The propriety of joint ventures between private entities and State agencies as well as private financing of State activities has been considered by the State Ethics Commission. Such questions have arisen, in part, because of the current economic climate which has forced State agencies to find new and creative means of underwriting some functions. The Commission has established the following guidelines as a structure under which joint ventures and private financing can be reviewed.

As a threshold matter, the Commission has determined that the identities of all contributors to joint ventures or private financing must be disclosed in order to dispel any perception by the public that an agency is acting improperly.

1. Review Procedure

All proposals for joint ventures between private entities and State agencies or private financing of State activities must receive prior review and approval.

The review and approval procedure must be initiated at the departmental level; the individual making the inquiry must provide the following information to the departmental Ethics Liaison Officer.

a. The nature of the event or activity to be funded, including approximate date, time, duration, location, cost, and identities of participants and attendees.
b. The identities of joint sponsors or donors, including their relationship to the department (e.g., vendor, regulated entity, trade organization).
c. Identification of any amenities that could accrue to the personal benefit of a State officer or employee or special State officer or employee (e.g., overnight stay at a hotel, meals, transportation).
d. Identification of the role to be played by the State agency (e.g., providing speakers, lending the name of the agency to the invitation, funding half the cost).

2. Evaluation and Approval

The departmental Ethics Liaison Officer must make a determination as to whether the joint venture or private financing arrangements would be problematic under Executive Order No. 189, the departmental code of ethics, the Conflicts of Interest Law, any statutory provisions dealing with financing of an agency's activities and/or dealing with charitable activities, and the Commission's Guidelines, including the Guidelines on the Receipt of Gifts, the Guidelines on Attendance at Events and Functions, and the Guidelines Governing the Use of Official Stationery.

The Ethics Liaison Officer's evaluation should include, but not be limited to, the following considerations.

a. The activity or event should be related to the agency's mission. Events such as award dinners or receptions may give rise to public perception problems.
The date, time, and duration of the event should be reviewed as to the appropriateness of scheduling for a business day versus evening or weekday versus weekend. The Ethics Liaison Officer should determine whether the length of time planned is excessive or whether a different arrangement could reduce any requirements for meals or overnight accommodations.
The suitability of the location should be reviewed. For example, meetings held at some locations are perceived differently than meetings held at State-owned facilities.
The cost of an event should be reasonable; annual events (e.g., training conferences) should not become more elaborate due to the infusion of private contributions or joint funding.
The identities of participants and attendees should be scrutinized so that the event does not create the appearance of a close relationship between, for example, State employees and employees of regulated entities. The review should also consider whether more State employees are attending than would be the case without private funding.

b. The identities of joint sponsors or donors should be reviewed to assure that the sponsor/donor has a legitimate interest in the event, that agency activities are not consistently underwritten by the same sponsor, and that improper relationships with vendors, regulated entities and entities doing business with the State agency are avoided. Other factors to be considered are whether the agency solicited the sponsorship or the agency was approached without solicitation and whether additional sponsors should be sought to dispel any perception of improper influence.

c. The Ethics Liaison Officer should consider whether meals, receptions, overnight accommodations, and travel expenses can be eliminated so that State employees are not placed in situations where they would be seen to be accepting things of value from vendors, regulated entities, or entities doing business with the State agency.

d. The role of the State agency should be reviewed to safeguard against the mere lending of an agency name to an event to legitimize an activity that would not otherwise be permitted under the Commission's Guidelines for Attendance at Events and Functions.

3. Notification to the Commission

The Commission must be copied on all joint venture and private financing determinations and reserves its statutory authority to accept, modify or reject all such determinations.

Adopted at the Commission's
Public meeting on March 19, 1992.