Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 2001-27

Advisory Opinion No. 2001-27
Advisory Opinion No. 2001-27

Application Of The Code’s Gift Limitations To A State Employee’s Retirement Party

Periodically, the State Ethics Commission has been asked whether one’s retirement from state service qualifies as a "major life event" for purposes of the Code’s gift provisions; and, if not, what parameters apply to benefits bestowed on the occasion of a state servant’s retirement.

Exempt from the Code’s definition of "Gift" are gifts "…provided by an individual for the celebration of a major life event." Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-79(e)(12). Pursuant to Commission Regulations, a "major life event" includes: "a ceremony commemorating an individual’s induction into religious adulthood such as a confirmation or bar mitzvah; a wedding; a funeral; and the birth or adoption of a child." Regulations of Conn. State Agencies 1-92-53. For purposes of the Code’s major life gift exception, this regulatory enumeration of events is definitive; and, therefore, an individual’s retirement does not qualify.

As a consequence, if the individual is still a state employee at the time of his or her retirement party, the Code’s strict limits (no item with a value of more than ten dollars) apply to any gift provided by a lobbyist or an individual or entity doing business with, seeking business from, or regulated by the individual’s agency or department. Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-84(j) and (m). Furthermore, these limitations, as interpreted by the Commission, will prevent restricted donors from aggregating under ten dollar donations to buy a gift in excess of the ten dollar limit. See, State Ethics Commission Advisory Opinion No. 97-15, 59 Conn. L.J. No. 19, p. 3C (11/4/97): wherein the Commission held that the gift law prohibited any item with a value over ten dollars, even if individual donors contributed less than ten dollars per person.

Notwithstanding these restrictions, members of regulated classes of donors can still honor the retiree by utilization of one of the Code’s alternative gift exceptions. For example, they may present the retiree with a plaque or other ceremonial award costing less than $100. Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-79(e)(6). Additionally, a gift to the State (e.g., artwork for display at the retiree’s agency) or charitable contribution in the name of the individual is permissible. Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-79(e)(5). It should also be remembered that the retiree’s fellow employees do not constitute a restricted class for purposes of the Code’s gift provisions; and, therefore, are free to give a personal gift or gifts without monetary limit.

Finally, the Commission notes that the above limitations apply only while one remains a public official or state employee. As a consequence, it is beyond the jurisdiction of the State Ethics Commission to prevent lobbyists or other regulated persons from scheduling a retirement party on, for example, the day after the retiree’s separation from state service. At that time, gifts without limit are legal. Nonetheless, the Commission believes that such largess is violative of the purpose and spirit of the Code of Ethics and should, therefore, be avoided. Furthermore, as a practical matter, state retirees often continue to provide services to their former agency or department under a provision which allows such service of up to 120 days per year without effect on eligibility for retirement benefits. Under the Ethics Code, these individuals remain part-time state employees (Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-79(m)) and, consequently, also remain subject to the Code’s gift restrictions.

By order of the Commission,

Rosemary Giuliano

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