REQUESTED BY: The Honorable Loran Schmit, State Senator, 23rd District
QUESTION: May a senator receive expenses for room and board paid for by his host while attending a Conference on Alcohol and Sugar in Campos, Brazil, without the same constituting a conflict of interest?
Yes, but see analysis.
The Senator advises that he has been invited to attend a Conference on Alcohol and Sugar in Campos, Brazil, the week of August 20 through the 26th. He further advises that his expenses for room and board while in Brazil will be paid for by his host, and asks for our opinion as to whether the foregoing constitutes a conflict of interest.
Conflict of interest is defined in section 49-1499 as a situation where a public official, subject to the disclosure provisions of the Act, "who, in the discharge of his official duties, would be required to take an action that would provide that individual, a member of the individual's immediate family, or a business with which the individual is associated, financial benefits of more than a de minimus nature which are distinquishable from the benefits to the public or a broad segment of the public . . ."
From the information furnished, we are not advised of any action required to be taken in the discharge of the Senator's official duties that will result in such a financial benefit. If his attendance at the conference is in the discharge of his official duties, we have previously taken the position that payment of expenses, otherwise chargeable to the state, so long as the same are not also charged to the State, is not a conflict of interest or in violation of section 49-14,101.
Section 49-14,101(3) provides:
No public official or public employee shall use that person's public office or any confidential information received through the holding of a public office to obtain financial gain, other than compensation provided by law, for himself . . ., a member of his or her immediate family, or a business with which the individual is associated.
We do not have sufficient information to make a determination in connection with section 49-14,101(3), but advise that so long as benefits or compensation are not received, other than such expenses, for performing or attending such conference in the discharge of official duties, this section would not be involved. In other words a public official may not be compensated both by the State and by others for doing his public job. It is further submitted that so long as the public official did not solicit the payment of the expenses of attending such a conference and the furnishing of such expenses is not by a lobbyist or a principal of a lobbyist that the same may be accepted as a gift even if the discharge of official duties is not involved. Under such circumstances the reporting of such gift would be required pursuant to the provisions of the Act pertaining to Statements of Financial Interests due annually on or before April 1 of each year.
In addition, from the information furnished, we do not know whether the host is a lobbyist or a principal of a lobbyist. If the host is either, section 49-1490 could be involved. That section provides that a gift may not be given to a public official by a lobbyist or on behalf of a lobbyist or to a member of the official's immediate family, nor may a gift be received by such public official under such circumstances. A gift is defined as a "payment, . . ., honorarium, . . . or anything of value, the value of which exceeds $10 in any one-month period, unless consideration of equal or greater value is received therefor.