Ethics: 2009-8

ADVISORY OPINION 2009-8

 

Application of the $1,000 Limit to the

“Major Life Event” Gift Exception

 

 

Introduction

 

The Citizen’s Ethics Advisory Board issues this advisory opinion in response to questions raised by state employees relative to the recent legislative change that caps gifts being given for a “major life event” at $1000.[1] At multiple training sessions offered by the Office of State Ethics, state employees have asked if separate celebrations related to a single “major life event” qualify for separate $1000 gift limits for the purpose of gift-giving between state supervisors and subordinates.  For example, if the “major life event” in question is a wedding, may a state subordinate provide his supervisor with a $1,000 gift at the bachelor party and a $1,000 gift at the wedding reception?

 

Conclusion

 

We conclude that the $1,000 gift limit applies to the aggregate of all things of value provided by a restricted donor for the occasion of a “major life event.”  For example, for the “major life event” of marriage, a $500 gift could be given at a bachelor party and a $500 gift could be presented at the wedding reception without violating the $1,000 limit.

 

Analysis

 

General Statutes § 1-84 (p) limits gift-giving between supervisors and subordinates in state service to gifts valued at less than one hundred dollars.  Pursuant to General Statutes § 1-79 (e), “gift” is defined as “anything of value, which is directly and personally received, unless consideration of equal or greater value is given in return,” though there are numerous exceptions to this definition.[2]  One of these is the “major life event” exception, which is set forth in § 1-79 (e) (12).

 

Prior to the enactment of Public Acts 2008, No. 08-3, under § 1-79 (e) (12) the following was exempt from the definition of “gift”: “A gift, including but not limited to, food or beverage or both, provided by an individual for the celebration of a major life event . . . .”  “Major life event” is defined in § 1-92-53 of the Regulations of Connecticut State Agencies to include:

 

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; and retirement from public service or state employment. It shall not include any event which occurs on an annual basis such as an anniversary; except that personal gifts of up to twenty-five dollars per occasion, aggregating no more than fifty dollars per recipient in a calendar year, shall be permitted to a minor incident to a birthday or other traditional gift-giving occasion, e.g., Christmas or Chanukah.

 

The State Ethics Commission (“SEC”) interpreted § 1-79 (e) (12) in Advisory Opinion No. 2002-13, concluding that the “major life event” exception applies to gifts given at the time of a birth or wedding and to gifts given at pre-birth or pre-wedding celebrations (e.g., wedding showers, baby showers, and bachelor parties).[3]  The SEC adopted this conclusion for two reasons.  First, this broader reading of a “major life event” was consistent with the statutory language, allowing gifts being “provided . . . for the celebration of a major life event.”  Second, the “major life event” exception contained no monetary limitation.

 

The first reason is still valid, but in light of a recent statutory change, the second reason is not.  That is, in Public Act 08-3, the legislature amended § 1-79 (e) (12), adding a monetary limitation by way of the following italicized language: “A gift, including but not limited to, food or beverage or both, provided by an individual for the celebration of a major life event, provided any such gift provided by an individual who is not a member of the family of the recipient shall not exceed one thousand dollars in value . . . .”[4]

 

We believe that it would be inconsistent with that statutory change to interpret a “major life event” as providing for separate $1,000 limits for celebrations associated with a single “major life event.”  Such an interpretation would permit multiple $1,000 gifts during any number of celebrations surrounding a single occasion of a “major life event.” 

 

Instead, in conformity with the purpose of a monetary limit, we believe that the $1,000 limit applies to the aggregate of all things of value provided by a restricted donor for the occasion of a “major life event.”  Multiple things of value given by a restricted donor for the purpose of celebrating one “major life event” shall be considered as given for one occasion when calculating the $1,000 limit.[5]  For example, for the “major life event” of marriage, a $500 gift could be given at a bachelor party and a $500 gift could be presented at the wedding reception without violating the $1,000 limit.  This broader interpretation of “major life event” to include pre-wedding celebrations remains consistent with the reasoning in Advisory Opinion No. 2002-13.

 

 

By order of the Board,

 

 

 

Sister Sally J. Tolles, Vice Chairperson

 

 

 

Dated August 27, 2009

 

 



             [1] Public Acts 2008, No. 08-3.

[2]See General Statutes § 1-79 (e) (1) through (17).

             [3] Advisory Opinion No. 2002-13 used the term “stag party” rather than “bachelor party.”

[4](Emphasis added.)

[5]See Advisory Opinion No. 2009-6 (establishing a “per person per occasion or transaction” standard for purposes of valuing gifts under § 1-84 (p)).



Content Last Modified on 8/31/2009 9:35:52 AM