Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 1998-17

Advisory Opinion No. 1998-17
Advisory Opinion No. 1998-17

Application Of The Lobbyist Code’s Gift Exceptions And Reporting
Requirements To A Reception Held To Honor The Connecticut
Members Of The Olympic Women’s Hockey Team

A registered lobbyist organization (SNET) hosted a reception to honor the four Connecticut members of the USA Women’s Olympic Hockey Team. The event was held at the State Capitol with invitations issued to, among others, the members of the General Assembly. The event was also open to the general public. The Commission has been asked how the Lobbyist Code’s gift and reporting requirements apply to the reception, at which food was served and various commemorative items, e.g., tee-shirts, were given away.

One of the new exceptions to the Code’s definition of "Gift", effective January 1, 1998, is: "Admission to a charitable or civic event, including food and beverage provided at such event, but excluding lodging or travel expenses, at which a public official or state employee participates in his official capacity, provided such admission is provided by the primary sponsoring entity…." Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-91(g)(14).

In essence, the reception in question was not a lobbying event. Rather, the purpose of the reception was both to honor the Connecticut members of the gold medal winning Women’s Hockey Team; and also to promote the general interests and civic reputation of the lobbyist/host. As such, and given that the members of the General Assembly were invited in their "official capacity", the reception qualifies for the "civic event" exception to the Gift law. See, State Ethics Commission Advisory Opinion No. 97-28, 59 CLJ No. 30, p. 9D (1/20/98). (In that Opinion, the Commission utilized the dictionary definition of "civic": "of, pertaining to, or belonging to a city, a citizen, or citizenship; municipal or civil". In this instance, the Commission logically extends the definition to encompass statewide events, which incorporate all the necessary elements of traditionally recognized civic functions.)

Integral to this interpretation is the fact that the event was open to the members of the general public; allowing Connecticut’s citizenry to participate in honoring four of their fellow state residents. Admittedly, certain civic events are not open to the public unless the necessary membership or admission fee is paid (e.g., rotary club luncheon). Nonetheless, it would be contrary to the nature of such events and inconsistent with the purpose of the gift exception at issue to allow its application to free events open only to a privileged class (e.g., the members of the General Assembly). Furthermore, it must be emphasized that the exception cannot be obtained merely by, for example, placing a notice in the General Assembly’s Bulletin stating that the event is open to the general public. Rather, attendance must be made truly available to all through: significant statewide advertising, multiple statewide press releases; or equivalent notice. In this case the requirement was, in fact, met, by virtue of SNET’s substantial statewide advertising prior to the reception.

Consequently, the sponsoring lobbyist organization need not itemize the cost per person of food and drink for attending public officials, since this cost was less than the itemization threshold for such occasions: thirty dollars per beneficiary. Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-96(e). Furthermore, the lobbyist need not report the cost of the reception in the aggregate, since it was not an event in furtherance of lobbying. Finally, neither the gift limits nor reporting requirements of the Code are applicable to the free commemorative items distributed at the event, which bear the SNET logo, since such give-a-ways are exempt as promotional items available to the general public. Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-91(7).

By order of the Commission,

Stanley Burdick

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