Advisory Opinion No. 2001-55

Re: Anne Conaty


The petitioner, a programmer/analyst at the Department of Labor & Training (DLT), a state employee position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether she may accept a raffle prize which she won while attending a computer software company’s presentation, given that the company is a state vendor.


It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the Code of Ethics does not prohibit the petitioner, a programmer/analyst at the Department of Labor & Training (DLT), a state employee position, from accepting a raffle prize which she won while attending a computer software company’s presentation given that she does not exercise any responsibility for the purchase of computer software or hardware in her DLT employment.

As a programmer/analyst at the Department of Labor & Training (DLT), the petitioner’s duties include writing and developing reports, databases and screen programs with Informix SQL and Informix 4GL software and ensuring that all created or modified programs meet design specifications with the respective DLT divisions. She represents that she is not responsible for purchasing any hardware or software. She attended a meeting of the New England Informix User Group in Massachusetts, at which Informix Software, Inc. and Four J’s, the maker of 4GL, made presentations. Admission was free and the meeting was open to all Informix users in the New England area. Upon entry, attendees placed their business cards in a basket for a raffle. She informs that her name was drawn as the winner of a roundtrip air ticket and overnight stay in Paris. She advises that Informix is a state vendor, but the Four J’s, its manufacturer, is offering the trip. She indicates that Informix and Four J’s are separate companies.

Under Commission Regulation 5009, a person subject to the Code of Ethics shall not accept or receive any gifts or other things having a value greater than $150, including but not limited to gifts, loans, rewards, promises of future employment, favors or services, gratuities or special discounts, from an “interested person”. An “interested person” is defined as any individual or business entity “that has a direct financial interest in a decision that the person subject to the Code of Ethics is authorized to make, or participate in the making of, as part of his or her official duties.” Pursuant to Commission Regulation 36-14-5010, a public official or employee shall not accept an honorarium, fee or reward or other compensation for any activity which directly relates to her official duties unless 1) she does not exercise decision making authority over the source; and 2) she uses her own time and does not make improper use of public resources when engaging in or preparing for the activity.

The petitioner’s situation presents an issue of first impression for the Commission, falling outside the parameters of both Regulations 5009 and 5010. Neither the software vendor nor its manufacturer, the entity offering the trip, is an interested person as to the petitioner, as her official DLT duties do not involve the purchase of computer software. Here, the gift analysis is inapplicable since the petitioner was the winner of a chance raffle drawing, rather than the selected recipient of a gratuity. Further, although Regulation 5010 would prohibit her receipt of honoraria for presentations that directly relate to her official duties, the circumstances described above would not trigger said prohibition. The petitioner’s presence at the event at issue was as an attendee for informational purposes and not a presenter and/or participant. Further, her name was randomly chosen as the recipient of a raffle prize from a software company over whom she does not exercise any discretionary authority in her public employment with the DLT. Accordingly, the Commission concludes that she may accept the trip from Four J’s without running afoul of the provisions of the Code of Ethics. However, in the event that the DLT requests her input with regard to the purchase of computer software in the future, the petitioner should recuse from participation. Notice of recusal should be filed with both the DLT and the Ethics Commission in accordance with R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-6.

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