Can businesses provide charitable donations to government agencies in support of COVID-19 emergency relief?

In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, many corporations, businesses, industry groups and not-for-profit organizations are expressing an interest in donating goods, supplies, or monetary aid to state, county and local bodies to help those impacted by the virus. However, many businesses doing business with governmental agencies are registered as lobbyists, or clients of a lobbyist with the New York Joint Commission on Public Ethics (“JCOPE”), which prohibits them from giving any gift of more than nominal value (defined as $15 or more) to public officials under Legislative Law Article 1-A .

In order to facilitate these necessary response efforts, on March 7, 2020, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed Executive Order No. 202.6, suspending N.Y. Legislative Law Section 1-m, which prohibits registered lobbyists, or clients of a lobbyist, from offering or giving a gift to any public official. Under the Executive Order, any agency may receive a donation, in-kind, or otherwise, in any amount, from any source. However, the donation must be made to and administered by the agency in order to further the response efforts to the COVID-19 outbreak.

When offering a donation of this nature, organizations that are registered as a lobbyist or a client of a lobbyist should make clear that the donation is for relief efforts and the check is made payable to the agency to avoid any ambiguity.  Lobbyists should remain aware that the gift ban remains in effect for any other interactions with public officials separate and apart from relief efforts. Even during these difficult times, individuals and entities should remain vigilant to avoid making donations that suggest a quid pro quo or some improper conduct.

Harris Beach’s lobbying compliance and government compliance attorneys are intimately familiar with these issues and are available to advise clients navigating these complicated issues.

For further resources that our firm has compiled, visit our COVID-19 response page.

This alert does not purport to be a substitute for advice of counsel on specific matters.

Harris Beach has offices throughout New York state, including Albany, Buffalo, Ithaca, New York City, Rochester, Saratoga Springs, Syracuse, Uniondale and White Plains, as well as New Haven, Connecticut and Newark, New Jersey.