Hugh McQuaid photo
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy (Hugh McQuaid photo)

(Updated 12:48 p.m.) Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has written a $1,234.62 personal check reimbursing People magazine for costs it incurred when it paid for the governor’s attendance at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, his spokesman said Thursday.

Malloy’s announcement cames a day after Sen. John McKinney alleged that the governor had violated the state’s ethics rules prohibiting public officials from accepting gifts in excess of $100. In his statement, Malloy spokesman Andrew Doba said the governor decided to reimburse the magazine to “remove a needless distraction when there are far more important public policy issues to deal with.”

Doba reiterated his assertion that the magazine’s payment of the governor’s trip had been appropriate under ethics laws. He said Malloy was advancing Connecticut’s interests while he was in Washington for the dinner. 

“The governor’s office accepted People magazine’s gift in order to relieve taxpayers of the cost. Instead of shifting the cost to the taxpayers, the governor is personally paying the cost,” he said.

The correspondents’ dinner is an annual event attended by the president as well as a host of Washington-based journalists, politicians, and celebrities. The event was held on Saturday in Washington. A spokeswoman for People confirmed that Malloy was a guest of the magazine, but referred further inquiry to Doba.

McKinney, a Fairfield Republican who is considering running for governor in 2014, said Malloy failed to clear the trip with the Office of State Ethics. By letting People magazine pick up the tab, McKinney said Malloy “clearly” used his office illegally for personal gain.

Office of State Ethics Executive Director Carol Carson said Wednesday that the administration did not seek an opinion from her office regarding this weekend’s trip but she could not confirm or deny whether she received any complaints or if she was investigating the trip.

In his Thursday statement, Doba outlined some of the discussions Malloy had while in Washington to promote Connecticut. He met with the small business administration regarding relief for businesses impacted by Hurricane Sandy and federal small business investment programs.

Doba said Malloy also met with members of Congress on federal gun control legislation and proposals to establish a regional infrastructure bank. He said the governor also promoted Connecticut’s digital media sector.

The state’s ethics laws permit public officials to allow interests that do not do business with the state to pay for the costs of events that promote the state’s interests, Doba said. Otherwise, taxpayers or the governor himself would need to pay for it, he said.

“We would rather decrease costs to taxpayers. And we don’t believe that personal wealth should be a prerequisite for the governor’s active promotion of this great state,” he said.

On Wednesday McKinney said if Malloy traveled to Washington to promote Connecticut, it would have been more appropriate under state law if he had used state money to fund it. He also questioned whether the dinner, an annual social event, was a legitimate place to promote Connecticut.

“The governor cannot transform a social event like this into a business meeting merely by talking up the state over champagne and hors d’oeuvres, nor can he transform this into a legitimate business trip by scheduling some brief ancillary meeting with a federal official or business group,” he said.

In a Thursday statement, McKinney said Malloy had begun to make amends by reimbursing People for the trip, but said the administration was wrong for defending accepting the gift in the first place.

“He and his staff continue to set a bad example for elected officials and state government by defending his actions. His dismissive attitude toward state ethics laws sets a dangerous precedent. I look forward to hearing the opinion of the Office of State Ethics on this matter,” he said.

On Wednesday, the governor’s general counsel, Luke Bronin, said the governor’s office would be seeking a formal advisory opinion from the Citizen’s Ethics Advisory Board “out of an abundance of respect for Connecticut’s ethics laws.”  After announcing Malloy would be reimbursing People for the expenses, Doba said the administration considered the issue resolved.

Carson said public officials have 30 days after receiving a gift to repay the expenses. She said Malloy’s reimbursement was a “good resolution.” She said the administration informed her office it was no longer seeking a formal opinion on the matter on Thursday morning.

McKinney said he did not believe Malloy’s reimbursement closed the book entirely on the matter, but stopped short of saying he would personally petition to have the ethics board investigate it.

“Paying back is an important part of it, but it’s not absolving the entire issue. They may try to sweep it under the rug, but this does not put the issue to bed, in my opinion,” he said.