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Legislative amendment restores corporate fund-raising potential

by Karen A. Grava - February 12, 2007

The General Assembly last week passed an amendment that allows companies to contribute goods, services, and financial resources to state entities, even if they are companies that are registered as lobbyists or are doing business with a specific state agency.

The amendment reverses a ruling by the State Citizen’s Ethics Advisory Board that interfered with the ability of all state entities – but most directly with the ability of UConn, the vocational technical schools and the other public colleges – to raise private funds, by prohibiting gifts from any vendor doing business with the state agency to which it plans to give funds or from any company registered as a lobbyist.

The advisory board’s ruling prohibited gifts from nearly every major corporation in the state.

It meant, for example, that Pfizer, General Electric, and other major Connecticut corporations could not contribute to UConn or any state agency or public higher education institution, because they are deemed lobbyists under state law.

Likewise, a gift of land United Technologies planned to give to the state to provide additional parking at Rentschler Field would not be permissible.

The legislation, not yet signed by Gov. M. Jodi Rell, continues the prohibition on gifts to individuals, but specifically allows employees to receive product training in certain cases from state vendors.

The legislation was enacted to clarify the original intent of previous legislation that prohibited gifts to individuals from certain donors.

Donors are still prohibited, as was originally intended, from sending state employees to conferences, seminars, and other events, even if those activities would be helpful to them in their jobs.

The bill also notes that vendors cannot make a donation to a state agency and then try to use that contribution to influence procurement decisions.

The legislative action also clarifies that private foundations and alumni associations affiliated with state colleges and schools are not vendors, and can pass contributions on to the schools with which they are affiliated.

“The amendment accomplishes what we needed to do in order to sustain our fund-raising program,” said Rachel Rubin, director of compliance for Storrs and the regional campuses.

“The amendment reinstates the original intent of the General Assembly to prohibit donors from again pursue its legislative mandate to raise private dollars, while still protecting the state from unethical conduct.”

John Martin, president of the UConn Foundation, estimates that the ethics board’s interpretation of the law had cost UConn at least $7 million in contributions, because companies that had registered as lobbyists or conducted business with the state would not contribute until the ruling was clarified.

“The legislative amendment permits once again the corporate contributions that have accomplished so much for UConn,” he says.

“Those contributions have provided us with endowed chairs, scholarships, support for research programs, and other advantages that we would not have otherwise.”

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