As published in the Record Journal Sunday January 24, 2010
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Wallingford Republicans are holding a $40-a-ticket testimonial dinner for Mayor Bill Dickinson on February 6.
Some 200 tickets have been sold to date, yielding $8,000. The money will cover the cost of dinner and anything left over, according to Republican town Councilor Craig Fishbein, will go to the Wallingford Foundation for the Arts. None will go to Dickinson, who, in his characteristic way, has said he is a “reluctant participant.”
This is all well and good, but there happens to be a state law, General Statutes sec. 9-609(b). It defines a “testimonial” as being “an affair held in honor of an individual who holds . . . an office subject to this chapter.” Then the section adds [with some significance given Dickinson’s “reluctance”] “No testimonial affair shall be held without the consent of such person.”
The section then forbids testimonials for anyone during the term of his or her office, except to raise funds as defined in the rest of the chapter.
What is a testimonial dinner, anyway? It may mean merely a dinner at which tribute is paid to someone. More likely, especially in sports, it’s a fund-raiser. Hence, in the chapter of state law applying to election campaigns and expenses, it comes as no big surprise to find testimonial dinners regulated.
On the other hand, if no funds are to be given to Mayor Dickinson but will go instead to the Arts Foundation, a bona fide charity, is there any reason for a prohibition? There would seem not to be.
But there is a statute. The law is the law. Democratic Town Chairman Vincent Avallone, an attorney, has sent a letter to his counterpart, Republican Chairman Robert Prentice, referencing the law in question. He has also been in touch with the State Elections Enforcement Commission, but has not filed any complaint.
Councilor Fishbein, who is also an attorney, has said he doesn’t think the dinner constitutes a violation of the law any more than a birthday party would. A birthday party could actually be more of an issue since it results in gifts which are not condoned under the ethics rules.
So it boils down to conflicting legal views of the situation, and that’s why our society has attorneys. Most laws and rules are capable of multiple interpretations, and it is tough to be sure all the time. Perhaps the SEEC will be asked to rule, perhaps not.
One cannot live in the shadows of possible violations, and one can only admire Chairman Prentice’s approach: “You know what? We’ll go through with it because what are they going to do to us, fine us?”