Unofficial Opinion 97-12
During its 1996 session, the General Assembly adopted a requirement for disclosure and reporting of gifts to public employees by vendors who did business with the state. You have inquired about the scope and application of this law. It is my opinion that this statute requires all persons or entities who sell to or contract with state government and who give any gifts to public employees, which in the aggregate exceed $250.00 in value, to file by February 1 of each calendar year a disclosure report with the State Ethics Commission.
The statute in question provides that:
Any vendor who, either directly or through another person, makes a gift or gifts to one or more public employees exceeding in the aggregate $250.00 in value during any calendar year shall file a disclosure report with the [State Ethics] commission in the form specified by the commission listing the amount and date of receipt, the name and
mailing address of any vendor making the gift, and the name, address, and position of each public employee receiving such a gift.
O.C.G.A. § 45-1-6(b) (emphasis added). The vendors who are regulated by the statute include any individual or entity "who sells to or contracts with any branch of state government or any department, board, bureau, agency, or commission thereof for the provision of any goods or services." O.C.G.A. § 45-1-6(a)(3), (5).
The "gifts" that are covered by the statute include any gratuity, subscription, membership, trip, meal, loan , extension of credit, forgiveness of debt, advance or deposit of money or anything else of value. O.C.G.A. § 45-1-6(a)(2). This includes gifts that are given through another individual or entity. O.C.G.A. § 45-1-6(a)(3). Every person employed by the executive, legislative, or judicial branches of state government is included in the definition of "public employee" covered by this legislation. O.C.G.A. § 45-1-6(a)(4). This statute does not, however, apply to elected officials. Id.
The reports required under this Code Section must be filed with the State Ethics Commission by February 1 of each calendar year and must disclose, in addition to the specific information outlined above, the cumulative totals of all gifts which have been made or received and which are required to be reported by each vendor under the statute. O.C.G.A. § 45-1-6(c), (d). The Ethics Commission is vested with the full authority to investigate and prosecute violations of this Code Section including, but not limited to, the imposition of civil penalties in the amount of $1,000.00 for each violation of the law. O.C.G.A. § 45-1-6(f); O.C.G.A. § 21-5-6(b)(14).
Additionally, the law imposes a late-filing fee of $50.00 for each report filed within 15 days after the February 1 filing date. O.C.G.A. § 45-1-6(e). That late-filing fee is increased to $75.00 for each report filed after that date. Id. Finally, it should be noted that a knowing violation of this Code Section is also a misdemeanor which is to be prosecuted in the county of residence of the accused. O.C.G.A. § 45-1-6(g),
(h). A misdemeanor under Georgia law is punishable by the imposition of a fine not to exceed $1,000.00 or incarceration of up to 12 months or both. O.C.G.A. § 17-10-3(a).
I note that this reporting requirement for vendors doing business with the state should not be confused with the additional prohibitions on giving or receiving gifts placed upon members, appointees or employees of the State Board of Education, or their families, in relation to the selection of textbooks by the State Board. O.C.G.A. § 20-2-10. Additionally, it must be understood that O.C.G.A. § 45-1-6, where applicable, requires disclosures of all gifts given by vendors to any public employee, not just public employees involved in making purchasing decisions.
Finally, the statute requires the disclosure by vendors of a single gift or of multiple gifts, whether given to a single public employee or to a group of employees, when the value of such a gift or gifts exceeds $250.00 by itself or in the aggregate. O.C.G.A. § 45-1-6(b).
Therefore, it is my opinion that all persons who sell to or contract with any entity of state government and who give any gifts to public employees which in the aggregate exceed $250.00 in value must by February 1 of each calendar year file a disclosure report with the State Ethics Commission.
DENNIS R. DUNN
Senior Assistant Attorney General
See 1996 Op. Att'y Gen. 96-20 and 1992 Op. Att'y Gen. 92-26 for a discussion of the reporting requirements regarding loans made in the ordinary course of business and extensions of credit.