Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 1998-7

Advisory Opinion No. 1998-7
Advisory Opinion No. 1998-7

Reportability Of Benefits Provided To A Public Official By A Lobbyist/Employer

Pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § § 1-79(e)(1-16) and 1-91(g)(1-16), The Codes of Ethics establish sixteen categories of benefits which are exempt from the law’s strict prohibitions on gifts from certain regulated sources (i.e., lobbyists; those during business with, or seeking business from, the State; and those regulated by the State).

The State Ethics Commission has been asked whether benefits bestowed under exemption (15) are also exempt from the itemized reporting requirements of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 1-96. Exception (15), recently established by Secs. (1) and (6) of June 18 Special Session Public Act No. 97-6, exempts from the Gift Ban: "Anything of value provided by an employer of (A) a public official, (B) a state employee, or (C) a spouse of a public official or state employee, to such official, employee or spouse, provided such benefits are customarily and ordinarily provided to others in similar circumstances…"

As a preliminary matter, it is important to realize that many benefits which would appear to fall with the No. (15) exemption have already been determined by the Commission not to be gifts at all. See, Advisory Opinion Nos. 83-3, 92-19, and 98-__, wherein the Commission ruled that no gift has been received, and no reporting is therefore required, when the benefit : is ordinary and customary; is provided in the course of business; and the recipient provides equal consideration by virtue of his or her work. State Ethics Commission Advisory Opinion Nos. 83-3, 44 Conn. L.J. No. 35, p. 5B (March 1, 1983); 92-19, 54 Conn. L.J. No. 14, p. 9C (October 6, 1992); and 98-5, __ Conn. L.J. No. __, p. __ (_________).

As discussed supra, the sixteen categorical exceptions established by§ § 1-79(e) and 1-91(g) are exemptions to the Gift Ban. They are not, however, exemptions to the related, but distinct, reporting requirements set forth in § 1-96. Rather, § 1-96 enumerates which gift exceptions will also be exempt from the Lobbyist Code’s itemization requirements. Specifically exempt are: expenditures of less than ten dollars per person per occasion; legislative receptions costing less than thirty dollars per expected attendee; charitable and civic events costing less than thirty dollars per person, at which the public official or state employee participates in his or her official capacity; and food and beverage provided by a communicator lobbyist at a major life event. Id.

Pursuant to the rules of statutory construction, the General Assembly’s explicit enumeration of benefit reporting exemptions preempts any Commission administrative authority to expand, or diminish, these statutory mandates. Therefore, when a lobbyist expenditure does qualify for the No. (15) gift exception (e.g., the public official/spouse of an employee of the lobbyist/employer attends an annual company holiday party) the benefit is subject to the Lobbyist Code’s itemization requirements, if the cost of the occasion is ten dollars or more per person. Id.

By order of the Commission,

Stanley Burdick

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