REQUESTED BY: William B. Brandt, General Counsel. Nebraska Bankers Association
QUESTION: May a lobbyist or his principal provide complimentary tickets, each valued at over $10 to State Senators and their spouses for a banquet and entertainment in connection with a convention program of the principal's association?
FACTS: The Nebraska Bankers Association proposes to provide a complimentary ticket to each State Senator and his or her spouse for an evening's activities at its annual convention. The charge to regular convention registrants for this activity would be $21 each. Of this charge, $11 or more has been allocated to the cost of food and beverage to be provided at the banquet. $10 or less is allocated for the entertainment aspect of the program.
ANALYSIS: Section 49-1490, R.S. Supp., 1976, provides that a lobbyist or anyone acting on behalf of a lobbyist shall not give a gift to a legislator, or member of a legislator's immediate family. It also provides that a legislator or a member of his staff or a member of his immediate family shall not solicit or accept a gift in violation of this section. Gift is defined as a payment, . . . honorarium, . . . or anything of value, the value of which exceeds $10 in any one-month period, unless consideration of equal or greater value is received therefor, but does not include, among other matters, a dinner or other refreshments consisting of food and beverage provided for immediate consumption.
The issues raised are whether or not the $10 limitation on gifts per month is an individual limitation of $10 each per senator and spouse, and whether or not the providing of a dinner, even though it may involve entertainment, is exempt from the gift limitation.
It is our understanding that the basic entertainment involved is dancing with live music. Section 49-1490(3)(d) provides that a gift shall not include "a . . . dinner, or other refreshments consisting of food and beverage provided for immediate consumption.
In view of the circumstances in this case, the Commission views the whole of the evening's activities as a permitted gift pursuant to the exemption on the grounds that the association was furnishing a dinner or other refreshments consisting of food and beverage for immediate consumption and that the entertainment was simply an incidental to the furnishing of such dinner or other refreshments without the necessity of making an allocation as to the cost of food as against the cost of the entertainment.
In any case, the allocation presented in your request for advisory opinion of $10 or less per senator and per spouse for entertainment would meet the further exemption of "anything of value which does not exceed $10 in any one-month period."
In this respect, the Commission rules that the $10 exemption per month is to be applied individually and not cumulatively and that such gifts, each of a value of $10 or less, may be received per month individually by a public official and his spouse without violating the Act.
The Commission cautions that entertainment or other things of value may not be incidental in all cases and that the furnishing of exempt food and drink may not be used as a mere subterfuge for giving something of value which exceeds $10 per person per month.