Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 1997-15

Advisory Opinion No. 1997-15
Advisory Opinion No. 1997-15

Effect of June 18 Special Session Public Act No. 97-6 on the Practice
of Lobbyists Sharing the Cost of Items Worth Less Than Ten Dollars

Section 9 of June 18 Special Session Public Act No. 97-6 eliminates the following language in Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-79a:

For the purposes of calculating the dollar limit on gifts in any calendar year under subsections (j) and (m) of section 1-4 and section 1-97, and the dollar limits under the exceptions to the term ‘gift’ under sections 1-79 and 1-91, gifts or benefits costing less than ten dollars per occasion or transaction shall not be considered. The provisions of this section shall not apply if the donor of such gift or benefit reduces the cost of the gift or benefit below ten dollars per occasion or transaction by (1) sharing such cost with one or more other donors who are subject to the limit on gifts under said sections 1-84 or1-97 or (2) accepting partial reimbursement from the donee.

Since the language prohibiting reducing the cost of benefits below $10 per person by sharing the cost between two or more lobbyists or by accepting partial reimbursement has been eliminated, State Ethics Commission Staff Attorney Catherine Nasto has asked whether such activity is now permissible under the Codes of Ethics.

The overall purpose of many of the changes to the state’s ethics laws found in Public Act 97-6 is to further restrict the number and value of gifts which may be accepted by the state’s public officials and state employees. Representative Alex Knopp in commenting on the legislation observed: "There’s no reason why gifts above some nominal amount like ten dollars are part of legislative business. And for that reason, I think . . . that this [bill] does separate out the lavish meals and gifts that are not part of the process, from those kinds of transactions involving attendance at an event that are part of our work as public officials." See House Debate on Bill No. 8005, June 20, 1997 at p.____.

In Section 1 of the Act, the legislature allows public officials and state employees to accept, among other things, "anything having a value of not more than ten dollars, provided the aggregate value of all things provided by a donor to a recipient under this subdivision in any calendar year shall not exceed fifty dollars." Under the old law, an individual could accept limitless items valued at under $10.00, and could accept gifts over $10.00 from any one source with an annual aggregate limit on those items of $50.00. The new legislation eliminates these latter gifts.

Reading this new language in conjunction with the old gift language and with the legislative history, it is clear that the legislature intended to greatly curtail the gifts allowable under the Code of Ethics. Since, under the new law, a single lobbyist can no longer give a public official even a $12.00 gift, it follows that the legislature did not intend to allow lobbyists to join together to give such a gift. To hold otherwise would defeat the main purpose of the bill, which was to eliminate gifts over $10.00. Furthermore, the language on gift splitting found in the old version of Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-79a is no longer necessary, since the new law specifically allows only gifts "having a value of not more than ten dollars."

Therefore, under the new law, lobbyists may split the cost of an item below $10.00 in value, but may not split the cost of an item valued above that threshold. In other words, two lobbyists could each pay $4.00 towards the cost of an $8.00 gift, but could not legally pay $9.00 each towards an $18.00 gift, since gifts valued at $10.00 or more are now prohibited. Similarly, a recipient may provide partial reimbursement towards a gift worth less than $10, but may not partially reimburse to bring the cost to a lobbyist to below $10.00, since the overall value of the item is still greater than $10.00.

By order of the Commisison,

Maurice FitzMaurice

Content Last Modified on 9/7/2005 8:02:03 AM