State Penalties and Prosecution for Ethics Violations

Does Punishment Fit the Crime? State Penalties and Prosecution for Ethics Violations

By Cassandra Kirsch | Vol . 22, No. 14 / April 2014


Early in American history, our Founding Fathers recognized the need to protect the legislative process from interference, including by other branches of government. These concerns were spelled out in various provisions of the U.S. Constitution, from Article I, Section 9, Clause 8, which restricts government officials from receiving gifts from foreign states without the consent of Congress, to Article I, Section 6, Clause 2, which prohibits a senator or representative from holding any other federal office while serving in Congress.

The need to protect the legislative process has also concerned the states, with many building penalties for unethical behavior by government officials into their laws and creating ethics oversight agencies to enforce them. However, states conceptualize corruption differently. Inappropriate conduct by a public official may be a felony in one state and a misdemeanor in another.

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