Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 1998-16

Advisory Opinion No. 1998-16
Advisory Opinion No. 1998-16

Application Of The Code’s Gift Exceptions To Expenditures
Made On Behalf Of A Lobbyist

Effective January 1, 1998, no lobbyist "…or anyone acting on behalf of …" a lobbyist may give a gift to a public official, state employee, candidate for public office, or a member of any such person’s staff or immediate family. Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-97(a). Among the permissible exceptions to the Gift Ban is, "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, or his representative, is in attendance…" Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-91(g)(9).

The State Ethics Commission has been asked whether the following course of conduct is allowable under the food and drink exception to the Gift Ban. A client lobbyist hosts dinner for a legislator in May of 1998 with a cost of forty-five dollars per person. In June, the client again hosts the legislator at a lunch costing forty dollars per person. The client directs one of its in-house lobbyists to absorb thirty-five dollars of this cost by reimbursing the client in that amount. Finally, in August the client once again hosts the legislator for drinks and dinner costing one hundred and thirty-five dollars per person. The client arranges for another three of its employees (one lobbyist and two non-lobbyists) to each reimburse the company one-third of this amount (forty-five dollars).

The foregoing course of conduct is, clearly, unacceptable under the language of the Lobbyist Code’s Gift Ban and the exceptions thereto. In essence, allowing such arrangements would not only evade, but would effectively eviscerate, the Code’s limitation on the provision of food and drink. Specifically, when a client lobbyist expends monies for the benefit of a public official and directs, or otherwise arranges, for its employees to reimburse for this expenditure, either in whole or in part, the benefit is being given by someone "acting on behalf of" the lobbyist. This analysis remains the same regardless of whether the client makes the initial expenditure and then accepts reimbursement from its employees or whether it requires its employees to make the expenditure directly. Consequently, only the first of the three meals in question is legal under the fifty dollar per recipient per year food and drink exception. Additionally, it should be remembered that the third meal (cost one hundred and thirty-five dollars per person) would also be illegal, even if there had been no other food and drink expenditures during the year and even if the meal was co-hosted by three separate and distinct lobbying organizations. See, State Ethics Commission Advisory Opinion No. 97-16 ___CLJ___ , p.____() wherein the Commission ruled, based on legislative history, that June 18 Special Session Public Act No. 97-6 banned lobbyists from combining to provide a meal costing over fifty dollars per person.

Finally, this Opinion should not be interpreted as prohibiting individuals, whether lobbyists or non-lobbyists, employed by a client lobbyist organization from, independently, making expenditures, for the benefit of a public official. Thus, for example, each in-house lobbyist employed by the client is also entitled to spend up to fifty dollars on food and drink per beneficiary per year (e.g., birthday dinner for a legislator/friend). And each non-lobbyist employee may, under the Lobbyist Code’s gift provisions, make such expenditures without limit, provided that they are not "on behalf of" the client lobbyist employer. In contrast, effective January 1, 1998, a lobbyist "Business organization" (i.e., an entity, other than a client lobbyist, which is owned by or employs one or more individual lobbyists) and its individual lobbyist members are now collectively entitled to only one expenditure of fifty dollar for food and drink per recipient per year. Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-79a.

By order of the Commission,

Stanley Burdick

Content Last Modified on 9/7/2005 8:02:27 AM