Legislators, public employees, and other public servants may face severe consequences for violating the public trust. The range of penalties includes censure, removal from office, permanent disqualification from holding any state position, restitution, decades in prison, and fines up into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Not all ethics violations are treated equally. Punishments correspond to how bad an instance of misconduct is viewed in the eyes of a state and in consideration of the harm a violation may cause. The most severe consequences are normally reserved for cases of bribery involving large sums or similar types of intentional violations of ethics or anti-corruption laws. Like most issues in ethics, however, states vary widely on the details.
The criminal justice process works separately from commissions and committees to impose punishments for wrongdoing. Each may discipline violators of ethics laws using criminal or administrative penalties, respectively, independently and concurrently, depending on the law violated.
The following table details the variety of consequences that correspond to different types of ethical violations, with the emphasis on statutory provisions. Administrative rules and chamber rules, which public officials and employees may also be bound by, are not included in this table. For example, a state's statutes may not require that a legislator be removed from office for engaging in nepotism, but the offender may still be removed from office if provided for by some other policy or procedure not covered here. Provisions may also subject to judicial interpretation and common law principals not included here.
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. All content is up to date through 09/15/2021.