992 the legislature passed the Iowa Public Officials Act which amended the gift law in Iowa Code chapter 68B. The gift law was further amended in 1993. This information sets forth portions of the gift law as amended in 1993 and answers some common questions that may arise in interpreting the gift law. The Iowa Public Officials Act as amended also contains many other provisions of law restricting the activities of public officials and employees and lobbyists.

This information is addressed to governmental officers and employees and their family members who are subject to the law.

Scope of the Gift Law

  1. How do I know whether the gift law applies?
  2. Who is subject to the gift law?
  3. Are judges and judicial employees subject to the gift law?
  4. Does the gift law apply to my family?
  5. Does the gift law apply whenever I receive a gift from anyone?
  6. Who is a "lobbyist"?
  7. Why is the definition of "lobbyist" significant?
  8. Is a city employee designated by the council to meet with a state agency a "lobbyist'?
  9. My agency and another state agency are required by statute to jointly promulgate rules, and I have been designated by my agency to coordinate this effort. Will I become a "lobbyist"?
  10. Do lawyers representing clients before state agencies become "lobbyists"?
  11. Can a public official or employee be a "restricted donor"?

Application of the Gift Law

  1. What is a gift?
  2. What exceptions may apply?
  3. Can I accept non-food items worth three dollars or less?
  4. Must I continue to file reports of gifts?
  5. What about food and drink? Can I accept lunch from a "restricted donor" without worrying about the gift law?
  6. What should l do if I am part of a group entertained by a" restricted donor" at a private club which does not provide individual checks?
  7. Under § 68B.22(4)(i) I can accept $2.99 worth of food and drink from a "restricted donor." What if I attend a dinner sponsored by a "restricted donor" that is worth $10.00? Can I pay $7.00 and accept the remaining $2.99 in value under this exception?
  8. Can "restricted donors" avoid the limit on food and drink by joining with others to buy my dinner?
  9. Can I go to dinner at the home of a "restricted donor"?
  10. Can I accept gifts from a covered "restricted donor" who is also a personal friend?
  11. Can a "restricted donor" give me a gift on ceremonial occasions or holidays?
  12. Can someone who wants to sell a product to my agency give me free samples for my personal use?
  13. Can I continue to accept government employee discounts on hotel rooms or other goods and services?
  14. Is there a polite alternative to rejecting a prohibited gift?
  15. May I accept a gift from a foreign citizen?
  16. Can a "restricted donor" pay my travel expenses to a conference by reimbursing the agency where I work? Is it a gift to me or to my agency?
  17. May a "restricted donor" pay my travel expenses as part of a joint economic development effort?
  18. Can I attend an official reception at a meeting of an association of governmental entities?
  19. Can I attend an official reception at a meeting of an association of public officers?
  20. Can I attend a free reception sponsored by a "'restricted donor" at a meeting of an association?
  21. Can I attend a free reception of a professional organization or civic group?
  22. Is a "restricted donor's" contribution to an official's political campaign a gift?

Enforcement of the Gift Law

  1. What is the effective date of the 1993 gift law amendments?
  2. What are the penalties for violating the gift law?
  3. Does the gift law apply when I'm attending a conference in another state?
  4. Where can a person file a complaint about a violation of the gift law?

 


 

Scope of the Gift Law

  1. How do I know whether the gift law applies?
You should ask three questions when determining whether the gift law applies:

  • Am I getting something for nothing or less than it is worth?
  • Is the donatee (the person receiving the item) a public official, public employee, or candidate or office or the spouse or dependent child of an official, employee, or candidate covered by the statute? (See questions 2, 3 & 4.)
  • Is the donor (the giver) a "restricted donor"'? (See questions 5-11.)

