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California State Officers and Rules on Honoraria and Gifts

Violation of the law can result in a civil action brought by the FPPC for up to three times the amount of the unlawful gift

By Chris Micheli, January 1, 2022 1:00 pm

Among other provisions, Article V, Section 14 of the California Constitution prohibits any honorarium being paid and limits gifts being made to state officers. Who are “state officers?” Section 14(f) defines “state officer” to mean the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Controller, Insurance Commissioner, Secretary of State, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Treasurer, and members of the State Board of Equalization.

Government Code Title 9 (Political Reform), Chapter 9.5 (Ethics) deals with both topics as well. The following is a brief summary of both areas of the law.

Honoraria

With regard to honoraria, Article V, Section 14(b) specifies: “No state officer may accept any honorarium. The Legislature shall enact laws that implement this subdivision.” Article 1 of Chapter 9.5 of Title 9 of the Government Code deals with Honoraria in Sections 89501 and 89502.

Section 89501(a) defines an honorarium as “any payment made in consideration for any speech given, article published, or attendance at any public or private conference, convention, meeting, social event, meal, or like gathering.” Section 89501(b) specifies that honorarium does not include (1) earned income for personal services which are customarily provided in connection with the practice of a bona fide business, trade, or profession, and (2) any honorarium which is not used and returned to the donor within 30 days or delivered to the Controller as a donation to the General Fund.

Section 89502(a) prohibits any elected state officer or elected officer of a local government agency from accepting any honorarium. Section 89502(b) prohibits a candidate for elective state office, judicial office, or local government agency office from accepting any honorarium.

Also, Section 89521 provides any person who makes or receives an honorarium in violation of the law in liable in a civil action brought by the FPPC for an amount of up to three times the amount of the unlawful honorarium.

Gifts

With regard to gifts, Article V, Section 14(c) specifies: “The Legislature shall enact laws that ban or strictly limit the acceptance of a gift by a state officer from any source if the acceptance of the gift might create a conflict of interest.” Article 2 of Chapter 9.5 of Title 9 of the Government Code deals with Gifts in Sections 89503 and 89503.5.

The word “gift” is defined in Government Code Section 82028(a) to mean “any payment that confers a personal benefit on the recipient, to the extent that consideration of equal or greater value is not received and includes a rebate or discount in the price of anything of value unless the rebate or discount is made in the regular course of business to members of the public without regard to official status.” Section 82028(b) specifies that the term “gift” does not include:

  • Informational material such as books, reports, pamphlets, calendars, or periodicals.
  • Gifts which are not used and which, within 30 days after receipt, are either returned to the donor or delivered to a nonprofit entity exempt from taxation without being claimed as a charitable contribution for tax purposes.
  • Gifts from an individual’s spouse, child, parent, grandparent, grandchild, brother, sister, parent-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, nephew, niece, aunt, uncle, or first cousin or the spouse of any such person.
  • Campaign contributions required to be reported.
  • Any devise or inheritance.
  • Personalized plaques and trophies with an individual value of less than $250.

Section 89503(a) prohibits any elected state officer, elected officer of a local government agency, or other specified individuals from accepting gifts from any single source in any calendar year with a total value of more than $250, adjusted for inflation. Section 89503(b) prohibits any candidate for elective state office, for judicial office, or for elective office in a local government agency from accepting gifts from any single source in any calendar year with a total value of more than $250, adjusted for inflation.

Section 89503(e) specifies that this code section does not prohibit or limit (1) payments, advances, or reimbursements for travel and related lodging and subsistence that is otherwise permitted, or (2) wedding gifts and gifts exchanged between individuals on birthdays, holidays, and other similar occasions, provided that the gifts exchanged are not substantially disproportionate in value.

Also, Government Code Section 89521 provides any person who makes or receives a gift in violation of the law in liable in a civil action brought by the FPPC for an amount of up to three times the amount of the unlawful gift.

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One thought on “California State Officers and Rules on Honoraria and Gifts

  1. While this may be a well-thought-out piece in government checks and balances, it appears there are monumental loopholes… ie. Newsom’s $3.7mil gifted home from an LLC registered to his home address, and its’ only transaction; “Sweetheart’ mortgage re-fi after 3 months, that most qualified couldn’t get for at least 6 months; behest deals, with dontations made to Jennifer’s business in return; a comptroller that can’t provide line-by-line itemization for ‘open the books california’ Where is the FPPC?
    Maybe there’s hope and accountability in California’s future….”Republican aims to shake up California’s spending”(World Net Daily wnd.com)

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