Financial Disclosure FAQs
1. Why are we doing this?
State laws relating to ethics and conflicts of interest derive from the principle that public employees owe a duty of loyalty to their public employers. In the performance of their university responsibilities, faculty and staff have the obligation to act in the best interest of the university without regard to their own personal interests. The financial disclosure process helps faculty and staff meet this obligation.
The university’s financial conflict of interest disclosure process has been in place for many years. In FY2004, as part of the external audit performed by Deloitte & Touche, the university piloted a disclosure process for all deans and vice presidents. In FY2005, the Audit Committee of the Board of Trustees initiated a more comprehensive approach, and participation in the disclosure process was expanded. The President’s Cabinet and Council of Deans subsequently agreed that each college and vice presidential unit would include faculty and staff with fiduciary responsibilities in this process. The Office of University Compliance and Integrity now coordinates this annual disclosure process.
2. Why Me?
Your college department or university unit identified you as having a significant fiduciary and/or financial role with respect to university assets. The university obtains this disclosure to help individual faculty and staff identify and address potential conflicts of interests and unlawful interests in a public contract.
3. What laws or policies govern these obligations?
This online disclosure form helps faculty and staff meet their obligations under both state law and Ohio State policies, including:
This disclosure also assists a review of possible related party transactions, as required by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants’ Statement of Auditing Standards No. 45. A related party transaction occurs when there is a relationship between the buyer and the seller before a transaction takes place (for example, if a university purchaser is also a business associate of a university vendor).
4. Is this online form different from the eCOI?
The eCOI has been the electronic conflict of interest disclosure form administered to key investigators on research projects, individuals who received salary support from a sponsored-project, and members of Ohio State Faculty Group Practice. The purpose of the eCOI has been to screen for potential research conflicts of interest, as we are required to do under federal law. Previously, there were two separate forms: the eCOI and the Annual Disclosure Form. For the sake of consistency and ease of reporting, the university has integrated these two forms into one online form.
5. Who reviews the online form?
The Office of University Compliance and Integrity reviews your disclosure to ensure compliance with Ohio Ethics Laws and university policies. Any management plans or additional actions needed to address potential conflicts are taken by the senior fiscal officers of colleges and units.
6. What if I report now and something changes before the end of the reporting period?
You are obligated to keep your online disclosure up-to-date. If you have a change in your status, please log into the system and enter the new information.
7. Who is my "immediate family"?
For the purposes of this online form, “immediate family” means grandparents, parents, children (whether dependent or not), step-children (whether dependent or not), grandchildren, brothers and sisters, or any person related by blood or marriage and residing in the same household.
8. Is there a "de minimis" dollar threshold for current or prospective vendors?
No. As a general rule, and for the purposes of this disclosure, it is considered reasonable to use $25 as a de minimis threshold for a non-recurring gift or other benefit. It is important to consider how others (inside and outside the university) might perceive the situation. Remember – conflicts of interest can often be questions of appearance. The university recommends that cash or gift cards from a vendor not be accepted.
Please note: your college or unit might have a more restrictive policies. For example, under the OSU Wexner Medical Center Vendor Interaction Policy, Medical Center staff are prohibited from accepting any gifts from vendor representatives or vendor corporations regardless of the value of the gift.
9. Specific examples relevant to Ohio State
(more examples can be found at the Ohio Ethics Commission Education website)
a) Is it OK to accept a meal from a current or prospective vendor?
A simple meal (under $25) may be considered de minimis; meals with a value above this amount, or recurring invitations, should not be accepted from current or prospective vendors. Nevertheless, the university recommends that a meal with a vendor be paid for by the employee and the employee seek reimbursement as a business expense.
Medical Center staff are not allowed to accept any gifts from a vendor.
b) A company is offering to pay my travel expenses to attend an out-of-town conference. Would this be appropriate?
Payment of travel expenses by a current or prospective vendor often raise conflict of interest issues. Individuals with any control or influence over the purchasing process should not accept offers to attend conferences or otherwise travel at the expense of a current or prospective vendor. For example, an offer by a pharmaceutical company to pay all expenses to attend a conference at Disney World would not be appropriate and should not be accepted by a faculty/staff member.
