COPE: Gift giving when a client is running for office

By Cassy Kerr

In 2017, an eighth scenario under Advisory Opinion 46, Further Guidance on Gift Giving, was added. Please refer to it as you contemplate future donations to a client’s campaign.

Scenario: A client of a reporter has decided to run for public office. The reporter makes a $500 donation to the client’s campaign.

Questions: Is the donation a violation of Provision No. 8? Would it make a difference if the donation was a $100 donation?

Provision 8 of the Code of Professional Ethics reads, “Refrain from giving, directly or indirectly, any gift or anything of value to attorneys or their staff, other clients or their staff, or any other persons or entities associated with any litigation, which exceeds $150 in the aggregate per recipient each year. Nothing offered in exchange for future work is permissible, regardless of its value. Pro bono services as defined by the NCRA Guidelines for Professional Practice or by applicable state and local laws, rules and regulations are permissible in any amount.”

NCRA’s Ethics Committee has concluded political contributions are not considered gifts under the Code of Professional Ethics and, therefore, are not governed by Provision 8 of the Code.

Because the contribution is not made directly to the client for the client’s own purposes but rather to the campaign or the committee to be used for political purposes, it is determined that political donations are not considered gifts to clients for purposes of Provision 8 and, therefore, are not governed by Provision 8 of the Code regardless of the amount of the gift.

This opinion should be read in conjunction with Advisory Opinion No. 45, Guidance on Gift Giving Rules, which discusses such issues as the definition of a gift, the value of gifts, and the $150 aggregate gift limit.

Cassy Kerr, RPR, CRR, CRC, is a freelancer and agency owner in Tulsa, Okla. She is a member of the Committee on Professional Ethics. Questions about NCRA’s Code of Professional Ethics can be sent to NCRA’s Ethics Counsel Mona Savino at msavino@ncra.org.