Opinion  EC-COI-83-39

Date: 03/22/1983
Organization: State Ethics Commission

A state employee attending a conference whose expenses were paid by the Commonwealth may keep a door prize because the winning number was drawn from a pool consisting of the ticket stubs of conference participants, and the state employee did not know whether the prize was provided by any of the product exhibitors who may do business with the state employee's state agency.

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You are an employee of state agency ABC.  In 1982, you attended the annual conference of DEF held in another state.  DEF is a professional organization whose membership consists of state employees working in the field of DEF within the Northeastern Region of the United States.  Your expenses in connection with the conference were paid by the Commonwealth.

As part of the conference, manufacturers of equipment and materials used in the field of ABC displayed their newest products for examination by those attending the conference. DEF also gave a luncheon for the participants, at which time several “door-prizes” were awarded.  You were the recipient of a Computer worth an estimated $139.00. Your winning number was drawn from a pool consisting of the ticket stubs of conference participants.  Although an officer of DEF presented your award, you do not know whether it was sponsored by any of the manufacturers exhibiting products.


May you keep the prize without violating G.L. c. 268A, the conflict of interest law?




Section 3 (b) of G.L. c. 268A prohibits you from accepting or receiving anything of substantial value, otherwise than as provided by law for the proper discharge of official duty, for or because of your official acts or acts within your official responsibility.  This section is designed to prevent public employees from receiving items of value in addition to their salaries for performing their official duties.[1]   

The Computer, worth $139.00, is something of substantial value.  See Commonwealth v. Famigletti, 4 mass. App. 584 (1976) [$50 of substantial value for the purposes of G.L. c. 268A, 3(b)].  The central issue in regard to § 3(b) is whether you received the prize for or because of your official acts.  It is clear in this instance that the random drawing which resulted in the prize being awarded to you, was not an “official act” by you.  Also, application of § 3(b) requires that you be in a position to use your authority to affect the donor.  See EC-COI-82-161; 82-118.  You state that you do not know who donated the prize.  Moreover, even if it were one of the manufacturers present, the manner in which the prize was awarded vitiates the authority you may have in your state position in connection with any manufacturer.  Therefore, § 3(b) does not apply in this case.[2]

Section 23 of the conflict of interest law provides certain standards of conduct which apply to all state employees.  Section 23(d) prohibits the use or attempted use of your official position to secure unwarranted privileges for yourself or others.  Section 23 (e) proscribes conduct which gives reasonable basis for the impression that any person or entity can improperly influence or unduly enjoy your favor in the performance of your official duties.  Based on these sections, the Commission has established guidelines for certain activities.  See EC-COI-80-28 (receipt of honoraria for speaking engagement); 82-74 (acceptance of compensation for conducting training sessions for a state vendor); 81-132 (receipt of compensation for hosting a radio show); 81-161 (winning a prize in an essay contest involving matters related to the employee’s position).

While this fact situated is not parallel to prior advisory opinions involving compensation, it is comparable to EC-COI-82-161 which involved a contest prize.  Based on the facts you have provided, the Commission concludes that you are in compliance with the guidelines in that opinion.  Notwithstanding the fact that the sponsor of the prize may have been a manufacturer whose products you use in your state position, your receipt of the prize pursuant to a random drawing in which all the conference participants were included does not violate the conflict of interest law.    

[1] No influence or intent to influence those duties is required.  Compare, G.L. c. 268A, § 2(b).

[2] If a manufacturer had merely given you the prize for examining his products, the result of this opinion might be altered.

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