The Federal Election Commission (FEC) recently put out a summary of what constitutes a thing of value. While it is a summary from the FEC, I still think it's relevant because it uses the term thing of value, which, as the summary notes, appears in (quoting from the summary) "many criminal statutes throughout the United States". Because of that, I will quote the summary here, minus the footnotes.
THE LAW OF A ‘THING OF VALUE’
A Summary of the Sorts of Tangible and Intangible Goods and Services that have been Found to have ‘Value’ by the Commission and Other U.S. Government Entities
What is a “thing of value” under the law?
The Federal Election Campaign Act (the “Act”) defines a contribution to include “any
gift, subscription, loan, advance, or deposit of money or anything of value made by any person
for the purpose of influencing any election for Federal office.” “Anything of value” includes all
“in-kind contributions,” defined as “the provision of any goods or services without charge or at a
charge that is less than the usual and normal charge for such goods or services.”
Goods or services provided at the usual and normal charge may not constitute a
contribution under the Act. Commission regulations permit any person or company to provide
goods or services to a political committee, without making a contribution, if that person or
company does so as a “commercial vendor,” i.e., in the ordinary course of business, and at the
usual and normal charge.
The legal concept of a “thing of value” is not unique to the Act. The words “thing of
value” “are found in so many criminal statutes throughout the United States that they have in a
sense become words of art,” wrote the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
‘thing’ notwithstanding, the phrase is generally construed to cover intangibles as well as
tangibles.” Federal courts have consistently applied an expansive reading to the term “thing of
value” in a variety of statutory contexts to include goods and services that have tangible,
intangible, or even merely perceived benefits, for example: promises, information, testimony,
conjugal visits, and commercially worthless stock.
The word “anything” means “all things.” “Read naturally, the word ‘any’ has an
expansive meaning, that is, ‘one or some indiscriminately of whatever kind,’” according to the
Supreme Court. As the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit explained, “The United
States Supreme Court and this Court have recognized on many occasions that the word ‘any’ is a
powerful and broad word, and that it does not mean ‘some’ or ‘all but a few,’ but instead means
The summary goes on to provide a list of examples:
The Commission has held a long and diverse list of goods and services (both tangible and
intangible, both easy and difficult to value) to qualify as contributions, including:
- opposition research;
- an activist’s contact list;
- an email list;
- staff time;
- a business name or logo;
- a severance payment;
- the production elements for an event;
- election materials;
- a rent-stabilized apartment;
- office space;
- a boat;
- stocks and commodities;
- barter credit units and cryptocurrency mining awards;
- a gold coin;
- poll results; and
- more generally, securities, facilities, equipment, supplies, personnel, advertising
services, membership lists, mailing lists.
Thus, the Commission has, consistent with judicial rulings, interpreted “anything of
value” broadly under the Act. The Commission has found that even where the value of a good or
service “may be nominal or difficult to ascertain,” such good or service is nevertheless a “thing
of value” under the Act.