Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 2002-13

Advisory Opinion No. 2002-13
Advisory Opinion No. 2002-13

Application Of The Lobbyist Code’s "Major Life Event" Gift Exception

The Commission has been asked by a number of lobbyists for an interpretation of the Lobbyist Code’s "major life event" gift exception.

Pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-91(g)(12), "A gift, including but not limited to, food or beverage or both, provided by an individual for the celebration of a major life event" is exempt from the Lobbyist’s Code’s gift ban. Under the Commission’s Regulations, the term "major life event" is limited to "…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 Sec. 1-92-53.

In applying these provisions, lobbyists wish to know whether the "birth" and "wedding" "major life event" exceptions are strictly limited in nature or whether, alternatively, they would extend to related events such as a baby shower, wedding shower or stag party.

The "major life event" gift exception, as implemented by Commission Regulations, is susceptible to three interpretations: 1. it could be construed as applying only to gifts specifically given at the time of a birth or wedding; 2. it could be read to allow either a gift given at a pre-birth or pre-wedding event or a gift given for the event, but not both; or 3. it could be more liberally interpreted to allow gifts under both circumstances.

The Commission hereby adopts this third interpretation. Simply stated, this last constructions is: the least intrusive into these deeply personal occasions; the least bureaucratic to administer; and the clearest and, therefore, simplest standard for both lobbyists and public officials to follow.

Some may argue that this construction is, in fact, too liberal and will result in an unwarranted additional exemption to the Lobbyist Code’s otherwise strict gift ban (i.e., no tangible gift valued at ten dollars or more). The Commission disagrees with this analysis for two reasons. First, gifts given at a baby or wedding shower are, under the common understanding of the language of the statute, being "provided…for the celebration of a major life event." Second, the "major life event" exception contains no dollar limitation. Therefore, an individual lobbyist could, for example, give a public official/friend a $500 savings bond for the birth of a child or a gift valued at $300 to celebrate the public official’s marriage. Given this reality, it is not persuasive to claim that the gift law will be subverted, or even significantly weakened, by the allowance of an additional, traditionally more modest, gift incident to the official’s baby or wedding shower or stag party.

Furthermore, and of substantial importance, any attempt to utilize the "major life event" exception to provide inappropriately lavish benefits to a public official is rendered problematic, at best, by the fact that the gift must be itemized (including a description and the dollar value of the benefit) on the lobbyist/donor’s financial disclosure report. Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-96(b).

In closing, the Commission believes it is important to reiterate that the "major life event" gift exception was enacted in recognition of the legitimate friendships that exist or develop between lobbyists and public officials. As a consequence, the exception is specifically limited to gifts provided by an "individual." No client lobbyist or lobbyist business organization may avail itself of this exception, nor may an individual communicator lobbyist be reimbursed by such an entity for his or her "major life event" gift expenditure.

By order of the Commission,

Rosemary Giuliano

Content Last Modified on 9/7/2005 8:04:20 AM