Advisory Opinion No. 99-80

Re: The Honorable John M. Roney

QUESTION PRESENTED

The petitioner, a legislator serving as State Senator, a state elected official, requests an advisory opinion as to whether he and other legislators may attend an educational symposium sponsored by non-profit and for-profit companies at no charge and where the symposium also includes a luncheon, coffee break and a networking reception.

RESPONSE

It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the petitioner, a legislator serving as State Senator, a state elected official, may attend an education symposium entitled Birth, Death, and the Law: Issues Facing the Medical and Legal Professions in the New Millennium without cost, provided that he does not seek CLE or CME credit for such attendance. Additionally, if the petitioner is not a formal speaker at the symposium, he must pay for the costs of the luncheon, coffee break, and networking reception given that the sponsors are considered "interested persons" under Commission Regulation 5009. We remind the petitioner that the seminar should be listed on his 1999 financial disclosure statement if the value of it is over $100. See R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 36-14-16, 17.

Commission Regulation 36-14-5009 provides that no person subject to the Code of Ethics shall accept a gift or other thing of economic value, including a meal, from an “interested person.” Here, Brown University, which receives annual funding from the State of Rhode Island, primarily related to its medical school, and which employs at least two lobbyists to represent its interests before the General Assembly, is an “interested person.” Additionally, the Bar Association, Medical Society, and pharmaceutical and biotech companies also may be interested persons if they have legislation pending before the General Assembly. Therefore, members of the General Assembly may not accept anything of economic value from the seminar sponsors unless it falls within one of Regulation 36-14-5009’s specific exceptions. The program itself constitutes “services to assist an official or employee in the performance of official duties and responsibilities,” which are excepted under subsection 36-14-5009(a)(1)(b). The lunch, coffee break, and networking reception, however, do not fall within that exception and, therefore, may not be accepted by any members of the General Assembly unless he/she is also listed as a speaker (see the exception listed under 36-14-5009(a)(1)(f)) or pays for the value of those activities.

Since the petitioner would be attending the symposium as part of his responsibilities as a Senator, which triggers the “services to assist an official or employee in the performance of official duties and responsibilities” exception to the gift prohibition, he may not at the same time seek CLE or CME credit for attending the seminar. Additionally, if the value of the seminar exceeds $100, the law requires that the petitioner include it on his yearly financial disclosure form.

Code Citations:

36-14-5009
36-14-16

Related Advisory Opinions:

98-170

Keywords:

Gifts
Financial Disclosure