Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 1997-16

Advisory Opinion No. 1997-16
Advisory Opinion No. 1997-16

Effect of June 18 Special Session Public Act No. 97-6On The Practice of
Lobbyists Providing Meals Over $50 to Public Official By Splitting The Cost

Section 1 of June 18 Special Session Public Act No. 97-6 reduces the annual limit on food and drink which a public official may accept from $150 to $50 in the aggregate from any one donor to any one recipient. State Ethics Commission Attorney Catherine Nasto has asked what effect, if any, this new language will have on lobbyists’ ability to provide a meal valued at over $50.00 to a public official by splitting the cost of the bill.

Specifically, the legislation allows public officials and state employees to accept "food or beverage or both, costing less than fifty dollars in the aggregate per recipient in a calendar year, and consumed on an occasion or occasions at which the person paying, directly or indirectly, for the food or beverage, is in attendance." One of the reasons given for the changes to the law found in this act was to curtail, not only the number of gifts but also the lavish nature of these gifts. Senator Gary Lebeau in introducing the legislation said: "The bill focuses on those activities that properly serve a public purpose and eliminating those that do not. What does the bill then do? The bill tightens restrictions on public and elected officials’ gifts . . . and alters the series of exceptions that we have in the law by reducing from $150 to $50 the aggregate amount of food and beverage that may be provided at . . . occasions." Senate Debate on Bill No. 8005, Monday June 23, 1997 at p.____. And, in commenting on the legislation, Representative Alex Knopp elaborated: "The issue here is the reduction in the lavish meals which under current law can be a meal up to $150, or could be three meals at fifty. The bill takes that down to no more than one fifty dollar meal, in terms of a big meal. . . . I don’t see any reason why [a] $150 meal is part of legislative business." House Debate on Bill No. 8005, Friday June 20, 1997, at p.____.

It would not be in keeping with this legislative intent to allow lobbyists to combine their $50 limits to give a public official at one sitting a meal totaling more than the aggregate allowed in an entire year. Therefore, although lobbyists could certainly share the cost of providing a meal valued up to $50.00, if the meal exceeds that value, the public official must reimburse the donor(s) for the amount in excess of $50.00.

By order of the Commission,

Maurice FitzMaurice

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