Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 1993-7

Advisory Opinion No. 1993-7
Advisory Opinion No. 1993-7

 Application Of Codes Of Ethics To Gift Subscription
Of Christian Science Monitor

Douglas Worth, of the Christian Science Committee on Publication for Connecticut, has asked how the Codes of Ethics apply if his organization gives Christian Science Monitor subscriptions of various lengths to different state officials.

The Committee and Mr. Worth are currently registered as lobbyists in the State of Connecticut.  In his correspondence, Mr. Worth has stated that the committee does not “initiate, influence or defeat legislation.”  Instead, he states that the sole purpose of the committee’s government relations activity is to “protect the constitutional right to the free exercise of religion.”  If Mr. Worth receives $1000 or more in a year as compensation for lobbying activity aimed at influencing legislation which might affect that constitutional right, and conversely, the committee spends $1000 or more on such activity, then they are appropriately registered.

The first question which Mr. Worth poses is whether a complimentary subscription to his organization’s newspaper is a “gift” under the Codes of Ethics.  See Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-79(e) and 1-91(g).   In general terms, a gift is defined as anything of value, which is directly and personally received, unless consideration of equal or greater value is given.  A complimentary subscription is certainly a gift under this definition.

The next issue is whether such a subscription is exempt from the definition of gift under any one of the numerous exceptions outlined in the Codes.  See 1-79(e), 1-91(g).  Exempt items are not subject to the $50 annual limit set by the law, but are generally still reportable on the lobbyist’s periodic financial reports.  See Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-96, 1-84(j), 1-97(a).  Under Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-79(e)(5) and 1-91(g)(5), goods or services which are provided to the state and which facilitate state action or function are not considered for purposes of the gift limit.  Therefore, an annual subscription offered to the state library, for example, would be an acceptable gift to the state.  Similarly, a subscription to a group of people, such as the House Republicans or Senate Democrats, where the newspaper is available for public inspection on a waiting room table or other public area, would qualify as a gift to the state.  In contrast, subscriptions addressed to individuals, or to private offices of individuals, such as Commissioner of Education, do not qualify as gifts to the state.

Under one other possible exception to the gift definition, printed informational material germane to state action is not subject to the gift limitations.  See 1-79(e)(8) and 1-91(g)(8).  For example, a pamphlet outlining the pros and cons of trash-to-energy conversion which is sent to a legislator would not be considered a gift to that legislator.  Mr. Worth has indicated, however, that the newspaper is being offered for the generalized purpose of keeping state officials well-informed.  Such a purpose does not satisfy the intent of this particular exception.  Therefore, subscriptions to individual state officials do constitute “gifts” under the Codes of Ethics.

Mr. Worth states that a three-month subscription costs $29.50.  If he wishes to provide a state legislator with such a subscription, it falls within the $50.00 annual aggregate gift limit and is therefore not prohibited.  Since the subscription is a gift personal to the individual, it may be sent without restriction to either the home or office of the legislator.

An annual subscription is valued by Mr. Worth at $99.00, clearly in excess of the Codes’ yearly limit.  Therefore, if Mr. Worth wishes to offer such a gift to a state employee or public official, the recipient must reimburse the Committee on Publication so as to reduce the gift below $50.00.

Finally, Mr. Worth has asked which of the transactions described above are reportable to the State Ethics Commission.  As a registered lobbyist, the Committee must report, among other things, all expenditures in furtherance of lobbying, and all expenditures for the benefit of a public official.  In general, such expenditures fall into two groups; those which are reported in a lump sum and those which are itemized, naming the individual recipient.  See Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-96.  Here, the cost of providing newspapers to legislative groups is reportable in a lump sum.  A subscription of $10.00 or more provided to an individual legislator  or other public official must be itemized.  A subscription provided to a public library is not reportable to the State Ethics Commission.

By order of the Commission,

Christopher T. Donohue

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