Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 1998-4

Advisory Opinion No. 1998-4
Advisory Opinion No. 1998-4

Application Of The Code Of Ethics For Public Officials To The Use
Of A State Computer In Furtherance Of One’s Outside Employment

Senator Gary D. LeBeau has asked the State Ethics Commission whether he may use his legislative computer in the course of his instruction at East Hartford High School. Specifically, Senator LeBeau states that "…the computer would be useful in attendance, instruction and grading purposes."

In making his request for an advisory opinion, Senator LeBeau further states that "I believe that there is a prohibition against the use of state property for non-state purposes. However, in some cases, this may not be seeing the forest because we only are seeing the trees." In support of this position, he notes that Connecticut’s public schools are instruments of the state created to provide an equal education to all students; and that by using his computer he enhances this public purpose. On a more practical note, he adds that he is not required, in his teaching job, to purchase a computer and it would not be feasible to do so.

Pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-84(c), no public official may use his public office or position to obtain personal financial gain. The State Ethics Commission has consistently interpreted this provision to prohibit a state official from using state goods or services, including computer equipment, in furtherance of his or her outside employment. See, e.g., State Ethics Commission Docket No. 79-12. (Legislator sanctioned for use of State property to promote his private business.) This interpretation implements the State’s uniform policy (consistently articulated by the various administrative agencies exercising jurisdiction over state goods and services) barring use of state property for non-state purposes.

Upon initial review, Senator LeBeau’s request that the Commission deviate from state policy, in this instance, may appear reasonable. Such a deviation would, however, open a veritable pandora’s box of potential problems. Where would the Commission draw the line, if it accepted Senator LeBeau’s public instrumentality rationale (public schools, libraries, all municipal agencies, all federal offices in Connecticut, all organizations receiving state funding)? And where would that line be drawn if we, alternatively, focused on public purpose (all charities, all non-profit organizations)?

Either analysis would replace 1-84(c)’s bright line prohibition with a murky,case by case application of the Ethics Code’s use of office provision. In any event, regardless of the relative merits of Senator LeBeau’s, obviously earnest, arguments, such a proposed application is legally untenable; since it would contravene state policy and overturn two decades of Commission precedent. Therefore, the Commission hereby reaffirms that 1-84(c) is violated whenever a state servant utilizes state goods or services incident to his or her private employment, no matter how salutary the purpose of that employment.

By order of the Commission,

Stanley Burdick

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