There are legitimate ways to influence elected officials. Citizens can write letters or speak out at public hearings. They may gather similarly minded people to lobby for change. For more urgent matters, they may file a lawsuit. However, offering money or other gifts to a public official, especially someone in a federal office, may lead to allegations of bribery or gratuities.
Bribes and gratuities are two different offenses though they have a similar end. It is a violation of Mississippi and federal law to offer a public official some item of value as incentive for the official to act a certain way within the capacity of his or her office. If one offers the gift prior to the official’s action, it may be a bribe. If the offer occurs after the fact as a kind of “thank you,” authorities may see it as a gratuity. An official who accepts a bribe or gratuity may also face criminal charges.
The difference between the charges
Bribery carries more severe penalties than gratuity. For example, someone convicted of bribing an elected or other public figure may serve as long as 15 years in prison. Bribes may also include campaign contributions or donations to other organizations in exchange for favorable official actions.
On the other hand, gratuities are personal, given directly to the official with the intent of gaining the official’s favor. If one is convicted of gratuity, he or she may receive a maximum of two years imprisonment. However, to prove either of these allegations, the prosecution must tackle the challenging element of intent for both the person offering the gift and the public official.