Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 1993-20

Advisory Opinion No. 1993-20
Advisory Opinion No. 1993-20

Valuation Of Gift Of Political Fundraiser Ticket to
State Public Official

As the result of a number of inquiries from both lobbyists and public officials, State Ethics Commission Supervising Attorney Rachel S. Rubin has asked how the valuation rules of the Code of Ethics for Lobbyists, Conn. Gen. Stat. §1-91 et seq. and the Code of Ethics for Public Officials, Conn. Gen. Stat. §1-79 et seq., apply to the gift to a public official or state employee of a ticket to attend a political fundraiser.

Under the Code, a properly reported political contribution is not considered a “gift.”  Conn. Gen. Stat. §1-79(e)(1), Conn. Gen. Stat. §1-91(g)(1).  Thus, when a lobbyist purchases a “table” at a political fundraising event for a particular legislator, that purchase, if a legal political contribution which is reported properly, is not a gift under the Code of Ethics.  If, however, the lobbyist then chooses to give one of the tickets to a public official or state employee to allow him or her to attend the function, that transaction constitutes a separate gift event, subject to the Codes’ gift limits and reportable to the Commission.  The exemption from the gift definition for political contributions does not extend to the gift of such a ticket to a third party.  The ticket represents the right to attend a political event and is certainly at least as much of a gift to the recipient as is a ticket to a sporting event or theater production.  In many, if not all, instances entrée to the political event gives the recipient the ability to associate with, and perhaps exchange ideas with, important political leaders of the day, from a cocktail party for a local party candidate to a $1500 a plate opportunity to have dinner with the President of the United States.

Therefore, if a public official or state employee is given such a ticket by a lobbyist or by someone who fits one of the categories listed in Conn. Gen. Stat. §1-84(m) (which contains analogous gift restrictions for the executive branch and quasi-public agencies), the gift must be valued under the normal rules of valuation found in the Codes of Ethics.  For example, if the face value of the tickets is $100.00, with $30.00 attributable to the food and drink served, the ticketholder has received $30.00 in food and drink, which goes towards the annual $150.00 meal limit, and $70.00 in gift.  Since the latter amount exceeds the annual $50.00 gift limit, (and assuming that the recipient has accepted nothing else from the donor in the year) the recipient must reimburse the donor $20.00.  If the donor is a registered lobbyist, the gift must be disclosed on its lobbyist financial report if the recipient is a reportable individual.

Because the ticket provides entrée to a particular event, the entire cost is “directly and personally received” by the recipient, as in the case of a ticket to a sporting event or concert.  Such an event is distinguishable from, for example, a party at a lobbyist’s home, where the cost of flowers or the rental of a tent would not be considered directly and personally received by the guests.  See Regulations of Connecticut State Agencies §1-92-54.

By order of the Commission,

Christopher T. Donohue

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