Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 1993-6

Advisory Opinion No. 1993-6
Advisory Opinion No. 1993-6

Application Of Codes Of Ethics To Financial Benefits
Received From A Lobbyist In Connection With One’s
Non-State Employment Responsibilities

State Ethics Commission Staff Attorney Brenda M. Bergeron has asked whether the gift and food and beverage limits imposed by the Codes of Ethics for Public Officials apply to the following hypothetical situation:  A State of Connecticut public official (as defined in Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-79(k)) is also a member of a municipal board.  A lobbyist (as defined in Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-91(l)) seeks a contract with the municipality for the construction of a municipal golf course.  The lobbyist offers to host a golf outing for board members at its most recently-constructed facility.

Each Board member attending the outing will have the opportunity to play golf at the lobbyist’s expense and will be provided with a commemorative sweater.  An early dinner will be provided at which a representative of the lobbyist will make a presentation on the construction proposal.  The chairman of the municipal board has asked all members to attend so that they might see for themselves the quality of the facility and thereby make a better-informed judgment about the lobbyist’s proposal.  The lobbyist also proposes to give each board member a ticket to a Whalers game to be played the same evening.

Pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-84(j) and 1-97(a), no public official or state employee may accept from a registered lobbyist, and no registered lobbyist may give to such a person, in one year, a gift or gifts valued at $50 or more, or food and beverage valued at $150 or more.  See Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-79(e)(1)-(12) and 1-91(g)(1)-(12) for exceptions.  The Commission has previously held that a state employee who is an officer of a professional association which is also a registered lobbyist may accept certain financial benefits which are routinely conferred on the association’s officers (e.g., reimbursement for out-of-pocket costs, waiver of registration fees or reasonable costs of the officer’s attendance at a convention).  State Ethics Commission Advisory Opinion No. 83-3, 44 Conn. L.J. No. 35, p. 5B (March 1, 1983).  Such benefits are not considered gifts and are not reportable by the lobbyist association, since the individual’s service as an officer constitutes consideration for the benefits conferred.

More recently, the Commission applied the above reasoning to those customary and routine benefits conferred by a registered lobbyist-employer on its employee who also happens to be the spouse of a state employee and to whom the limits of 1-84(j) and 1-97(a) would otherwise apply.  State Ethics Commission Advisory Opinion No. 92-19, 54 Conn. L.J. No. 14, p. 9C (October 6, 1992) (annual dinners, corporation outings, charity events do not count towards the aggregate yearly gift limit if everyone in employee’s position is afforded the same treatment and employee is expected to attend such functions).

The hypothetical situation described above contemplates a benefit conferred on the public official in connection with an activity unrelated to his official state functions, and unrelated to lobbying as that term is defined in Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-91(k).  Nevertheless, a benefit does not need to be related to lobbying to be both reportable by the lobbyist and subject to the gift limitations of the Codes.  See Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-96(b), 1-96(e) and 1-84(j).  In addition, the benefit in the instant case is being paid for not by the board, but by an entity seeking to do business with the board.  The situation, therefore, is not strictly analogous to the ones described in Advisory Opinions No. 83-3 and 92-19, although the hypothetical raises similar policy issues.

The Commission is not persuaded by the fact that the lobbyist’s intention in providing the benefit is unrelated to the public official’s state position.  The public official does not shed his responsibilities under the Code of Ethics merely be engaging in another occupation or activity.  However, to the extent that the lobbyist has offered a benefit which is integral to the public official’s ability to perform as a board member, the Commission views the benefit as flowing from the board itself.  That is, not only would the benefit not be offered but for the board membership, the benefit itself is necessary to the performance of the board member’s responsibilities.  Applying the principles illustrated in Advisory Opinion Nos. 83-3 and 92-19, above, the Commission finds that consideration for the benefit is received, by the Board, when the board member participates in discussions of and action upon the lobbyist’s proposal.

The Commission concludes that financial benefits which enable the hypothetical public official to do his job as a board member more effectively would not be considered gifts and would not be reportable by the lobbyist.  Such benefits would include entry to the facility, fees for playing on the prototypical course, and the dinner presentation.  Such an exemption from the Codes’ gift rules would not extend to benefits which are not absolutely necessary to the performance of board members’ duties.  The commemorative sweater and a ticket to a Whalers game would be fully reportable by the lobbyist.

By order of the Commission,

Christopher T. Donohue

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