Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 1996-19

Advisory Opinion No. 1996-19
Advisory Opinion No. 1996-19

Interpretation Of The Code’s "Necessary Expenses" Definition

State Ethics Commission Attorney Brenda M. Bergeron has asked the Commission to interpret two elements of the Ethics Code’s definition of "Necessary Expenses". Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-79(q). The provision in question defines "Necessary expenses" 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 seminar registration fees." Id. Such expense payments are permitted pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-84(k), the Code subsection which bans the receipt of fees or honorariums for the above enumerated activities undertaken in one’s official capacity.

Attorney Bergeron’s questions are as follows:

    1. When a public official gives a speech, in his or her official capacity, at a weeklong conference, is the individual permitted to accept lodging for the nights before, of nd after the speech or the nights before, of and after the conference?
    2. Does the allowance of "conference or seminar registration fees" permit the public official to accept non-business benefits (e.g., golf, sightseeing) which have been included in the conference registration fee?
    1. A review of the legislative history is dispositive of the first question. A public official may accept lodging the nights before, of and after the speech. The official may not use the "Necessary expenses" provision to extend his or her stay to encompass the entire, weeklong conference. See, remarks of Representative Emmons and Representative Kiner, 34 H.R. Proc., part 30 June 12, 1991 Special Session, pp. 62, 63. (For legislative intent, necessary expenses only extend to the day before and the day after the speech. The provision is not to be used to transform an official appearance into a free vacation.)
    2. The term "conference or registration fees" is not defined in the legislative history.  The entire tenor of the debate, however, leads to the conclusion that only necessary, i.e., essential, benefits are sanctioned. Consequently, a public official should not accept recreation or entertainment that may be included in a conference or seminar registration fee. Rather, the apparent intent of the term at issue is to permit one to accept a waiver of necessary conference costs, such as the cost of speakers or educational materials. Absent such an interpretation, the Code’s strict limit on gifts, fifty dollars per person per year, would be rendered meaningless. Consequently, the public official must decline such nonessential benefits, reimburse the donor, or insure that any goods or services received fall within the statute’s gift limitation.

By order of the Commission,

Maurice Fitzmaurice

Content Last Modified on 9/7/2005 8:01:37 AM