Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 1999-20

Advisory Opinion No. 1999-20
Advisory Opinion No. 1999-20

Application Of The Codes’ Gift Provisions To Benefits Of
Not More Than Ten Dollars Per Person

The State Ethics Commission has been asked how the Codes’ gift restrictions apply to the following scenario:

A registered lobbyist hosts a reception for fifty public officials. The per person cost of the food and drink is thirty dollars. Each public official also is given a commemorative pen with a per person cost of nine dollars. Additionally, the attendees are entertained by a comedian with a per person entertainment cost of eight dollars. Finally, the lobbyist expends $300 for a harpist, $400 for invitations, $250 for flowers, and $1,200 for equipment rental (e.g., tableware, linens, etc.).

Under the Codes of Ethics, a "Gift" is defined as "anything of value, which is directly and personally received, unless consideration of equal or greater value is given in return". Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-79(e) and 1-91(g). Pursuant to the Codes’ substantive provisions, no lobbyist may give and no public official may receive any gift. Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-84(j) and 1-97(a). However, certain items are exempt from the Gift Ban, including "food or beverage or both, costing less than fifty dollars in the aggregate per recipient in a calendar year…" and "anything having a value of not more than ten dollars, provided the aggregate value of all things provided by a donor to a recipient…in any calendar year shall not exceed fifty dollars." Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-79(e)(11) and (16) and 1-91(g)(11) and (16).

Applying these provisions to the facts presented:

The food and drink of thirty dollars per person is, clearly, permissible under the fifty dollars per person per year exemption. Both the nine dollar pen and eight dollar entertainment are also exempt as items with a value of not more than ten dollars. This is so, even though both gifts are being given incident to the same occasion. Specifically, prior to the 1997 enactment of the Gift Ban the Codes permitted gifts, with no annual limit, of under ten dollars per person "per occasion or transaction". Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-79a. When, however, the law was amended, this language was deleted. Therefore, more than one benefit under ten dollars may now be given at a single occasion, provided the fifty dollars annual cap is not exceeded.

Finally, pursuant to State Ethics Commission Regulations, overhead costs such as invitations, flowers, and equipment rental are not to be considered as directly or personally received, and, therefore, are not a "Gift". Regulations of Conn. State Agencies 1-92-54(b). Similarly, the harpist (i.e., background music) need not be included when calculating directly and personally received benefits for purposes of the Gift Law.

In closing, it should be remembered that, although less than ten dollars each, both gifts (the pen and entertainment) must be itemized, since the total benefits bestowed at the reception, including food and drink, are well in excess of the ten dollars per person per occasion itemization threshold. Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-96(e).

By order of the Commission,

Stanley Burdick,

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