Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 1999-5

Advisory Opinion No. 1999-5
Advisory Opinion No. 1999-5

Application Of Code Of Ethics For Public Officials To Legislator
Employed By, And Member of, Union

State Representative David McCluskey has asked how the Code of Ethics for Public Officials, Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-79 et seq., applies to him in his dual roles as state legislator and union organizer for the University Health Professionals ("UHP") Local 3837. Representative McCluskey indicates that he is employed by, but is not an officer of, that union, and is also a member of another union, UNITE!/Local 110A-T.

Connecticut General Statutes 1-85 sets out the conflict of interest rule applicable to legislators attempting to determine whether they can take action on a particular issue. That section states that a public official or state employee has a substantial conflict of interest if he has reason to believe or expect that he, his spouse, a dependent child or a business with which he is associated will derive a direct monetary gain, or suffer a direct monetary loss, as the result of his official activity. Application of this strict rule is limited by the second half of 1-85, which states that the public official or state employee does not have a substantial conflict of interest if the benefit or loss accrues to him or another covered person as a member of a profession, occupation or group to no greater extent than to any other member of such profession, occupation or group.

The term "business with which associated" is defined by the Code as one in which the public official is a "director, officer, owner, limited or general partner, beneficiary of a trust or holder of stock constituting five percent or more of the total outstanding stock of any class." The term does not include the relationship of unpaid director or officer of a non-profit entity. See Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-79(b). The Code does not specifically prohibit a public official from taking official action which would benefit his or her employer, unless the employer has improperly influenced the public official. See Declaratory Ruling 92-C, "Official Action Taken By Legislator/Lawyers On Insurance Reform Legislation Which May Affect Their Profession," 12/7/92.

Applying these rules to the facts presented by Representative McCluskey, neither the union which employs him nor the union of which he is a member is a business with which he is associated, as that term is defined in the Code of Ethics. Therefore, Representative McCluskey must refrain from taking official action on union matters only if he is specifically affected by the legislation. So, for example, he could vote on a tax proposal which would apply to all members of each union active in Connecticut, but could not vote on a bill which would affect only the salaries of members of Unite!/Local 110 A-T, of which he is also a member. See Docket No. 89-2, In the Matter of a Complaint Against Vito Mazza, in which the Commission found that Representative Mazza violated 1-85 when he took official action on interstate bank legislation that would have specifically increased the value of his stock in a Connecticut bank which had a pre-existing merger agreement with an out-of-state bank. This case established the precedent that "group" as used in 1-85 must be equivalent in size and interests to a "profession" or "occupation." Therefore, in the Mazza case, the applicable group was all holders of bank stock that could potentially be affected by the legislation, not just all holders of the bank stock in which Representative Mazza had an interest. Similarly, the "group" for Representative McCluskey is all Connecticut union members, not just all members of his union.

Additionally, Representative McCluskey may vote on legislation affecting the financial interests of members of UHP Local 3837, his employer, but may not vote on legislation that would single out the organizers employed by that union alone for an increase in salary.

Finally, under Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-86(c), no member of the general assembly may also be a lobbyist. Therefore, Representative McCluskey must make sure that his organizing activities do not include any lobbying activity, such as communicating with or soliciting others to communicate with any other public official or staff member for the purpose of influencing legislative or administrative action. See Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-91(k).

By order of the Commission,

Stanley Burdick

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