Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 1998-6

Advisory Opinion No. 1998-6
Advisory Opinion No. 1998-6

      Interpretation Of Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-97(d)

Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-97, as amended by Sec. 8 of June 18 Special Session Public Act No. 97-6, requires that:

(d) Any person who gives to a public official, state employee or candidate for public office, or a member of any such person’s staff or immediate family anything of value which is subject to the reporting requirements pursuant to subsection (e) of section 1-96 of the general statutes, shall, not later than ten days thereafter, give such recipient a written report stating the name of the donor, a description of the item or items given, the value of such items and the cumulative value of all items given to such recipient during that calendar year….

The State Ethics Commission has been asked: whether this provision mandates the cumulative reporting only of items required to be itemized pursuant to 1-96; or whether the provision also mandates the reporting of other benefits, the value of which fall below the itemization threshold?

Pursuant to 1-96, expenditures for the benefit of a public official in the legislative or executive branch, or for the benefit of such official’s staff or immediate family, above certain financial thresholds (ten dollars or thirty dollars, depending on the event or transaction in question) must be itemized on the periodic financial reports lobbyists are required to file.

Exempt from this filing requirement, however, are items valued under ten dollars, which may be legally given up to an annual aggregate total of fifty dollars per recipient; civic and charitable events under thirty dollars per person, to which the individual has been invited in his or her official capacity; legislative receptions costing less that thirty dollars per person; and food and beverage provided by a communicator lobbyist at a major life event. Id.

It is these categories of benefits which have generated the question under review, based on the apparent ambiguity created by the use of the language "…and the cumulative value of all items…."

While it is possible to read 1-97(d) to require lobbyists to provide notification concerning both itemizable and non-itemizable benefits, the better interpretation is to require lobbyists to enumerate only itemized benefits provided during the calendar year. In essence, the Commission finds that the term "all items" refers to the prior terms "such items" and "item or items" which, in turn, refer directly to "anything of value which is subject to the reporting requirements."

This interpretation is supported by the legislative history, wherein Senator LeBeau, Co-Chairperson of the Government Administration and Elections Committee, stated, in reference to this provision: it "requires certain people who give public officials or state employees a reportable item, to give them a report stating the donor’s name, the item’s description and the value, so we in the circle would receive a report when we receive a gift that is reportable." Senate Debate on Bill No. 8005 at p. _____ (June 23, 1997). To place this explanation in context, at no time during the extensive House and Senate debates regarding the legislation did any member at the General Assembly make any contrary comment indicating that non-itemized benefits should be included in the lobbyist’s report. Furthermore, the Commission’s interpretation is consistent with the Legislature’s apparent desire to eliminate itemized public disclosure of essentially inconsequential or otherwise unobjectionable benefits.

In summary, the Commission holds that the lobbyist notification requirement established by 1-97(d) pertains only to benefits which must be itemized under 1-96 of the Code of Ethics for Lobbyists.

By order of the Commission,

Stanley Burdick
Chairperson



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