Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 1998-32

Advisory Opinion No. 1998-32
Advisory Opinion No. 1998-32

Application of Code of Ethics to Lobbyist’s Participation in Certain
Proceedings at the Department of Public Utility Control

Carlos M. Vazquez, Director of Government Affairs at The United Illuminating Company ("UI"), has asked whether his company’s participation in certain proceedings at the Department of Public Utility Control ("DPUC") constitutes lobbying subject to the reporting requirements under the Code of Ethics for Lobbyists, Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-91 et seq.

Specifically, recent electric restructuring legislation, Public Act 98-28, requires the DPUC to conduct studies regarding a variety of issues and to report its findings and any legislative recommendations it may deem necessary to the General Assembly. In order to carry out its responsibilities, the DPUC has established formal dockets, which are not contested proceedings, and has also established or may establish "working groups" of interested parties to study the issues, collect information and gather comments and concerns. Mr. Vazquez has asked this Commission whether UI’s participation in these dockets, and in one or more of the working groups, is considered lobbying.

"Lobbying" is defined by the Code as "communicating directly or soliciting others to communicate with any official or his staff in the legislative or executive branch of government …for the purpose of influencing any legislative or administrative action…" Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-91(k). There are numerous exceptions to this broad definition, including an exemption for communications by or on behalf of a party in a contested case. Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-91(k)(1). The Commission also recognizes an exception for participation on a legislative task force, even by a registered lobbyist, where the enabling legislation for the task force requires certain appointed members to represent particular viewpoints.

Under this exception, the time spent in such participation up until the release of the task force report is not considered reportable lobbying activity, but any subsequent activity by the lobbyist to try to encourage or discourage legislative action on the recommendation is considered lobbying.

Applying these rules to Mr. Vazquez’s questions, the participation by UI in the dockets designed to gather comments from interested parties for the purpose of determining whether to recommend legislative changes is a classic example of an attempt to influence an executive branch agency with the ultimate goal of affecting legislative action. This, then, is considered legislative lobbying, and the time and/or other expenditures made in support of this activity are reportable as legislative lobbying.  Participation on one of the ad hoc DPUC working groups is also legislative lobbying, which does not fall under the "task force" exception since the groups are not legislatively mandated and are, therefore, not subject to the formal and public structure of a statutorily-authorized task force. Finally, the recognition of this activity as lobbying is not altered by the fact that the DPUC has requested UI’s participation. See, for example, Advisory Opinion Number 78-13, 40 Conn. L. J. 8, p. 11(8/22/78) (Insurance firm is lobbying when it provides information requested by a legislative committee with the intent to influence legislative action.)

By order of the Commission,

Stanley Burdick,

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