Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 1993-17

Advisory Opinion No. 1993-17
Advisory Opinion No. 1993-17

Acceptance Of Necessary Expense Payments By The
Spouse Of The Governor

The Governor has asked the State Ethics Commission whether, under the Code of Ethics for Public Officials, Conn. Gen. Stat. Chapter 10, Part I, his wife may accept reimbursement of necessary expenses for participation in official events.

Under 1-84(k) of the Code:

No public official or state employee shall accept a fee or honorarium for an article, appearance or speech, or for participation at an event, in his official capacity, provided a public official or state employee may receive payment or reimbursement for necessary expenses for any such activity in his official capacity.

“Necessary expenses” are defined by 1-79(l) of the Code as:

…a public official’s or state employee’s expenses for an article, appearance or speech or for participation at an event, in his official capacity, which shall be limited to necessary travel expenses, lodging for the nights before, of and after the appearance, speech or event, meals and any related conference or seminars registration fees.

The issue of the spouse of a public official also receive expense payments (e.g., travel to and lodging at the site of a public official’s speech) was specifically discussed during the legislative debate on the provision that became 1-84(k).  Such payments were explicitly rejected as unnecessary to the occurrence of the event; and, therefore, tantamount to an illegal fee or honorarium.  As the chief proponent of the legislation of the House, Representative William Kiner, stated:

…we’re talking about a person in his or her official capacity.  That is the person who indeed will be able to receive the necessary expenses.  If I wanted to bring my wife with me down to Aruba, even though I might consider it necessary expenses, the law would now, and I would have to or she would have to pay for any bills that are incurred on her way down, on her way back and while she was with me.  Volume 34, H. R. Proc., part 30, June 12, 1991 Special Session, pp. 63, 64.

In fact, trips for the spouse and other guests of the public official to various resorts, given in lieu of a cash fee or honorarium, were a specific practice the State Ethics Commission sought to prohibit in proposing the enactment of the legislation now under review.

The acceptance of expense payments by the Governor’s spouse for participation in officials events is, however, distinguishable.  It is well established, at both the federal and state levels of government, that the spouse of the chief executive is, not infrequently, called upon to perform certain official activities, either with or in the place of the chief executive.  The event that engendered this request for advice is a good example.  Connecticut has been chosen as the site for the 1995 Special Olympics World Games.  As a result, Governor and Mrs. Weicker were the guests of the 1995 Special Olympics World Games Organizing Committee at the International Special Olympics Winter Games held in Austria from March 19-27, 1993.  In addition to the Governor’s other official activities, he and Mrs. Weicker participated in the closing ceremonies and hosted a number of meetings and receptions for Special Olympics officials and other participants.

Under such circumstances, the spouse of the Governor is functioning as a representative of the State and its citizens; essentially equivalent to the role of a public official.  As a logical and practical consequence, the State Ethics Commission believes that, when performing these duties, Mrs. Weicker should be permitted to accept expense payments, under the same limitations and with the same disclosure required of other State servants.  When, however, Mrs. Weicker is invited to an event solely as a guest, the Code’s general rule prohibiting acceptance of expense payments will continue to apply.

In closing, it should be noted that this Opinion does not address the issue of reimbursement payments made to the Governor’s spouse by the State of Connecticut; nor should this Ruling be construed as extending to any other individual.

By order of the Commission,

Christopher T. Donohue

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