Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 2002-7

Advisory Opinion No. 2002-7
Advisory Opinion No. 2002-7

Application Of The Code’s Gift And Necessary Expense Provisions
To The Commission On The Arts

The legislative liaison for the Commission On The Arts, Allen Hoffman, has asked the State Ethics Commission for an advisory opinion regarding the application of the Code's gift and necessary expense provisions to certain Arts Commission activities.

Specifically, Mr. Hoffman has inquired regarding the appropriateness of Arts Commission employees accepting complimentary tickets from constituent organizations. Mr. Hoffman advises that, quite often, these organizations will invite the Arts Commission Executive Director and/or Senior Program Associates to attend performances. Occasionally, these individuals will be asked to speak to the audience prior to an event. Mr. Hoffman further states that attendance at these events is an important part of the Arts Commission's responsibilities in order: to be kept informed of the breadth and scope of constituent organizations' activities; to monitor their level of success in attracting audiences that reflect the State's cultural diversity; and to verify that their work is in concert with the goals of the Arts Commission. Finally, Mr. Hoffman asserts that these visitations to different venues under performance conditions are vital to his agency's ongoing review and evaluation process, and provide an opportunity to personally assess the merits of the works in question.

With regard to any potential conflict of interests, Mr. Hoffman claims the issue is essentially moot; since the organizations in question do not receive funding as the direct result of unilateral action by agency staff or the Executive Director. Rather, all Arts Commission grants are either the result of professional peer panel recommendations approved by the Agency's Board or are determined under a funding process established by statute.

Addressing the potential conflict of interests issue first, it is not dispositive that the Executive Director and Senior Program Associates do not exercise unilateral authority to award funding to the constituent organizations in question. Clearly, these individuals must have a significant role in the process or the very reason for their attendance at the performances would be essentially negated.

Furthermore, the Code's gift limitations are not premised on a conflict of interests, whether actual or potential. Rather, the Code's gift limits apply whenever the donor is a lobbyist or is seeking or receiving funding from the subject agency. Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-84(j) and (m). As a consequence, the question presented must be analyzed under the relevant portions of the Code's gift and necessary expense provisions.

Whenever a state official or employee, in his or her official capacity, speaks at an event, the individual may accept necessary expenses. Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-84(k). As a consequence, whenever the Executive Director or a Senior Program Associate speaks to an audience acceptance of a complimentary ticket to that performance is permissible.

Additionally, the Code's strict gift limitations (no tangible gift of ten dollars or more) are ameliorated by sixteen statutory exemptions. Pertinent to the question under review is number five, which exempts "Goods or services which are provided to the State…to support…the participation by a public official or state employee at an event, and…which facilitiate state action or functions." Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-79(e)(5).

Applying this exemption to the work of the Commission On The Arts, the State Ethics Commission finds that the complimentary tickets in question are permissible "Gifts to the State" pursuant to 1-79(e)(5). Obviously, this determination is less problematic when the event is less desirable (e.g. a tour of a prison or waste treatment facility). Nonetheless, it is unnecessary and unfair to bar attendance at the events in question based on the fact that this facet of the state servant's work will, often, also be entertaining and enjoyable.

In making this ruling, the Commission wishes to emphasize that the acceptance of complimentary tickets is strictly limited to the agency official, and any such ticket provided free of charge to a guest or family member would be prohibited. Furthermore, other benefits (e.g. meals) would also fall outside the "Gift to the State" exemption; and are, therefore, subject to the Code's statutory limits (i.e. no more than fifty dollars per person per year in food and drink).

By order of the Commission,

Rosemary Giuliano

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