If the answer to all three questions is yes, then the gift law likely applies and the gift is prohibited unless a specific exception applies.  (See questions 12-33.) If the answer to any of the questions is no, the transaction is not subject to the gift law. (Of course, other laws, including other provisions of chapter 68B, may nonetheless apply.) ↑top

  1. Who is subject to the gift law?
    • All state officers, elected or appointed; including members of boards and commissions (but not members of purely advisory committees or certain agricultural commodity promotional boards)
    • Legislators
    • State employees, including both executive and legislative branch employees
    • Officeholders or employees of any political subdivision, such as cities, counties, school districts, townships, benefited fire districts, or solid waste agencies
    • Candidates for public office
    • Spouses and dependent children of all of the above
    • "Restricted donors" who provide gifts to any of the above

    The categories of persons who are subject to the gift law are defined in section 68B.2.  Specific definitions should be considered and legal advice sought if the application of the terms in any particular situation is unclear. ↑top

  2. Are judges and judicial employees subject to the gift law?

Not directly. However, Iowa Supreme Court Rule 204 provides substantially similar requirements for judges and Judicial Department employees. Be sure to check these rules to determine whether the gift rules applicable to judges and Judicial Department employees vary from the statutes construed in this brochure.  ↑top

  1. Does the gift law apply to my family?

Yes. The spouse and dependent children of each person who is subject to the gift law are subject to the law as well. §§ 68B.2(11), 68B.22.  ↑top

  1. Does the gift law apply whenever I receive a gift from anyone?

No. The gift law applies only when the donor is within one of four categories defined in the statute. § 68B.2(24). The law uses the term "restricted donor" to mean a giver who is within these four categories.

  • Anyone who contracts with your agency or is seeking to contract with it.  This includes persons involved in sales, leases, purchases, or other contracts. The term "agency" includes all public bodies covered by the statute, including a city, school district, or county. (Certain agricultural commodity production boards are excluded.)
  • If you are an official or employee of one of the 16 listed "state regulatory agencies, " a "restricted donor" is also any person who is the subject of, or a party to, a matter pending before that part of the regulatory agency (or "subunit") in which you have discretionary authority as an officer or employee. The agent of persons with matters pending before your subunit is also a "restricted donor." Thus, for example, a member of the Board of Medical Examiners could not accept a gift from a doctor who is the subject of a pending investigation before that board nor from the doctor's lawyer. However, this would not make the doctor a "restricted donor" as to employees or officials of unrelated units in the Department of Health.
  • Anyone who will be directly and substantially affected financially by performance or nonperformance of your official duties in a way that is greater than the effect on the general public or a substantial class to which the person belongs (such as all members of a profession or residents of a region). An agent of such a person is also a "restricted donor."
  • Anyone who is a "lobbyist," or a client of a lobbyist, regarding matters within your agency's jurisdiction. The term "lobbyist" is specially defined, as described below.  ↑top
  1. Who is a "lobbyist"?

The term "lobbyist" includes any individual who, for the purpose of encouraging the passage, defeat, approval, veto, or modification of legislation, a rule, or an executive order, by members of the general assembly, a state agency, or any statewide elected official, by acting directly, does any one or more of the following:

  • Receives compensation
  • Is a designated representative of an organization
  • Represents the position of a federal, state, or local agency in which the person serves or is employed as the designated representative
  • Makes expenditures of more than $1,000.00 in a calendar year to communicate in person (other than to compensate another for lobbying services or to communicate with a person's own legislators). §68B.2(13)(a)(1)-(4).  ↑top
  1. Why is the definition of "lobbyist" significant?

Lobbyists and their clients are "restricted donors" under the gift law and, therefore, cannot offer or make a gift to the public officials or public employees of agencies whom they lobby or to their spouses or dependent children.  Conversely, public officials, public employees, their spouses or dependent children cannot accept or receive gifts from lobbyists of the agency in which they serve or are employed. § 68B.22(1),(2).

