The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) has followed the governor’s lead1 and implemented a gifts and favors ban (the ban) for PUC employees and the families of PUC employees. The ban, which is available here, generally prohibits PUC employees and the families of PUC employees from accepting any gifts or favors that would influence the manner in which the employees perform their work, make their decisions, or otherwise perform their duties. The ban prohibits PUC employees from accepting:
gifts or favors from (1) PUC regulated entities; (2) representatives of PUC-regulated entities (i.e., lawyers and lobbyists), (3) government contractors and (4) entities “that may be substantially affected by the performance or nonperformance of the official duty of the employee.
The ban continues by providing four specific activities that are prohibited: (1) accepting food or refreshment at a private event hosted by a public utility, an organization of public utilities, or any other entity that may be substantially affected by the performance or nonperformance of the official duty of the employee; (2) accepting tickets or golfing outings; (3) accepting travel, lodging, hospitality, or free attendance at an event hosted by a public utility, an organization of public utilities, or any other entity that may be substantially affected by the performance or nonperformance of the official duty of the employee; and (4) accepting gifts such as pens and calendars.
The ban is not, however, absolute and provides seven “limited” exceptions. The entire list of exceptions is not reported herein, but public utilities and their representatives should carefully review the list to make sure they do not inadvertently place PUC employees in an uncomfortable position where they must refuse offered hospitality. Three exceptions that are noteworthy, given the governor’s absolute ban on the acceptance of even de minimus items such as bottled water and coffee, are discussed below.2 First, PUC employees are allowed to accept “food and refreshments not a part of a meal such as coffee, donuts and the like.” Second, when participating in a “widely attended gathering,” PUC personnel may receive free admittance to the event “as well as food and refreshment of nominal value ($50 or less).” The ban defines a widely attended gathering as “a gathering that is open to all persons interested or associated with the subject matter of the gathering.” Finally, PUC employees are allowed free admission (including meals and refreshments) to conferences or other events where the PUC employee is participating as a speaker or panel member in his or her official capacity. This last exception is applicable only to the day of the actual presentation. Accordingly, if a PUC employee is attending a two-day conference and is on a panel only one of those two days, the employee cannot accept free admission, meals and refreshments for the day on which he or she is not making a presentation.