Advisory Opinion No. 2000-68

Re: Richard S. Humphrey, Esq.

QUESTION PRESENTED

The petitioner, the Little Compton Town Solicitor, a municipal appointed position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether and how he should disclose the receipt of wedding gifts to the Ethics Commission, particularly in light of the fact that some of the gifts may have been received from "interested persons" as that term is defined in the Code of Ethics.

RESPONSE

It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the petitioner, the Little Compton Town Solicitor, a municipal appointed position, must disclose wedding gifts worth more than $100 on his annual financial disclosure statement. Under R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-16(a), the petitioner must disclose the receipt of any and all gifts with a value of more than $100 (except those from family members) on his annual financial disclosure form. Additionally, the recent amendments to Commission Regulation 5009 (Gifts) require that the petitioner report gifts from "interested persons" once he has received more than $100 worth of gifts cumulatively from all interested persons during the calendar year. This report must be filed with the Commission by January 31 of the following year. As neither the statute nor the Regulation 5009, as amended, provide an exception relating to wedding or other gifts, these items must be disclosed on both the financial disclosure form and the gift report.

As a municipal appointed official, the petitioner is required to file an annual financial statement with the Ethics Commission pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-16(a). The statute requires that the financial statement must identify any person, business entity or other organization from whom he, his spouse or dependent child received a gift or contribution of money or property in excess of $100 in value, or a series of gifts or contributions of money or property totaling more than $100 in value received from the same source, and a description of each gift or contribution. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-17(b)(4). In crafting the legislation the General Assembly did not make a distinction between social gifts and, for instance, gifts received because of or through a professional rather than personal relationship. However, the petitioner need not list those gifts received from family members, e.g., siblings, parents, children, grandparents, great grandparents, grandchildren, great grandchildren, uncles or aunts, nieces or nephews, or in-laws. See Commission Regulation 36-14-2001(21).

Additionally, under the recent amendments to the gift regulation, public officials and employees may accept gifts or other things of economic value (other than cash or forgiveness of indebtedness) from interested persons up to $150 in value per instance and $450 per calendar year. The regulation provides for certain exceptions such as plaques and services to assist a public official in performing his/her public duties. Wedding or social gifts are not among the enumerated exceptions. While the Commission discussed providing for other exceptions during the public comment period, none were adopted. Further, public officials and employees who accept gifts from interested persons are required to report gifts to the Ethics Commission by January 31, if the combined value of gifts from all interested persons reaches $100 or more in a calendar year. Once the cumulative threshold of $100 is reached, any and all gifts or other things of value received by a public official or employee from "interested persons" must be reported. The report must include as to all gifts received from interested persons during the calendar year: (1) the date the gift or other thing of value was received; (2) a description of the gift or other thing of value; (3) the fair market value of the gift or other thing of value; (4) the name, address and employer of the interested person who provided the gift or other thing of value; and, (5) the name of any organization represented by the interested person or on whose behalf the interested person was acting in providing the gift or other thing of value.

Therefore, the petitioner must list all of the wedding gifts on his 2000 financial disclosure form from all persons if the gift is worth more than $100 either by itself or in combination with other gifts given by that person (excluding family members). Additionally, if the petitioner received gifts from "interested persons," as defined in Regulation 5009, and those gifts total more than $100 in value (or total more than $100 in value in combination with other gifts or things of value received from any interested persons in calendar year 2000) he must file a report with the Commission by January 31, 2001, listing those gifts with the required information provided above. (This advisory opinion is written based on the amendments to Commission Regulation 5009 which took effect on July 12, 2000. We note that under the prior rule, the petitioner would not be able to accept any gifts from interested persons and therefore may have to return such gifts. However, since the rule now provides for certain gifts, those gifts could potentially get returned to the petitioner. As such, he would be required to disclose them pursuant to the gift regulation in addition to the disclosure required under the financial disclosure statute.)

Code Citations:

36-14-16(a)
36-14-17(b)(4)
36-14-2001(21)
36-14-5009

Related Advisory Opinions:

99-88

Keywords:

Gifts