The definition is important for reasons in addition to the gift law. Persons who are lobbyists must comply with registration and reporting requirements. §§ 68B.36, 68B.37. They are prohibited from making loans to officials, members of the general assembly, state employees, legislative employees, or candidates for state office - except in the ordinary course of business. § 68B.24. Except in the case of a special election, lobbyists cannot make contributions to the campaign of a state official, candidate for state office, or a member of the general assembly during and, in some cases, shortly after, the legislative session. § 56.15A. Finally, officials and state or legislative employees are restricted from certain
lobbying during service or employment and for a period after termination of service or employment. § 68B.5A.  ↑top

  1. Is a city employee designated by the council to meet with a state
    agency a "lobbyist'?

The city employee would be a lobbyist only if the contact concerns rulemaking. The new definition of "lobbyist" applies only when a person acts directly as described in § 68B.2(13)(a)(3) to encourage the passage, defeat, approval, veto, or modification of legislation, a rule, or an executive order, by members of the general assembly, a state agency, or any statewide elected official. These definitions are significantly more narrow than those under the 1992 legislation. Under these definitions contact with a state agency, even as the designated local representative, will now trigger the definition of lobbyist only if the contact is to encourage the passage, defeat, approval, veto, or modification of rules.  ↑top

  1. My agency and another state agency are required by statute to jointly promulgate rules, and I have been designated by my agency to coordinate this effort. Will I become a "lobbyist"?

No. The term "lobbyist" does not include agency officials and employees engaged in activities with another agency with which the official or employee's agency is engaged in a collaborative project. §68B.2(13)(b)(6).  ↑top

  1. Do lawyers representing clients before state agencies become "lobbyists"?

Lawyers representing clients before state agencies will trigger the definition of lobbyist only when encouraging the passage, defeat, approval, veto, or modification of rules. A lawyer representing a client for any other purpose before a state agency will not become a lobbyist.

Further, even if a lawyer is engaged in the described activities, an exception may apply. Although the provision excluding lawyers from the definition of "lobbyist" was repealed, new provisions have been enacted which exclude "persons whose activities are limited to appearances to give testimony or provide information or assistance at sessions of committees of the general assembly or at public hearings of state agencies or who are giving testimony or providing information or assistance at the request of public officials or employees" and "persons whose activities are limited to submitting data, views, or arguments in writing, or requesting an opportunity to make an oral presentation" in a rulemaking. §§68B.2(13)(b)(4), 68B.2(13)(b)(8). These exclusions are not limited to lawyers.  ↑top

  1. Can a public official or employee be a "restricted donor"?

Yes, if one of the four definitions of "restricted donors" applies to you. See question number 5. Therefore, you must consult the gift law when you are giving a gift to another public official or employee as well as when you receive one. ↑top

 

Application of the Gift Law

  1. What is a gift?

A gift is anything of value given to you for which you did not give something of equal or greater value in return. A gift is prohibited only if the person who gave you the gift is a "restricted donor" and no exception applies. §§ 68B.2(9), 68B.2(24), 68B.22(4).  ↑top

  1. What exceptions may apply?

There are sixteen exceptions to the gift law. § 68B.22(4). You may, for example, accept items available free of charge to members of the general public and non-monetary items worth three dollars or less, such as pencils or bumper stickers.  ↑top

  1. Can I accept non-food items worth three dollars or less?

Yes, but you can't accept money from a "restricted donor". The 1993 revisions combined non-food items with food and drink as "non-monetary items." § 68B.22(4)(i). Even if the non-monetary items are received from a "restricted donor," you may accept them if worth three dollars or less.  ↑top

  1. Must I continue to file reports of gifts?

    No. There is no reporting obligation under the new statute. Instead, the law precludes the receipt of all gifts unless a statutory exception applies.  ↑top

  2. What about food and drink? Can I accept lunch from a "restricted donor" without worrying about the gift law? 

    You can accept free food and drink from a "restricted donor" only if it fits within an exception. Specific exceptions for food and drink include the following:

    • You may accept food and drink with a value of three dollars or less
      received from any restricted donor in any one calendar day. § 68B.22(4)(i).
    • You may accept food and drink given in return for your participation in
      a panel or speaking engagement so long as the food and drink relates
      directly to the day or days on which you participate or speak. §§68B.22(4)(g), 68B.23(2)(a).
    • You may accept food and drink given to an economic development delegation under " limited circumstances. § 68B.22(4)(o). (See question 28.) ↑top
  1. What should l do if I am part of a group entertained by a "restricted donor" at a private club which does not provide individual checks?

