Opinion EC-COI-85-72

Date: 09/11/1985
Organization: State Ethics Commission

An employee of the Commission for the Blind (MCB) may be a member of the board of directors of a private company but is subject to §§ 4, 6 and 23 of the conflict of interest law. 

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You are employed by the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB). You do not have any authority to award MCB funds or enter into contracts on behalf of MCB. In addition to your MCB employment, you are an unpaid member of the board of directors of ABC Company. Although ABC does not receive funds directly from MCB, it does receive money from a related company, DEF which receives MCB funds. DEF gives a portion of its MCB money to ABC to provide certain services. The ABC staff deals directly with DEF and not with MCB in matters related to the funding.


Does G.L. c. 268A permit you to serve as a member of the board of directors?


Yes, subject to the following limitations.


As a state employee you are subject to the provisions of G.L. c. 268A, the conflict of interest law. The sections of that law that are relevant to the question you have asked are §§ 4, 6 and 23. Section 4 provides that a state employee may not act as agent for anyone other than the commonwealth or a state agency in relation to any particular matter[1] in which the commonwealth or a state agency is a party or has a direct and substantial interest. Section 4 would prohibit you, for example, from representing the board in connection with a grant proposal to any state agency. Acting as an agent would include such activities as making telephone calls or signing correspondence on the board's behalf. See e.g. EC-COI-85-58; 84-73.[2] However, you would be permitted to participate in internal board discussions regarding such matters. See e.g. EC-COI-85-21.

Section 6 prohibits a state employee from officially participating in a particular matter in which she or a business organization in which she is serving as a director has a financial interest. Thus you could not take any action as an MCB employee which would affect the financial interest of ABC. Since you have stated that you have no involvement in your counseling job with either DEF or ABC, § 6 should not limit your present activities.

Finally, you should be aware of the provisions of § 23.[3] It prohibits a state employee from using or attempting to use her official position to obtain unwarranted privileges for herself or others. In this regard you should be careful, for example, in your contacts with MCB staff who might be involved in the awarding of contracts to ABC or DEF so as not to influence their decisions.


End Of Decision

[1] For the purposes of G.L. 268A, "particular matter" is defined as "any judicial or other proceeding, application, submission, request for a ruling or other determination, contract, claim, controversy, charge, accusation, arrest, decision, determination, finding. . ." G.L. c. 268A, § 1(k).

[2] These citations refer to prior Commission conflict of interest opinions including the year they were issued and their identifying numbers Copies of advisory opinions (with identifying information deleted) are available for public inspection at the Commission offices.

[3] On July 9, 1983, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the Commission does not possess the jurisdiction to enforce G.L. c. 268A, § 23. The discussion contained above is based on prior Commission rulings and is intended to provide guidance to you.

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