Unofficial Opinion 97-1
You have requested my opinion as to whether you or any other elected official must report as the receipt of a campaign contribution under the Ethics in Government Act the estimated "value" of an appearance at an event which is sponsored by either a public or private entity. It is my unofficial opinion that you and other elected officials do not have to report the estimated value of such appearances as the receipt of a contribution, provided that the events in question are not designed to bring about the nomination or election of the individual official in question.
One of the purposes of the Ethics in Government Act is to establish a requirement of public disclosure of campaign contributions and expenditures relative to the seeking of public offices. O.C.G.A. § 21-5-2. To that end, candidates for public office are required to file with the Secretary of State campaign disclosure reports listing, among other items, information related to contributions they have received. O.C.G.A. § 21-5-34.
The Act broadly defines a contribution to include "a gift, subscription, membership, loan, forgiveness of debt, advance or deposit of money or anything of value conveyed or transferred for the purpose of influencing the nomination for election or election of any person for office." O.C.G.A. § 21-5-3(6). The term "contribution" also includes "other forms of payment made to candidates for office or who hold office when such fees and compensation made can be reasonably construed as a campaign contribution designed to encourage or influence a candidate or public officer holding elective office." Id.
I have previously opined that a social function sponsored by a political action committee may constitute a reportable contribution to an official under the Ethics in Government Act if the purpose of the social function is to influence the nomination or election of an individual for office. 1989 Op. Att'y Gen. 89-47. In determining whether such an event would be a reportable "contribution" received by an official, there must be a factual inquiry made on a case-by-case basis. Id. at 104-05; see also 1975 Op. Att'y Gen. 75-131.
However, it is also clear that officials, by virtue of their office, may very well participate in any number of public events. These may include appearances at public gatherings or speaking to any number of public, private or civic groups. While appearances or involvement in such events may constitute a benefit of some value to the public official, and may incidentally affect their chances for nomination or election to public office, it would be an overly broad interpretation of the statute to hold that every appearance at such events would be a reportable "contribution" under the Act.
Instead, the appropriate interpretation of the statute requires a focusing not on whether there is an incidental benefit to an official, but on the purpose underlying the activity in question. If the purpose of the appearance at an event is to promote the nomination or election of the official for office, then it would be a reportable contribution. This determination must be made on a case-by-case basis by the State Ethics Commission, which is the agency having the authority under the Act to make these determinations.
Therefore, it is my unofficial opinion that under the Ethics in Government Act, an elected official is not required to report as the receipt of a campaign contribution the estimated "value" of his or her attendance at an event sponsored by a public or private entity, where the purpose of the appearance is not designed to bring about the nomination or election of the official.
DENNIS R. DUNN
Senior Assistant Attorney General