State Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, Wednesday said Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s trip to Washington, D.C., over the weekend violated state ethics laws because his expenses for travel, accommodations and food – estimated at more than $1,000 – were paid by People Magazine.
“Accepting such a gift puts the governor in violation of state ethics laws,” McKinney said in a statement. “During his trip the governor attended the White House Correspondents Dinner and related after parties.”
“The Governor is in clear violation of state ethics laws,” said McKinney. “Allowing a corporation to pay for his travel and entertainment expenses on a non-official visit constitutes inappropriate use of the governor’s office for personal financial gain – period. Governor Malloy needs to account for his actions and make amends.”
McKinney said Malloy needs to “provide all documents and correspondence pertaining to his recent trip” – adding that Malloy “cannot transform a social event like this into a business meeting merely by talking up the state over champagne and hors d’oeuvres.”
Malloy’s director of communications, Andrew Doba, denied any violation of the law. He said Malloy’s expenses could be legitimately be paid for by People Magazine as a gift to the state because he was acting in his official capacity to market Connecticut in his conversations with federal officials and others as he mingled.
Doba said the governor’s legal counsel’s office had checked ethics rules and decided it was okay. However, Malloy’s office sought no advice directly from the Office of State Ethics, said that office’s executive director, Carol Carson.
Later Wednesday, Doba released a statement from Malloy’s legal counsel, Luke Bronin, saying the office had relied on “past guidance” from the ethics office in deciding it was legal for Malloy to make the trip on People Magazine’s tab. However, Bronin added: “Out of an abundance of respect for Connecticut’s ethics laws, the Governor’s Office will seek a formal advisory opinion of the Citizen’s Ethics Advisory Board.”
The advisory board oversees Carson’s ethics office. Carson would neither confirm nor deny whether her office had received any complaint about the Malloy trip, or whether the office will conduct an investigation.
McKinney said that the Office of State Ethics has ruled that it is an “illegal use of office for personal gain,” in violation of Section 1-84(c) of the state general statutes, for any public official to accept gifts in excess of $100 per year year from a “non-restricted donor” – in other words, a non-lobbyist.
The rule is designed to “stop corporations, like People Magazine and its parent company Time Inc., from spending lavishly to entertain government officials,” McKinney said. “Thus, despite the governor’s claimed defense, it is irrelevant that People Magazine and Time Inc. are not lobbyists. However, it is worth noting that Time Inc. is a member of the Association of Magazine Media, which does employ a lobbyist in Connecticut.”
McKinney said he doesn’t buy Malloy’s claim that he was “marketing the state” while in at the lavish dinner and at least one related party – and he added that “this explanation still leaves the governor in violation of state ethics laws.”
“This is not comparable to the governor attending the World Economic Forum in Davos where he represented the economic interests of our state and was a speaker on the forum’s agenda. The primary purpose of his latest trip was clearly to attend the White House Correspondents Dinner, an extravagant and expensive entertainment event,” McKinney said.
“The governor cannot transform a social event like this into a business meeting merely by talking up the state over champagne and hors d’oeuvres, nor can he transform this into a legitimate business trip by scheduling some brief ancillary meeting with a federal official or business group,” McKinney said.
“If the Governor is seriously claiming that his attendance at the White House Correspondents Dinner was legitimate state business, he should produce the invitation to attend describing the purpose, the agendas for the event, a list of discussion topics, meeting minutes, and any other evidence of the official purpose and business conducted on behalf of the state,” McKinney said.
McKinney added: “Our ethics laws are meant, not only to eliminate bribes and conflicts of interest in state government, but to also prohibit public officials from using their state office to obtain free services and perks. Based on the facts as we know them, Governor Malloy broke the law. If he has evidence to the contrary, he should come forward and say so, but every explanation to date has been unsatisfactory. The proper remedy would be for him to admit his fault and personally repay all of the expenses associated with his trip.”
Here is the statement from Bronin, the governor’s legal counsel, in full:
Governor Malloy was invited, in his official capacity, to attend the White House Correspondents’ Dinner by People Magazine. The Office of the Governor has received past guidance from the Office of State Ethics indicating that a non-restricted donor (as opposed to a restricted donor) may make payment for expenses that public officials may incur to travel to events, attendance at which will facilitate state action or functions.
Governor Malloy’s attendance at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner provided an invaluable opportunity to advance Connecticut’s interests. The White House Correspondents’ Dinner is a unique gathering of senior Obama administration officials, members of Congress, and business and media leaders from around the country.
The Governor’s Office could have paid for Governor Malloy’s trip to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Since People Magazine, a non-restricted donor with no business with the State, offered to relieve the Connecticut taxpayers of that expense, the Governor’s Office accepted the invitation. Out of an abundance of respect for Connecticut’s ethics laws, the Governor’s Office will seek a formal advisory opinion of the Citizen’s Ethics Advisory Board.