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December 20, 2012LA-12-10
Designated Agency Ethics Officials
Don W. FoxGeneral Counsel
Presidential Inaugural Events
On January 21, 2013, the Presidential Inauguration will mark an important and historic national event. In connection with this occasion, a Federal employee may receive offers of free attendance from various sources to attend Inauguration-related events, including the Inaugural Parade, Inaugural Balls, receptions, dinners, and fundraisers. The Office of Government Ethics (OGE) thought it appropriate to remind agencies of the ethical requirements relevant to a Federal employee during the inauguration celebration, particularly those requirements regarding gifts.
Generally, an executive branch employee may not accept a gift from a prohibited source or a gift given because of the employee's official position. 5 C.F.R. § 2635.202(a). Additionally, a full-time, non-career appointee in the Obama Administration continues to be bound by the Ethics Pledge ban on accepting gifts from a registered lobbyist or lobbying organization.1
However, many of the offers of free attendance at Inauguration-related events may fall within one of the exceptions or exclusions to the gift prohibitions. Some of the more relevant exceptions and exclusions are set out below:
Of course, an employee may attend any event or accept any other item that is available for free to the public or for which the employee pays market value. See5 C.F.R. § 2635.203(b)(4), (9). Therefore, an employee may enjoy access to entertainment and other gatherings made available to the general public in connection with the Inauguration. Moreover, an employee may accept any items actually paid for under Government contract. See 5 C.F.R. § 2635.203(b)(7).
Similarly, an employee may accept any items from an entity of the Federal Government or an employee acting on behalf of such entity. See 5 C.F.R. § 2635.102(k) (defining “person” to exclude any “agency or entity of the Federal Government” for purposes of the gift prohibitions). Thus, for example, an employee may accept tickets or other Inaugural items offered by Members of Congress to constituents, or they may accept similar items from the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, which is the official committee appointed by Congress “to arrange for the inauguration of the President-elect and the Vice President-elect” on property under Congressional jurisdiction. See 36 U.S.C. § 507. Moreover, employees may accept offers of free attendance and related gifts from Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC), which is separate from the Joint Congressional Committee. OGE has viewed PICs as sui generis, at least with respect to the application of the gift rules in subpart B, and OGE has advised in the past that employees may accept gifts of free attendance from PICs for PIC events. See DO-09-001.
Finally, apart from gifts, the usual restrictions on fundraising apply to any fundraisers held in connection with the Inauguration. See 5 C.F.R. § 2635.808; DO-93-024. Although the OGE fundraising rule does not apply to fundraising for a political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group, the Hatch Act and implementing regulations continue to restrict political fundraising. See 5 U.S.C. § 7323(a)(2); 5 C.F.R. § 734.303.
Agency ethics officials should consult with their OGE Desk Officer Team regarding any questions about the issues addressed in this legal advisory.
 The Pledge prohibits gifts from a lobbyist or lobbying organization that is “registered” under the Lobbying Disclosure Act, 2 U.S.C. § 1601, et. seq. See Executive Order 13490, sec. 2(e). An appointee may accept an otherwise permissible gift from an employee of a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, institution of higher education, or media organization even if that organization is a registered lobbying organization, provided that the person extending the invitation is not personally a registered lobbyist. See DO-09-007.