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Almost all states provide external oversight of their ethics laws through an ethics commission established in statute or in the constitution. In the states that do not have ethics commissions, oversight is provided through other state agencies such as the secretary of state or the office of the attorney general. Additionally, almost all state legislatures have some semblance of an ethics committee, which provides internal oversight on ethics rules and laws.
Ethics commissions represent the public’s interest and have a similar purpose: to ensure that groups under their jurisdiction follow state ethics laws. These jurisdictions can include the legislative and executive branches, local elected officials, candidates, lobbyists and vendors. As regulatory entities, ethics commissions have various powers and duties. Two key functions include investigating complaints of violations of ethics laws and providing advisory opinions to individuals under the commission’s jurisdiction. After investigation, if an ethics violation is found, many commissions have the power to prosecute and/or levy sanctions on the offender. Other responsibilities range from administrative functions, such as developing forms and manuals and issuing reports, to examining disclosure reports, and conducting ethics training.
Ethics committees also exist to ensure compliance with laws and rules and perform many of the same functions as commissions. Committees can receive and investigate complaints, hold hearings on violations, and issue sanctions. While most committees only have jurisdiction over the legislature, a few oversee lobbyist activities. Nearly all committees are composed of legislators only, thereby making it imperative that committee members uphold the public’s trust and maintain credibility.
Here are key issues covered by these documents:
- Advisory opinions and the appeals process
- Authority to investigate, prosecute, and levy sanctions
- Commissions (name, contact information, membership)
- Committees (name, membership, powers and duties, process)
- Complaints (process, frivolous, initiating, when made public)
- Criminal penalties for public corruption/violation of ethics laws
- Differences between commissions and committees
- Ethics training
- Penalties for public corruption/violation of ethics laws
- Powers and duties