Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 1995-18

Advisory Opinion No. 1995-18
Advisory Opinion No. 1995-18

Application Of Thef The Code’s Necessary Expense Provisions
To Participation In Charitable Events

In response to inquiries from certain public officials, Rachel Rubin, Commission Supervising Attorney, has asked the State Ethics Commission for an interpretation of Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-84(k).  Subsection 1-84(k) states, in pertinent part, that:

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 necessary expenses for any such activity in his official capacity.

Specifically, Attorney Rubin has asked whether this Code provision permits the acceptance of necessary expenses under the following scenario:  a public official is invited to play in a charity golf tournament.  The invitation is extended by virtue of the official’s position, with the expectation that his presence at the event will attract other individuals to participate.

While, under the above facts, the official’s invitation to the golf tournament is extended solely because of his public position, the activity does not qualify for the necessary expense exception to the Code’s overall gift limitations.  In essence, the necessary expense provisions of 1-84(k) were established to allow the sponsor of an event to pay a public official’s expenses when, in the past (i.e., prior to October 1, 1991) a fee or honorarium would have been permitted.  In general, these circumstances traditionally involved the giving of a speech or writing of an article.  At a minimum, to qualify under the “appearance” or “participation at an event” provisions of the law, some substantive official activity, e.g. participation in a panel, presentation of an award, etc., was required.

To extend the limits of the statute to allow the receipt of necessary expenses in situations where the only activity is participation in the underlying charity event, e.g. as a player in a golf or tennis tournament, would clearly go beyond the original intent of the Code provision in question.  And, as a consequence, would permit the acceptance of substantial benefits not otherwise permitted under the Code of Ethics for Public Officials (e.g., registered lobbyist paying for travel, lodging and related expenses for a Connecticut official to participate in a charity golf tournament held in Florida).

Notwithstanding the above ruling, the State Ethics Commission reiterates its position that, whenever possible, charitable contributions should be facilitated, not hindered, by the application of the requirements of the Ethics Code.  Specifically, as the Commission has previously held, the Code’s gift provisions will be interpreted to value the gift of participation in a charity event as being equal to the fair market value of the actual benefit received.  Advisory Opinion No. 91-15 52 CLJ 51, p. 2C (June 18, 1991).  As a result, the acceptance of a gift of a $1,000 entrance fee to play in a charity golf tournament will be valued as follows:  assume that the normal greens fee to play at the course is $40 per person; that the overhead of marketing and running the event is $80 per person; and that the remaining $880 constitutes the benefit to charity.  Under these circumstances, the value of the gift to the public official, under the Code of Ethics, is $40 (with the caveat that the official may not utilize the $880 charitable contribution as a tax deduction).

Given that the Code allows a public official to accept up to $50 in gifts and an additional $150 in food and drink from any source in a calendar year, participation in charity golf tournaments and similar events should be feasible, under the above rules, with little or no cost to the public official/participant.

By order of the Commission,

David T. Nassef

Content Last Modified on 9/7/2005 8:01:11 AM