Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 1993-13

Advisory Opinion No. 1993-13
Advisory Opinion No. 1993-13

Application Of Various Provisions Of Gift Law,
Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-91(g)

The Greater Hartford Chamber of Commerce (“Chamber”), a registered lobbyist, has asked whether the gift of a plaque costing $130.00 to a state legislator is acceptable under the Code of Ethics for Lobbyists, Connecticut General Statutes, Chapter 10, Part II.

The Code of Ethics prohibits a registered lobbyist from knowingly giving a state employee, public official, candidate for public office, or a member of any such person’s staff or immediate family any gift or gifts totaling fifty dollars or more in value in the aggregate in a calendar year.  Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-97(a).  The Code exempts certain items from the definition of gift, however, including “a certificate, plaque, or other ceremonial award costing less than one hundred dollars.”  Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-91-(g)(6).

The issue raised by the Chamber’s question is whether a registered lobbyist may, in effect, “stack” the allowable limits set by the Code, thereby exceeding the individual limit with regard to a particular exemption, but not exceeding the combined total of that limit and the separate $50.00 annual gift limit.

By setting a limit on the cost of an item exempted from the definition of gift under the Code, the Legislature has in effect approved any such item valued at or below the limit.  Conversely, it appears that an item costing above the limit is deemed by the Legislature to be inappropriate and excessive.  If there was no difference between a $100.00 plaque and a $130.00 plaque, the Legislature would have treated this exemption as it has treated several others--by placing no limit on it at all.  For example, “printed or recorded informational material germane to state action or functions” is not considered a gift regardless of its cost.  Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-91(g)(8).

The annual fifty dollar aggregate gift limit is a separate allowable expenditure.  The general purpose of the gift law is to keep the value of any one gift from a particular lobbyist at or below $50.00, with only a few specific exemptions.  The exemptions specifically state that the exempted item must cost less than a particular amount (for example, under 1-91(g)(6), a plaque “costing less than one hundred dollars” is acceptable).  To allow a gift beyond even the exemption’s limit would contravene the clear language of the statute.

Therefore, in the scenario presented, the Chamber itself could not give the legislator a plaque which exceeded the $100.00 limit set by the Code.  The Chamber could, however, use the $50.00 annual gift limit, rather than the plaque exemption, and split the gift with two other lobbyists, provided that the Chamber did not direct its individual lobbyists to pay for the gift themselves and then present it on behalf of the Chamber, and provided the Chamber has not already utilized its $50.00 allowable annual gift for other purposes.

By order of the Commission,

Christopher T. Donohue

Content Last Modified on 9/7/2005 7:59:47 AM