Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 2001-12

Advisory Opinion No. 2001-12
Advisory Opinion No. 2001-12

Application Of The Code’s Gift Limits And Use Of Office
Provision To The Acceptance Of Circus Tickets

In recent years, with the prior approval of the State Ethics Commission, the Ringling Brothers Circus (the Circus) has offered to each state legislator four tickets to its event (with a face value of $18.75 per ticket). This year, however, a legislator has contacted the Circus to request 50 additional tickets for the purpose of distribution to his constituents. In response, the Circus has contacted the Commission to determine the propriety, under the Codes Of Ethics, of the request in question.

Given that the Circus is not a registered lobbyist and is not doing business with, seeking business from or regulated by the General Assembly, it is not subject to the Codes’ strict gift limits, which prohibit the provision or receipt of items with a value of ten dollars or more. Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-97(a), 1-84(j) and 1-84(m).

The Circus’ largesse, is however, subject to an alternative benefit limitation established by the Commission. Specifically, the Commission has determined that it would be an inappropriate use of office, in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-84(c), for a public official to accept excessive benefits bestowed solely by virtue of one’s state position. Advisory Opinion No. 92-5, 53 CLJ 38, p. 9C (3/17/92). As a consequence, the Commission established a benefit limit for such circumstances based on the deminimis standard set forth in the Commission’s Regulations. Regulations of Conn. State Agencies 1-81-30(a); and Advisory Opinion No. 98-9, 59 CLJ 45, p. 5D (6/5/98). Specifically, under that standard, benefits provided to a state servant because of his or her position are limited to $100 per recipient per year from any one source. Applying this standard to the matter under review, the acceptance of four tickets (total value $75.00) is permissible; while the acceptance of 50 tickets (total value $937.50) is not.

In this instance, it can be argued that the additional 50 tickets are not an inappropriate benefit; since the legislator intends to distribute the passes free of charge to constituents. Under the Commission’s Regulations, however, a gift is directly and personally received if it is accepted, utilized and not returned or paid for within 30 days. Regulations Of Conn. State Agencies 1-92-54(a) and (c). In the Commission’s view, the policy rationale underlying the Regulation is directly applicable in this matter, since the legislator will be assuming total control of the tickets in question for distribution as he sees fit. Therefore, the Circus should not provide the requested 50 tickets. Alternatively, if the legislator has a specific purpose for the tickets (e.g., distribution to a group of disadvantage children) he may convey this purpose to the Circus. At that point, the Circus may, consistent with the requirements of the Ethics Code, independently determine whether it wishes to directly provide the free tickets to the group in question.

This Opinion is limited to application of the Ethics Codes to the question posed, and is not intended to construe any potential application of the State’s Campaign Finance Statutes.

By order of the Commission,

Rosemary Giuliano

Content Last Modified on 9/7/2005 8:03:54 AM