Overview of the Center for Ethics in Government
When people talk about politics, they don't talk about "the art of governing." They talk about heroes and villains, who-did-what-to-whom, and the unresponsiveness of our political leaders. They may support their own elected representatives, but they don't believe that most elected officials are trustworthy.
The Center for Ethics in Government was organized in 1999 to address this most critical, fundamental and far-reaching problem facing government in America: the loss of public trust and confidence in representative democracy. The Center is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization located at the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) in Denver, Colorado, and funded by NCSL's Foundation for State Legislatures.
The mission of the Center is to be a leader in restoring confidence in representative government by promoting ethical behavior for state legislators, staff, lobbyists and advocates.
The Center champions professional and ethical principles in the legislative process. Our work is to:
Develop ethical standards for legislators and advocates,
Conduct training programs in ethical decision making,
Build a base of information on each state's ethics laws and rules,
Establish a clearinghouse of best practice,
Establish a library of media reporting and professional papers,
Develop a network of speakers and authors,
Hold forums to address issues of ethics and public integrity,
Partner with others to promote civic education,
Prepare legislative analyses of ethics and lobbying laws and study trends.
In representative democracy and the legislative process.
Public office is a public trust.
Public trust extends to all who work in the public sector - elected officials, staff and advocates alike.
Public trust requires us to place the public's interest above our own personal interests.
Legislators, advocates and public servants have a responsibility to exhibit the highest ethical standards and behavior.
All public servants have a particular responsibility to help restore the public's trust in government.
NCSL's Ethics Center has compiled, and continues to update, state-by-state data of ethics laws that affect state legislators and lobbyists. Click here for complied links to state ethics statutes.
Conflict of interest
Conflict of interest may be the most common ethical dilemma faced by public officials. We have compiled information on states' Definitions of Conflict of Interest and several types of conflict of interest laws and rules: Representing Others Before Government, Contracting With Government, Dual Office-Holding, Dual Employment, and Voting Procedures in the face of conflicts of interest. Revolving door laws also fall under our conflict of interest category, which ban legislators from lobbying government after they leave office. Twenty-six states mandate a period of time that must elapse before a former legislator can represent clients before the legislature. These "cooling off period" laws are intended to keep former legislators from using their government connections to benefit themselves or their business interests after they leave office. Find out more at this 50-state table.
Nepotism is hiring a relative. Twenty-three states restrict nepotism to varying degrees, as is outlined in this 50-state table. All 50 states maintain laws that either prohibit the practice or suggest guidelines for conflict-of-interest situations, which may restrict nepotism depending on interpretation of the law.
Personal Financial Disclosure
Personal financial disclosure laws require public servants to open their books, to a certain extent, for public inspection. Many elected and appointed office-holders at the local, state and federal level must abide by versions of these provisions, which are different from campaign finance disclosures. View 50-state charts on requirements involving Income, Client Identification, Creditors and Debtors, Gifts, Honorariums, State Connections, Lobbyist Connections, Household Members.
Lobbyists at the statehouse—whether paid or unpaid—have the job of influencing legislators to support a particular cause or point of view. Legislatures in all 50 states have passed laws regulating lobbyists to ensure that there is a distance between the lobbyists' legitimate role and the interests of the public at large. States' codes of ethics for lobbyists specify Registration Requirements and Fees, Activity Reports, Contingency Fee Prohibitions, the Definition of Lobbying and Lobbyists, and Prohibitions Against False Statements and Name Badges.
Ethics Commissions and Ethics Committees
These bodies oversee that ethics laws and rules are followed. Information is provided for each Ethics Commission and Ethics Committee. All states have an ethics committee that provides internal oversight, or the ability to appoint an ad hoc committee. In addition, 41 states have ethics commissions. The Center compares the two at Ethics Committees & Commissions: What's the Difference? A list of All State Oversight Agencies is also available.
Many states restrict the value of gifts legislators can receive. Gift giving and receiving is prohibited in all states if it influences official action. From that point on, states differ in the details. Gift restriction statutes, outlined in these 50-state tables, include Gift Restriction Overview; Giving, Receiving and Reporting Food; and Hospitality at Outside Meetings.
Honorariums are payments for speeches, articles or appearances. Twenty-six states prohibit them if they are offered in connection with a legislator's official duties, as is outlined in this 50-state table. Most states that prohibit honorariums allow reimbursement for travel, lodging and necessary expenses. Twenty-four states allow honorariums or do not specifically address them in statute.