Committees and Commissions: What's the Difference?

1/15/2019

Committees and commissions are the two primary types of entities tasked with the oversight of legislative ethics. The two terms may be used interchangeably in some circumstances, and they perform a similar function. However, committees and commissions are not the same thing.

The most clearly distinguishable feature is that a “committee” operates as a means of internal regulation of legislators by the legislature, while “commission” serves as an external review process. Committees normally consist of legislators, while legislators do not serve on commissions in most states.

This table describes the distinguishing characteristics of committees and commissions. For additional information, refer to NCSL's other resources on ethics oversight.

This table is intended to provide general information and does not necessarily address all aspects of this topic. Because the facts of each situation may vary, this information may need to be supplemented by consulting legal advisors.

Ethics Committees and Ethics Commissions

ETHICS COMMITTEES

ETHICS COMMISSIONS

Members are state legislators.

Members are citizens or public officials appointed by governors or other leaders. Roughly half of states forbid public officials from serving on ethics commissions.

Internal oversight. Committee members oversee their peers compliance with ethics laws.

External oversight. Commission members oversee state employees and public officials compliance with ethics laws.

Legislative branch. Can be a joint committee, or each chamber within the legislature can have its own.

Most are part of the executive branch, although their budgets, in most states, are controlled by the legislature.

Duties may include:

  • Considering their colleagues' violations of ethics statutes;
  • Administering state ethics laws in states without committees;
  • Authoring a single chamber's codes of ethics, or both if a joint committee.

Duties may include:

  • Adopting regulations pertaining to state's ethics laws, providing ethics training;
  • Investigating ethics complaints and determining penalties or issuing advisory opinions;
  • Receiving financial disclosure and lobbyist reporting statements.

Jurisdiction includes only the legislature.

Jurisdiction sometimes includes the legislature, often includes other branches of state government.

Present in some form in all 50 states.

Present in some form in most states, most with jurisdiction over the legislative branch. May not have authority over legislators, or may have multiple commissions with responsibilities divided based on subject matter.