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Inviting Public Officials to a UO Event or Trip

Can I invite a Public Official who does not work for UO to my university-sponsored event or trip?  

Short Answer

Yes, but if what you offer has economic value they may be required to pay their own way. How much? You could charge guests the fair market value of the trip or event. If no price is established to attend, according to state ethics regulations the University must use "reasonable methods to determine the per-person value of benefit conferred.” This may include dividing the amount spent on food, beverage, travel, and other costs by the number of persons whom the university reasonably expects to attend, or by the actual number of attendees.

While government ethics violations are targeted against the individual receiving the benefit/gift and not entity providing it, the university should not be complicit in contributing to such violations by providing items of economic value to public officials. You are encouraged to contact the ethics office if you have questions on this topic.

Long Answer

Generally, when a public official is offered something of economic value at no cost or at a discount and the same offer is not made to the general public, it is considered a “gift” under Oregon government ethics laws. Public officials and their relatives or household members may accept gifts of limited value under specific conditions. They may not solicit or receive any gift(s) during a single year with a combined value over $50 from any single source that could reasonably be known to have a “legislative or administrative interest” in a decision, recommendation, or action that the public official makes in their capacity as a public official. A legislative or administrative interest means an economic interest distinct from that of the general public. Certain items and expenses, however, are excluded from the definition of a “gift,” and therefore may be accepted by the public official irrespective of value.  This includes things like reasonable food and travel expenses provided to the public official when representing government.

Speeches, Presentations, Panels: This activity is not considered a “gift” under the Oregon government ethics laws, and can include expenses at an event such as a convention, fact-finding mission or trip, conference or other meeting if the public official is scheduled to deliver a speech, make a presentation, participate on a panel or represent state or local government. (Note: the source of the paid expenses, if more than $50, must notify the public official in writing of the aggregate value of the paid expenses for the event within 10 days of the expenses.)  Please note, however, that the Oregon Government Ethics Commission has interpreted this “speech” exception narrowly. Self-introductions and cursory remarks do not suffice.

Food, Beverage, Entertainment: Food or beverage consumed by a public official at an event, or entertainment during that event, is not considered a “gift” when it is incidental (secondary) to the main purpose of the event. However, food and beverages often come at a charge, may not be incidental to the event, and may involve more than a “reception” as those terms are defined by state ethics regulations. (Note: a “reception” is defined as a social gathering where and beverages are provided, but not as a plated, sit-down meal.)  And while Oregon law separately exempts admission to or the cost of food or beverages consumed by a public official at a “reception, meal or meeting held by an organization” when the public official represents state or local government in his or her official capacity, this “reception” exception to the gift definition has been limited to instances where a large number of people are invited (i.e., all members of an organization) and the event is publicized and open to the public. Finally, reasonable food, travel or lodging expenses provided to a public official or their accompanying relative is not considered a gift when the public official is representing state or local government, but this carve-out is limited to “officially sanctioned trade-promotion[s] or fact-finding mission[s]; or “officially designated negotiations, or economic development activities, where receipt of the expenses is approved in advance.” See ORS 244.020.

Heads Up! 

These same restrictions apply to you, as a university employee and public official, if an outside entity or person offers to pay your expenses to participate in a trip, event, conference, etc.  This may also raise impermissible use of official position issues.