Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 2004-12

Advisory Opinion No. 2004-12
Advisory Opinion No. 2004-12

Application Of The Codes To Benefits Received By Legislators AtNational Legislative Conferences And Political Conventions

Mary Anne O’Neill, Counsel for the House Republicans, has asked the State Ethics Commission for an advisory opinion regarding the acceptance of meals or other benefits which may be provided at conferences of national legislative organizations or at the national political conventions.  Specifically, she has posed the following series of hypotheticals: 

1.   At a conference of a national legislative organization, may a member of the General Assembly accept a meal from a lobbyist who is not registered in Connecticut, but who is employed by a company that does have a lobbyist registered in Connecticut?  If so, what limits apply?

         If the out-of-state lobbyist is reimbursed by the company, then the restrictions on meals (up to fifty dollars in food and drink per recipient per year) set forth in the Lobbyist Code apply.  If not, but the benefit is offered by virtue of the legislator’s public office, the limit is one hundred dollars per person.  See, State Ethics Commission Advisory Opinion No.  98-9, 59 CLJ 45, p.5D (5/5/98):  wherein the Commission held that, pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-84(c), it would not be an inappropriate use of office to accept such benefits, provided they totaled less than one hundred dollars per recipient per year.  See, also, Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-79(e)(13), which excepts from the Code’s definition of gift, gifts or food and beverage costing less than one hundred dollars in the aggregate provided at a hospitality suite at an interstate legislative conference by a person who is not registered to lobby in or doing business with the State of Connecticut.  Finally, if the benefit is not reimbursed by the company/client lobbyist and is not given by virtue of the recipient’s public office, the Code does not limit the expenditure.  Ordinarily, however, if the recipient is at the conference because of his or her public office, then the presumption would be that the benefit is received by virtue of that person’s office. 

2.      At a conference of a national legislative organization, may a member of the General Assembly accept a meal from a lobbyist who is not registered in Connecticut, and who is employed by a company that does not have a lobbyist registered in Connecticut?  If so, what limits apply? 

     As discussed in response to question no. 1; supra, the presumption will be that the meal is offered by virtue of the legislator’s public position, and therefore the one hundred dollar rule would apply.  If, however, the benefit is strictly personal, e.g., the out-of-state lobbyist and the legislator are longtime friends, the Code does not limit the cost of the meal. 

3.      At a conference of a national legislative organization, may a member of the General Assembly attend a meal or reception which is sponsored by a corporation and to which all conference attendees are invited, if the corporation does not directly pay for the meal or reception, but pays a fee to the national legislative organization which allows it to be listed as the corporate sponsor of the event?  Does it matter if the corporation has a lobbyist who is registered in Connecticut?  Do any limits apply? 

        As the Commission has previously stated, “When a Connecticut lobbyist provides funds to another entity with the explicit understanding that the monies will be used to underwrite an event at which Connecticut officials will be in attendance, the expenditures will be subject to the Lobbyist Code’s gift restrictions.”  State Ethics Commission Advisory Opinion No. 2000-19, 62 CLJ 22, p. 5E (11/28/00).  For example, a Connecticut official will be on notice of this explicit understanding if the invitation to the event lists the lobbyist as a sponsor or if the conference program contains a similar specific reference.  If, however, the lobbyist provides general funding to support a legislative conference or political convention, which funding is not earmarked for an event with Connecticut attendees, the expenditure “…is too attenuated to trigger the Code’s gift restrictions.”  Id.  Under such circumstances, or if the corporation is not registered to lobby in Connecticut, the one hundred dollar limitation applies. 

4.      At a conference of a national legislative organization, may a member of the General Assembly attend a meal or reception which is paid for by the organization and to which some or all conference attendees from Connecticut are invited?  Does it matter if the organization is funded largely by corporate contributions?  Do any limits apply? 

        As discussed in response to question no. 3, supra, the fact that a national legislative organization’s conference is generally underwritten by corporations, including corporations registered to lobby in Connecticut, will not result in a prohibition on Connecticut legislators attending a meal or reception held as part of the conference. 

5.      How does the Code apply if a national legislative organization establishes a state scholarship account that pays for a member’s travel expenses and hotel accommodations for a conference sponsored by the organization, if such account is funded by corporate contributions?  Does it matter if the contributing corporations have registered lobbyists in Connecticut? 

        Whether or not the scholarship account is funded by lobbyist contributions, a Connecticut legislator may accept travel expenses and accommodations from the legislative organization provided the requirements of Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-84(k) are met.  Pursuant to that statutory provision, a legislator may accept “necessary expenses” “for an article, appearance or speech, or for participation at an event, in the public official’s…official capacity.”  Such expenses are limited by statute to “necessary travel expenses, lodging for the nights before, of and after the appearance, speech or event, meals, and any related conference or seminar registration fees” Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-79(q). 

6.      Does the Code apply to functions of a political party at state or national conventions, or is the Code superceded by the Campaign Finance laws with respect to such events? 

        In general, the Ethics Code’s gift and reporting provisions apply with equal effect to political and nonpolitical events.  See, e.g., Ethics Commission Docket Nos. 2001-3 and 2001-13:  wherein the Commission sanctioned two Respondents for violating the Lobbyist Code’s gift and reporting requirements incident to receptions hosted by said Respondents at the 2000 Republican and Democratic National Conventions. 

The Ethics Code is, however, superceded when, for example, a specific provision of Connecticut’s campaign finance statutes allows contributions solicited by or on behalf of a public official, including contributions from lobbyists, to be used to pay for “meals” for “the candidate,” “the candidate’s spouse” and “campaign or committee workers” incident to political or campaign purposes, without a dollar limitation or itemized disclosure.  See, Conn. Gen. Stat. 9-333i(g)(2). 

7.      At a national political convention, may a member of the General Assembly accept a meal from a lobbyist who is not registered in Connecticut, but who is employed by a company that does have a lobbyist registered in Connecticut?  If so, what limits apply?  Does it matter if the member is an official delegate to the convention, or if the member is there for more general political purposes? 

        The response to this query is the same as to question no. 1.  Under the Ethics Codes, this response is not dependent on whether the recipient is an official delegate to a political convention or is at the convention for a more general political purposes.         

8.      At a national political convention, may a member of the General Assembly accept a meal from a lobbyist who is not registered in Connecticut, and who is employed by a company that does not have a lobbyist registered in Connecticut?  If so, what limits apply?  Does it matter if the member is an official delegate to the convention, or if the member is there for more general political purposes? 

        The answer to this question is the same as to question no. 2.  Again, under the Codes, this response is not altered by the legislator’s status as a convention delegate or his or her political purpose. 

9.      At a national political event, if a corporation sponsors an event to which admission is charged and a lobbyist purchases tickets to the event, may a member accept a ticket to such an event from the lobbyist?  Does it matter if the lobbyist is registered in Connecticut or is employed by a corporation that has a lobbyist who is registered in Connecticut?  Does it matter if the lobbyist is employed by the sponsoring corporation?  Does it matter if profits generated by sales of the tickets are given to charity.  Do any limits apply?

        This question has been addressed in detail by the Commission in Advisory Opinion No. 2004-10, ___, CLJ No. ___, p. ___ (___).

By order of the Commission,

Rosemary Giuliano
Chairperson



Content Last Modified on 9/7/2005 8:05:18 AM