Technically, this is an option under the gift law. You may only accept $2.99 in food and drink from a "restricted donor" under an exception to the prohibition against accepting gifts and pay for the remainder of the meal.  ↑top

  1. Under § 68B.22(4)(i) I can accept $2.99 worth of food and drink from a "restricted donor." What if I attend a dinner sponsored by a "restricted donor" that is worth $10.00? Can I pay $7.00 and accept the remaining $2.99 in value under this exception?

Technically, this is an option under the gift law. You may only accept $2.99 in food and drink from a "restricted donor" under an exception to the prohibition against accepting gifts and pay for the remainder of the meal.  ↑top

  1. Can "restricted donors" avoid the limit on food and drink by joining with others to buy my dinner?

No. The gift law specifically prohibits "restricted donors" from joining together to give one gift and dividing the value of the gift among them. §§ 68B.22(2), 68B.22(5).  ↑top

  1. Can I go to dinner at the home of a "restricted donor"?

A dinner worth more than three dollars would be a prohibited gift if provided by a "restricted donor" unless you provide something of equal value in return. You can accomplish this by, for example, bringing a gift to the host, going "potluck," or by reciprocating at another date. ↑top

  1. Can I accept gifts from a covered "restricted donor" who is also a personal friend?

No. The gift law contains an exception for close relatives, but not for friends. See §§ 68B.21, 68B.22(4)(c). A friend who is also a "restricted donor" must comply with the gift law.  ↑top

  1. Can a "restricted donor" give me a gift on ceremonial occasions or holidays?

The 1993 amendments allow receipt of a wedding gift, twenty-fifth and fiftieth anniversary gifts, funeral flowers, or contributions to a memorial. See §§ 68B.22(4)(l), (m). The law still contains no exceptions for Christmas presents, birthday gifts, or other holiday gifts. Gifts from a "restricted donor" are prohibited unless an exception applies or you reciprocate such as by exchanging gifts of equal value.  ↑top

  1. Can someone who wants to sell a product to my agency give me free samples for my personal use?

A vendor seeking to do business with your agency is a "restricted donor." §§ 68B.2(24)(a), (c). Therefore, you cannot accept samples worth over three dollars for personal use unless these are made available free of charge to members of the general public or otherwise fit within an exception. However, you can test samples as part of normal contract review or donate samples, as provided by §68B.22(3), within 30 days of receipt.  ↑top

  1. Can I continue to accept government employee discounts on hotel rooms or other goods and services?

You may accept a government rate which is available to all government employees for official business. Whether you can accept a discount for personal use depends on the circumstances involved, and you should seek legal advice. Op.Att'yGen. #93-7-7(L).  ↑top

  1. Is there a polite alternative to rejecting a prohibited gift?

You may accept gifts other than money if you turn the gift over to a public body or charity within thirty days and meet all the requirements of § 68B.22(3). You may also exchange gifts of equal value, where appropriate.  ↑top

  1. May I accept a gift from a foreign citizen?

Yes. You may accept a gift from a foreign citizen given during a ceremonial presentation or as a result of a foreign custom, provided the gift is only of personal value to you. § 68B.22(4)(p). If the gift has more than personal value, you should follow the advice given in response to question 25.  ↑top

  1. Can a "restricted donor" pay my travel expenses to a conference by reimbursing the agency where I work? Is it a gift to me or to my agency?

