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Gift Resource Center Updated to 2017-2018 Limits
Understanding California's Gift Rules for Public Officials


Should one decide to enter the gift maze, this resource center helps local officials navigate the rules. These materials reflect the updated gift limits for 2017-2018 ($470).

Gift Rule Goals

The goal underlying California’s gift reporting and gift limits is to prevent either the perception or the reality that gift giving influences public officials’ actions.  This is because public agency actions should always promote the public’s interests, as opposed to narrow personal or political interests.

Basic Gift Rules

1.   Gifts worth $50 or more must be reported on one’s Statement of Economic Interests. For purposes of this rule, gifts from a single source are combined. This means one must report what one received when the total value of a series of gestures from a single gift-giver reaches $50 or more. Those subject to gift rules must therefore keep a running tally of smaller gifts in case the total value of gifts received from one source adds up to $50 or more over the course of a year. Gifts from lobbyists or lobbying firms are limited to $10/month.

2.   The annual gift limit is $470  from a single source per calendar year. As a general rule, a public official may not accept a gesture that’s worth $470 (2017-2018 limit amount) or more. Similarly, a public official may not accept a series of gestures over the course of a calendar year from the same gift-giver that total $470 or more.

3.  A public official may have to step aside from participating in the decision-making process. If one accepts a gesture or a series of gestures with a value of $470 or more from a single gift-giver in the twelve months preceding an official decision affecting that person, one may have to disqualify oneself from participating in that decision-making process.

Questions for Public Officials to Ask

To determine how or whether the gift rules apply, ask the following:


Question 1: Did I or My Family Receive Something of Value?
The Threshold Inquiry for California's Gift Rules

When do California officials need to concern themselves with California’s rules related to gifts? 

The short answer is when either the official (or a member of his family) receives something of value for which they did not pay full price.

For more information on this aspect of California’s gift rules, please see the resource in the box at right.


Question 2: What’s the Value of What I Received?
Working Through California's Gift Rules Analysis

The application of California’s rules relating to gift disclosure and limits, as well as the requirement to step aside from the decision-making process, depends on the value of what was received. 

To understand how value gestures received, please see the resource in the box at right.



Question 3: Who Is the Source of What I Received?
Working Through California's Gift Rules Analysis

Another important piece of information in determining how California’s gift rules apply is understanding who gave the gift.

If one understands the who is the source of the gift, one can do the math to determine what one’s reporting obligations are, whether one is at risk of going over the gift limits or one needs to step aside from the decision-making process.

To understand more on how to answer this question, please see the pdf (last) resource in the box at right.


Question 4: Did I Do Something in Exchange for What I Received?
Working Through California's Gift Rules Analysis

The core concept of a gift is something that one gives another for nothing or less than full value in return.  If one provides equal or greater value in return, the gesture isn’t subject to California’s gift rules.

This piece explains how to analyze whether equal or greater value was provided in return.


Question 5: What Kind of Gift Is It and Do Special Rules Apply as a Result?
Working Through California's Gift Rules Analysis

Certain kinds of gestures either are exempt from California’s gift rules or are subject to special treatment. These include:

  • Home hospitality
  • Informational materials
  • Inheritances
  • Emergency leave credits
  • Disaster relief assistance
  • Personalized plaques and trophies
  • Wedding gifts
  • Travel
  • Tickets/Free Admissions
  • Behested payments
  • Campaign contributions

This resource at right explains how the gift rules apply to the above gestures.


Question 6: What Options Does One Have When One Receives a Gift?
Working Through California's Gift Rules Analysis

Receiving gifts within the meaning California’s gift rules may trigger certain reporting and disqualification obligations for public officials.  Gifts are also subject to certain annual value limits.

In addition, officials have a variety of additional options, including returning the gift, paying for it or donating it to charity.

This resource explains what one’s options are after receiving a gift.


Understanding the New Travel-Related Exceptions to California’s Gift Rules
December 2013

California’s Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) recently relaxed the rules on when a public official may accept free or discounted travel.


Thank You to Our Reviewers and Supporters

The Institute is grateful to Jessica Ryan, Michael Martello, Shawn Mason and Kara Ueda for their input and assistance with these resources.

In addition, the Institute is grateful to the following firms, whose annual financial support makes the Institute’s work in public service ethics possible:

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