The Office of Government Ethics has issued guidance on acceptance by federal employees of “crowdsourced” donations, expanding on interpretations it issued during the extended partial government shutdown of late 2018-2019 to other situations in which employees may be experiencing financial hardship.
“While crowdsourced fundraising is not strictly prohibited by the gift rules, the nature of this type of fundraising is complex and demands that extra care be taken to ensure that federal employees do not solicit or accept prohibited gifts. Employees should work closely with their agency ethics officials to determine whether crowdsourced donations were given by a prohibited source or because of their official position, and, if so, to determine whether any exception to the gift rules applies,” it says.
It says that such solicitations—typically conducted over social media—generally are covered by policies barring federal employees from soliciting or accepting gifts from a “prohibited source” or that are given because of their official position. Prohibited sources include a person or entity seeking official action by the employee’s agency, who does or is seeking to do business with the agency, who conducts activities regulated by the agency or who has interests that that may be substantially affected by the performance or nonperformance of the employee’s official duties.
The official position restriction likely does not apply if it is “clear that the gift is motivated by a family relationship or personal friendship rather than your federal position,” it says, but if such a person does business with the agency “you should still consider whether accepting the gift could lead to an appearance of favoritism.”
The guidance also covers matters such as determining if a crowdsourced donation is given because of the employee’s official position, how to identify if donations came from prohibited sources, and more.