Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 2003-13

Advisory Opinion No. 2003-13
Advisory Opinion No. 2003-13

Interpretation Of Advisory Opinion No. 98-9

Rachel Rubin, Esq., UCONN’s Associate Director of Athletics for Ethics and Regulatory Affairs, has posed two questions regarding State Ethics Commission Advisory Opinion No. 98-9, 59 CLJ 45, p. 5D (May 5, 1998).  That Ruling established a standard allowing non-regulated donors (e.g., UCONN) to provide up to $100 in benefits per year to public officials.  In essence, the Commission concluded that benefits below this level were de minimis, and receipt of such items would not constitute an improper use of office.  See, Regulations Of Conn. State Agencies 1-81-30(a). Specifically, Attorney Rubin has asked:  1. whether the standard allows only $100 in total benefits to the official or whether each member of an official’s immediate family may receive benefits up to this amount; and 2. whether the $100 allowance is in lieu of or in addition to the Ethics Code’s current gift exceptions?

1.  In reviewing Advisory Opinion No. 98-9, the Commission believes it is clear that the intent of this Opinion was to allow up to $100 in benefits not only for the official but also for each immediate family member.  See, page two of the Ruling which states that the standard will allow “…benefits with a cumulative value of less than one hundred dollars per person per year provided to a public official or immediate family member…”  Id.

2.  The answer to Attorney Rubin’s second query is not directly apparent from a reading of Advisory Opinion No. 98-9.  However, common sense would dictate an interpretation that permits $100 per person per year in benefits over and above the Code’s statutory gift exceptions.  A hypothetical example will illustrate the logic of this alternative.  Assume a public official is invited to an event (e.g., a golf tournament) under circumstances that conform to the “charitable event” exception of 1-79(e)(14) with the following benefits:  golf ($75) and food and drink ($60).  Assume further that at the event the official will be receiving a plaque ($100) in recognition of his public efforts on behalf of the charitable cause.  Applying the Code’s gift exceptions, a lobbyist or other regulated entity hosting the event would be legally permitted to bestow all of the above enumerated benefits on the public official.  Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-79(e)(6) and (14).  However, absent the allowance of the statutory gift exemptions, UCONN or another unregulated entity would be limited to providing only $100 in total benefits.

Clearly, an outcome which places an unregulated donor under greater restrictions than a registered lobbyist or entity doing business with the State is illogical and should be avoided if possible.  Consequently, the Commission hereby holds that the $100 in benefits sanctioned under Advisory Opinion No. 98-9 is in addition to the legally unobjectionable benefits (e.g., ceremonial award, informational material, generally available discount, etc.) currently allowed by the Code.  See, Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-79(e)1-16. 

By order of the Commission,

Rosemary Giuliano


Content Last Modified on 9/7/2005 8:04:47 AM