Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 2003-21

Advisory Opinion No. 2003-21
Advisory Opinion No. 2003-21

Application Of The Code’s Conflict Of Interest Provisions To The
Commissioner Of Consumer Protection

The Commissioner of Consumer Protection, Edwin R. Rodriguez, has asked the Commission for an advisory opinion regarding the following matter.

As Commissioner, Mr. Rodriguez is statutorily empowered to administer the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (CUTPA), Conn. Gen. Stat. Chapter 735a.  Part of this authority includes discretion, pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. 42-110m (a), to request that the Attorney General file a CUTPA lawsuit.  Recently, the Commissioner received a request from the Attorney General asking that the Commissioner determine whether to authorize the addition of a CUTPA cause of action to a lawsuit being undertaken by the Attorney General with the authorization of the Banking Commissioner.

Upon reviewing the complaint in this matter, and learning the names of the defendants and alleged victims, the Commissioner identified certain concerns which have led to this request for guidance.  The potentially problematic issues are as follows:

1.  The lawsuit concerns the operations of a real estate brokerage firm and mortgage brokerage business by three individuals.  Two years ago, Commissioner Rodriguez listed his home for sale, and sold the home through the defendant real estate brokerage firm with the direct involvement of one of the individual defendants.

2.  Five years ago, one of the other individual defendants made a campaign contribution to a committee for the political party that supported Mr. Rodriguez’s candidacy for alderman, and also made contributions to several other candidates affiliated with this party.

3.  Lastly, the Commissioner is personally acquainted with several of the consumers who filed complaints in this matter, as well as at least one of the individual defendants.

The relevant conflict of interest provisions of the Code are Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-85 and 1-86.  Pursuant to 1-85, in pertinent part, a public official has a substantial conflict of interest and may not take official action on a matter if he has reason to believe or expect that he will derive a direct monetary benefit or suffer a direct monetary loss by reason of his official activity.  The official does not, however, have a substantial conflict of interest if any benefit or detriment accrues to him as a member of a profession, occupation or group to no greater extent any other member of such profession, occupation or group.

Pursuant to 1-86, in pertinent part, a public official has a potential conflict of interest if he would be required to take official action that would affect his financial interests, unless such interest is de minimis in nature or not distinct from that of a substantial segment of the general public.  If faced with a potential conflict, a Commissioner, who has no immediate superior, shall take such steps as the Ethics Commission advises.

In this instance, it is clear that none of the concerns raised by Commissioner Rodriguez creates either a substantial or potential conflict of interest.  As a consequence, there is no impediment, under the Ethics Code, which would prevent the Commissioner from exercising his statutory discretion in this matter.

By order of the Commission,

Rosemary Giuliano


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