SUSAN HAIGH, Associated Press
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ The top Connecticut Senate Republican and a potential gubernatorial rival questioned Wednesday whether Gov. Dannel P. Malloy violated any ethics law by letting People magazine pay for his trip to the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, prompting Malloy’s office to seek an advisory opinion from the state ethics panel.
Senate Minority Leader John McKinney of Fairfield called on the Democratic governor to provide all documents and correspondence pertaining to his trip to Saturday’s annual gathering in Washington, D.C., which brings together journalists, government officials, politicians, media personalities and celebrities for an evening of light-hearted banter.
“The governor is in clear violation of state ethics laws,” McKinney said in a statement. “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.”
Malloy’s spokesman, Andrew Doba, said People magazine, which is owned by Time Warner Inc., spent “slightly more than $1,000” on Malloy’s flight, hotel room and ticket to the event, where Malloy sat at the same table with “Parks and Recreation” actress Amy Poehler and “Mad Men” actress Jessica Pare. Doba said the magazine also paid for the ticket of the director of the governor’s Washington, D.C. office.
A spokeswoman for Time Warner Inc. would only confirm that Malloy was a guest of People magazine and referred all questions to Doba.
Malloy’s legal counsel, Luke Bronin, said in a statement that Malloy was invited to the soiree in his official capacity by the magazine. He said the governor’s office has been told in the past that a non-restricted donor _ someone who is not a lobbyist, someone seeking business with the state, or someone regulated by the state _ may pay for a public official’s travel expenses to events that “facilitate state action or functions.”
Bronin said Malloy’s attendance “provided an invaluable opportunity to advance Connecticut’s interests,” adding how it was a rare gathering of senior members of President Barack Obama’s administration, members of Congress, and business and media leaders from around the U.S.
“The Governor’s Office could have paid for Governor Malloy’s trip to the White House Correspondents’ dinner,” Bronin said. “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.”
Bronin said the governor’s office planned to seek a formal advisory opinion on the matter from the Citizen’s Ethics Advisory Board “out of an abundance of respect for Connecticut’s ethics laws.”
Carol Carson, executive director of the Office of State Ethics, could not confirm or deny whether the agency has received any request for an opinion or any allegations. But she said the agency did not receive a request for advice regarding the trip to the dinner in Washington.
McKinney maintains that Malloy’s trip violated state rules that prohibit any public official from accepting gifts in excess of $100 a year from a non-restricted donor. There are, however, numerous exceptions in the law to that prohibition.
McKinney said the rule is designed to stop corporations from spending lavishly to entertain government officials.
He noted that People magazine’s parent company is a member of the Association of Magazine Media, which employs a lobbyist in Connecticut. He questioned claims that the dinner was legitimate state business.
“The governor cannot transform a social event like this into a business meeting merely by talking up Connecticut over champagne and hors d’oeuvres,” McKinney said, “nor can he transform this into a legitimate business trip by scheduling some brief ancillary meeting with a federal official or business group.”
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