Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 1999-11

Advisory Opinion No. 1999-11
Advisory Opinion No. 1999-11

Application Of The Codes To The Acceptance Of A Scholarship Awarded By
A Registered Lobbyist To The Child Of A Public Official

The Connecticut Association of Realtors (Association) has established a scholarship fund which provides scholarships to the children of realtors, realtor-associates and staff members of the Association. The sole eligibility requirement for these scholarships is that the parent must have been a member in good standing of the Association for a minimum of one year.

This year the Scholarship Committee met and awarded sixteen $1,000 scholarships. Although apparently not known at the time, upon review the Committee realized that one of the recipients was the child of a current member of the Real Estate Commission. The Association has now asked whether, under the Codes Of Ethics For Public Officials and For Lobbyists, Conn. Gen. Stat. Chapter 10, Parts I and II, it may proceed to grant the scholarship in question.

The Association is a registered client lobbyist subject to the provisions of The Code Of Ethics For Lobbyists. Given the manner of their appointment and their duties, a member of the Real Estate Commission is a "Public official" subject to The Code Of Ethics For Public Officials. Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-79(k). Specifically, appointed by the Governor, Real Estate Commissioners administer and enforce the provisions of Chapter 392 of the General Statutes, which provide for the licensure, regulation and discipline of real estate brokers and salespersons. Under both Ethics Codes, a lobbyist/donor and the child of a public official/recipient are subject to the Law’s Gift Ban. Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-84(j) and 1-97(a). While sixteen exemptions to the definition of "Gift" ameliorate the effects of the Gift Ban, none would appear to authorize the award of the scholarship in question. Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-79(e) and 1-91(g).

Nonetheless, the Commission believe that, under the facts presented, the Association Scholarship is an earned award, distinguishable from a gift and, therefore, permissible pursuant to the requirements of the Ethics Codes. Specifically, a gift is defined as "a voluntary transfer…to another made gratuitously". Black’s Law Dictionary (Fifth Ed.) at p. 619. Gratuitous is further defined as "unearned". The American Heritage Dictionary (Second Ed.) at p. 574. In contrast, the scholarship at issue was earned in a competition involving some fifty entrants, with entries being judged based on high school grades, SAT scores and an essay.

Given these objective criteria, the denial of the scholarship, earned by the student in question by virtue of her academic performance, would be unfair. Furthermore, such a result is not warranted based on either statutory construction or common sense. Consequently, the Association may, consistent with the requirements of The Codes Of Ethics, proceed with its grant of a $1,000 scholarship to the child of a member of the
Real Estate Commission.

By order of the Commission,

Stanley Burdick,

Content Last Modified on 9/7/2005 8:02:57 AM