The payment of travel expenses for a governmental official or employee by a "restricted donor" is almost always prohibited. Generally, the law treats free travel as a gift to the employee and limits payment of travel expenses from a "restricted donor" to those exceptions specifically permitted by statute. 1990 Op.Att'yGen. 52 (#89-11-3(L). These exceptions include, for example, travel expenses given in return for participation in a panel or speaking engagement at a meeting when the expenses related directly to the days of participation. §68B.22(4)(g).  ↑top

  1. May a "restricted donor" pay my travel expenses as part of a joint economic development effort?

Yes, under certain circumstances. Section 68B.22(4)(o) permits you to accept travel, lodging, food and drink while an official member of a delegation to attract a specific business if you play a significant role in the presentation to the business and the donor is not the business being contacted. If the donor is the business being contacted, you may consume food and drink provided by the business during the meeting.  ↑top

  1. Can I attend an official reception at a meeting of an association of governmental entities?

Yes. The gift law specifically exempts regularly scheduled events at meetings of an association of which the State or a political subdivision is a member. Examples of these groups are the National Conference of State Legislatures, Council of State Governments, Iowa State Association of Counties, the Iowa Association of School Boards, and the League of Iowa Municipalities. §68B.22(4)(k).  ↑top

  1. Can I attend an official reception at a meeting of an association of public officers?

Yes. The gift law also specifically exempts regularly scheduled events at meetings of an association of public officers if you or your governmental entity is a member of the association. Examples of these groups are the National Governors' Association, Iowa State Sheriffs' and Deputies' Association, and the Iowa Municipal Finance Officers' Association. §68B.22(4)(k).  ↑top

  1. Can I attend a free reception sponsored by a "'restricted donor" at a meeting of an association?

Yes, but you cannot consume food or drink worth more than three dollars at any event sponsored by a "restricted donor" unless it fits within the exception for a "regularly scheduled event" at a meeting of an association of public officers or an association in which the State or a political subdivision is a member. The scope of this exception will need to be resolved on a case-by-case basis. § 68B.22(4)(i), (k).  ↑top

  1. Can I attend a free reception of a professional organization or civic group?

Yes, but if the sponsor is a "restricted donor," you cannot consume food or drink worth more than three dollars unless the event is free to the public or the event is part of the benefits you receive in return for your payment of membership dues. § 68B.22(4)(e), (i).  ↑top

  1. Is a "restricted donor's" contribution to an official's political campaign a gift?

No. Contributions made to a candidate or candidate's committee are excluded from the gift law but are subject to the campaign finance law, Iowa Code ch. 56. § 68B.22(4)(a).  ↑top

Enforcement of the Gift Law

  1. What is the effective date of the 1993 gift law amendments?

The 1993 amendments to the gift law became effective May 28, 1993. Be aware that some sections of House File 144 amending lobbyist registration and reporting requirements, lobbyist client reporting, and personal financial disclosure requirements are effective retroactively.  ↑top

  1. What are the penalties for violating the gift law?

A violation of the gift law is a serious misdemeanor which may, upon conviction, result in imprisonment for one year and a $1,000 fine. §§ 68B.25, 903.1. In addition, the Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board may impose a civil penalty of up to $2,000 for each violation of chapter 68B. §68B.32D(1)(h).  A violation can also be grounds for removal from office, suspension or dismissal from employment, or other employee discipline. §§ 68B.25, 68B.31(11), 68B.32D.  ↑top

  1. Does the gift law apply when I'm attending a conference in another state?

Yes. If the gift law applies to you, it will apply even though the transaction occurs out of state. 1990 Op.Att'yGen. 27.  ↑top

  1. Where can a person file a complaint about a violation of the gift law?
  • File complaints about state executive branch officers, employees, or lobbyists with the Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board. § 68B.32(1). 
  • File complaints about legislators and legislative employees and lobbyists with the legislative ethics committees. § 63B.31(5).
  • File complaints about judicial officers with the commission on judicial qualifications. §602.2104.
  • File criminal complaints for knowing and intentional violations of the law with the county attorney where the violation allegedly occurred.  Complaints regarding the conduct of local officials and employees are filed with the county attorney in the county where the accused resides. § 68B.26.  ↑top