About Foreign Gifts
LegiStorm's database of foreign gifts is an attempt to reveal what gifts and travel are provided to legislators and their staff when traveling abroad.
Diplomatic protocol often requires the giving and acceptance of gifts. It could be considered rude to turn down a gift from a foreign country.
Disclosure of certain gifts is required under the Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act for all federal employees and their spouses. Recipients are allowed to keep gifts of minimal value, which was defined as $100 when the law was enacted in 1966, with cost of living adjustments. The 2008 value set by the Office of Government Ethics is $335. If a gift is above this minimal value, the recipient must turn in the gift to his or her respective agency within 60 days.
Public disclosure is required of gifts of greater than minimal value. The law requires that "not later than January 31 of each year, each employing agency or its delegate shall compile a listing of all statements filed during the preceding year by the employees of that agency pursuant to subsection (c)(3) and shall transmit such listing to the Secretary of State who shall publish a comprehensive listing of all such statements in the Federal Register."
By statute, a foreign gift is anything of value that comes from any foreign national, state, local and municipal government or any international organization composed of members from foreign governments or any agent or representative of any such organization.
The gift can consist of a physical gift or payment of travel expenses.
Foreign governments can pay for only some travel expenses. The law only allows transportation outside the United States, not travel from the United States to a foreign country.
Gifts in our foreign gifts database are often connected with trips financed by private organizations. We have provided links to the relevant privately financed trip when appropriate.
The House ethics committee (the Committee on Standards and Official Conduct) makes the filings available to the public, although these documents are rarely sought. The Senate ethics committee does not have a similar policy of disclosing the raw filings, except through the reports to the State Department.
Our database is mostly based on the Federal Register, although we supplement it with the additional information and raw documents disclosed by the House ethics committee.