CEO 91-43 -- July 19, 1991
STATE EMPLOYEE ATTENDING WEEKEND RETREAT
OF LAW FIRM EMPLOYING HER HUSBAND
To: Ms. Victoria L. Weber, General Counsel, Florida Department of Revenue (Tallahassee)
An employee of a State department is not prohibited from attending a weekend retreat of the law firm for which her husband works, even though a member of the firm occasionally represents a client before the department. As the law firm invites its attorneys and encourages them to bring family members or significant others, the lodging provided to the State employee during the weekend would be a gift to her from a relative, her husband. Under Section 112.3148, Florida Statutes, as amended by Chapter 90-502, Laws of Florida, gifts from relatives are not prohibited or required to be disclosed.
Are you, the General Counsel of the Department of Revenue, prohibited from attending a weekend retreat of the law firm for which your husband works, where the firm invites its attorneys and encourages them to bring family members or significant others, even though a member of the firm occasionally represents a client before the Department?
Your question is answered in the negative.
In your letter of inquiry and a telephone conversation with our staff, you have advised that you serve as the General Counsel of the Florida Department of Revenue and that your husband is an attorney in a law firm, one or more members of which occasionally represent a client before the Department. You also have advised that one or two times each year, the law firm holds a weekend retreat for its attorneys or employees. Invitations specify that the firm's attorneys or employees may bring family members or "significant others." The firm pays all lodging and food expenses for those who attend.
Chapter 90-502, Laws of Florida, which became law on January 1, 1991, substantially revised State law regarding gifts. Under that law, the term "gift" is defined as follows:
"Gift," for purposes of ethics in government and financial disclosure required by law, means that which is accepted by a donee or by another on the donee's behalf, or that which is paid or given to another for or on behalf of a donee, directly, indirectly, or in trust for his benefit or by any other means, for which equal or greater consideration is not given, including:
7. Transportation, lodging, or parking.
8. Food or beverage, other than that consumed at a single sitting or event. [Section 112.312(9)(a), Florida Statutes, as amended.]
Under this definition, although the food and beverages you would receive at the firm's expense during the weekend retreat would not constitute a gift, the firm's payment of your lodging expenses would be a gift.
Nevertheless, the provisions of the new gift law, to be contained in Section 112.3148, Florida Statutes, "do not apply to gifts solicited or accepted by a reporting individual or procurement employee from a relative." Section 112.3148(1), as amended by Chapter 90-502. The term "relative," as defined in Section 2 of Chapter 90-502, includes one's husband or wife.
In our view, as the firm's invitation is extended to your husband, by virtue of his employment with the firm, and to the relative whom he decides to bring, your attendance at the firm's weekend retreat is a gift from your husband, rather than from the firm. Although there may be other situations where we would consider an invitation to one spouse that includes the offer to bring the other spouse, who is a public officer or employee, to result in a gift from the donor rather than from the spouse, we are not concerned that this practice here is a subterfuge to provide a gift to you, where all of the firm's attorneys are invited and encouraged to bring relatives or others.
Section 112.3148(8), as amended, requires you to report on a quarterly basis gifts which you have received in excess of $100 in value. However, gifts from relatives are specifically exempted from this disclosure requirement.
Accordingly, we find that you are not prohibited from attending, or required to disclose as a gift, a weekend retreat of the law firm for which your husband works, where the firm invites its attorneys and encourages them to bring family members or significant others, even though a member of the firm occasionally represents a client before the Department.