As summer draws near, the tempo of the planning and fundraising for the DNC and RNC national party presidential nominating conventions is increasing. After the challenges and disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, both parties are eager for a return to robust in-person attendance. For corporations, trade associations, and other nonprofit organizations seeking to host events or to provide support for the conventions, understanding the legal guardrails is essential.

House and Senate Gift Rules Apply to the Conventions

There is no special gift rule exception for convention events. All events to which federal legislators and congressional staff are invited must comply with House and Senate gift rules. Convention event planners and sponsors should be particularly mindful of the following events and items that the gift rules expressly allow:

  • Food and refreshments of nominal value that are not offered as part of a meal. For evening events, this gift rule exception is commonly used for cocktail receptions.
  • Invitations and other gifts offered to all convention delegates or to all delegates from a particular state.
  • Free attendance at a “widely attended event” at the invitation of the event sponsor (must invite at least 25 non-congressional attendees and meet other prerequisites).
  • Free attendance at a charity event held to raise funds for a 501(c)(3) organization at the invitation of the event’s sponsor (includes food, beverages, and entertainment that is part of the event).
  • Free attendance at a political fundraising event organized by a PAC.
  • Any gift with a value less than $50, provided the donor is not a federal lobbyist, a registered foreign agent, or an entity that employs or retains lobbyists. Such gifts are subject to a $100 annual limit on gifts from any one source.
  • A t-shirt or baseball cap of reasonable value, as well as non-food items that have a total value of $10 or less.

Special Rules for Events Honoring Members

What if you want to host an event that honors a member of Congress?

A lobbyist, or a registered entity that employs or retains a lobbyist, may not pay for an event during the convention that “honors” a member of Congress. The House and Senate rules differ on certain details, however, with the House prohibiting invitations that refer to a member as a “special guest” or speaker, and the Senate allowing an event where a senator is a featured speaker.

However, an organization that employs or retains a federal lobbyist may give money to a non-lobbying organization to host or sponsor a convention event honoring a member of Congress. The restriction on paying for an event honoring a member applies only to events “directly paid for” by a lobbyist or lobbying entity.

It is also permissible for a lobbyist or an entity registered under the federal lobbying laws to host an event honoring a delegation, congressional committee, or caucus, provided that the event otherwise complies with House or Senate gift rules. There is no numerical minimum or maximum for the size of the delegation or caucus invited to such an event. A federal legislator’s name may even be listed as honorary host committee member of the event, as long as that list also includes the name of non-congressional host committee members.

Finally, the prohibition on honoring members of Congress applies only during the actual dates of the convention, allowing lobbyist employers to host a welcome or farewell event before or after the convention. Such an event must still meet one of the gift rule exceptions. The RNC convention will be held in Milwaukee from July 15 to July 18, and the DNC convention will be held in Chicago from August 19 to August 22.

Other Gift Rules May Apply

Keep in mind that other gift rules may apply to an event if invited guests include federal executive branch officials or state and local officials. For example, Biden administration appointees may accept offers of free attendance at a widely attended gathering sponsored by a lobbyist-employer only if they are speaking at the event. If your organization plans on hosting a particular state delegation, it is important to review the gift rules applicable to government officials from that state and from localities within the state that may have their own gift rules.

What About Contributions?

The national party committees (DNC and RNC) have separate “accounts” for convention expenses, which can accept contributions from individuals and PACs up to three times the amount that can be contributed to each party’s main account. For individuals and PACs that have not qualified for multicandidate status, the limit on contributions to these convention accounts is $123,900 per account per year. For multicandidate PACs, the annual limit per account is $45,000.

Corporations, including nonprofit corporations, cannot contribute (except through their PACs) to these convention accounts. They also may not pay for travel, hotel, or other expenses for convention delegates or speakers.

Corporations may, however, make unlimited cash or in-kind contributions to host committees, which are nonprofit organizations, formed by each host city, that have no political affiliation. Although the purpose of a host committee is to promote commerce and project a favorable image of each host city, they must nonetheless file reports with the Federal Election Commission disclosing their contributions received and expenditures made.

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Please contact the Venable Political Law Group with questions about hosting specific convention events or making contributions to national party convention accounts or host committees.