One possible exception would be a situation in which an employee is serving as a presenter at a conference. If an employee’s supervisor approves the overall business purpose for attending the conference, and all presenters receive a similar set of benefits, it may be permissible for an employee to have some portion of his/her travel expenses paid by a current or prospective vendor (e.g., registration fee). Judgments regarding the appropriateness of these arrangements should be guided by the understanding that conflicts of interest can often be questions of appearance, and faculty and staff should seek additional guidance from their supervisors or the Office of Legal Affairs.
c) Around the holidays, our office receives several fruit baskets and tins of popcorn from our vendors. Is it appropriate to accept these gifts?
These types of unsolicited gifts are difficult to avoid in many business settings. It is generally considered appropriate to accept these items and share them among the staff rather than individual use. However, recurring gifts (such as fruit baskets arriving throughout the year from the same vendor) should not be accepted.
d) My office manages a performing arts facility, and we sometimes receive unsold tickets from the concert promoter the day before the show. Our practice is to distribute these tickets to our employees. Is this appropriate?
To the extent that unsold tickets are provided to the university on an occasional basis, this would be considered permissible. University administrators can decide to distribute these tickets to employees. However, frequent distribution of tickets by the same promoter should be avoided because this presents the appearance that the promoter is “buying” the university’s good will. Distribution of tickets to employees might also raise tax-reporting issues (free tickets provided to employees on a recurring basis with no documented business purpose may be considered taxable income to the employee). Note: promoters may not distribute tickets directly to employees.
e) The consulting firm that is installing our computer system invited me to their annual golf outing. Is it OK to attend?
Golf outings are not considered de minimis and should not be accepted from current or prospective vendors. Should an employee wish to attend such an outing, they should pay the fair market values for such an event and take vacation time if the event is during university hours.
f) Our painting contractors have offered employees in my division an “industry discount” of 15% on house painting work. Is this appropriate?
It is inappropriate to accept free or discounted services if the offer is not generally available to OSU employees. For example, if the painting contractor were to offer a 15% discount to all university employees, employees could accept the offer without raising conflict of interest concerns. Please consult with the Office of Human Resources for a listing of such discounts that are offered to university employees.
g) I won a digital camera as a door prize at my industry group’s annual meeting. May I keep it?
Generally door prizes or items awarded in a drawing may be accepted because they are not high value and because all of the attendees at the event were eligible to win. But discretion and judgment is advised especially when high value gifts are made available. If the vendor were to specifically select the recipients (for example, give cameras to the representatives from OSU because they use a lot of the vendor’s products), it would be inappropriate to accept the gift. Indeed, if participation in such a meeting is on university time and/or paid by the university (such as a conference), such a prize generally would be considered a prize to the university and not to the employee.
h) I am an events manager at the university, and my domestic partner owns a catering firm that is seeking to expand its business with the university. Is this a problem?
To the extent that the events manager can make or influence decisions to purchase catering services from the domestic partner’s firm, this would represent a conflict of interest. This relationship should be disclosed by the events manager and their supervisor should work with the manager to take actions to address any potential conflicts. For example, the manager may need to remove themselves from the selection process for catering services.
i) I work in the real estate management office at the university and invest in campus-area real estate. Is this a problem?
The answer to this question depends on the relationship between the individual’s duties as an employee and his/her interests as an investor. For example, if the individual uses knowledge gained from his or her university position to purchase homes in the target acquisition area, this likely would represent a conflict of interest. Employees have an obligation to act in the best interests of the university without regard to any personal interests they may have.
j) I work in University Development and do volunteer fundraising work for the Columbus Foundation. Is this a problem?
Given the relatively finite pool of potential donors in central Ohio, it is likely these potential donors will be approached by many fundraising organizations. As such, potential conflicts of this nature may be difficult to avoid. The best guidance in this case is to disclose the relationships and, to the extent possible, avoid participating in directly overlapping fundraising appeals.