Advisory Opinion No. 2000-17

Re: John Rogers

QUESTION PRESENTED

The petitioner, the Administrator of Food Processing and Distribution at the Department of Corrections, a state employee position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether he may submit certain material relating to his upcoming participation in an event to raise money for breast cancer research to the state employee or Department of Corrections’ newsletters and whether he may post the material on Department bulletin boards.

RESPONSE

It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the petitioner, the Administrator of Food Processing and Distribution at the Department of Corrections, a state employee position, may submit an article to the state employees’ newsletter outlining his upcoming participation in the Avon Breast Cancer three day walk. However, if the petitioner includes this material in the Department of Corrections’ newsletter, he should not accept contributions from his subordinates. Similarly, if the petitioner uses bulletin boards in areas that are targeted to his subordinates, he should not accept contributions from his subordinates.

The Code of Ethics, specifically, Commission Regulation 5011, Transactions with Subordinates, provides that the petitioner may not engage in a financial transaction with his subordinates unless it is initiated by the subordinate, part of a regular commercial business or occupation, or a charitable or fundraising event under the general sponsorship of a municipality. The purpose of Regulation 5011 was to restrict the use of a public office to leverage solicitations for contributions, political or private, from subordinates.

Here, the Avon Breast Cancer three-day walk is not officially sponsored by the State, therefore the petitioner may not solicit his subordinates for contributions. The state employees' newsletter, pRIde, is sent to all state employees and is not targeted for those persons with whom the petitioner works. Therefore, an article appearing in the pRIde newsletter is not a “solicitation” for purposes of the Transactions with Subordinates rule as it pertains to the petitioner. However, both the Department of Corrections’ newsletter and bulletin boards are more narrowly targeted and, therefore, constitute the type of solicitation that the regulation sought to prevent – making employees feel that they must contribute to their superior’s causes to receive a better assignment, a raise, or a promotion. Therefore, if the petitioner chooses to have his article published in the Department of Corrections’ newsletter or posted on Department bulletin boards in areas targeted to his subordinates, the petitioner should not accept contributions from his subordinates. Conversely, if the petitioner does not publish his article in the Department newsletter or post it on the bulletin boards, he may accept, provided he did not other solicit, contributions voluntarily given to him by his subordinates

Code Citations:

36-14-5011

Related Advisory Opinions:

99-129
99-20
98-143

Keywords:

Solicitation
Transactions with Subordinates