Methodology

This study surveyed how effectively states monitor and enforce ethics and disclosure provisions among state legislatures

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This study surveyed how effectively states monitor and enforce ethics and disclosure provisions among state legislatures. No two states handle legislative ethics exactly the same way, so for the purposes of this study the Center for Public Integrity defined a set of criteria in an attempt to analyze and compare state ethics agencies that performed similar functions for the legislature.

The Center survey focused on six categories of information about each state agency:

  • Autonomy — from the legislature
  • Resources — staffing and funding
  • Jurisdictional reach — what types of laws in purview
  • Enforcement capabilities — according to statute
  • Actual enforcement — according to agency interviews
  • Transparency — availability of public record

A distinction became apparent between states that have outside oversight of ethical conduct laws for legislators and states that do not. Among the states with no outside oversight of legislative conduct, Center researchers identified another distinction — between states that do have outside oversight of disclosure regulations for legislators and states that do not. The survey was designed to account for these distinctions. For independent agencies, the Center determined whether they regulated:

  • Ethical conduct of legislators
  • Personal financial disclosure by legislators
  • Campaign finance disclosure by legislators

The Center opted not to survey ethics bodies that are closely tied to a state legislature. However, the report provides information resources about such bodies, including:

  • Legislative ethics committees provided for in statute
  • Ethics oversight under the jurisdiction of secretaries of state and/or attorneys general

Once this definition was translated into survey questions, Center researchers began rounds of calls to state ethics officials, hours of scouring ethics agency Web sites, searches of state statutes and more follow-up calls. Most answers to survey questions in each state are confirmed by an interview with an official, as well as a statute reference. The majority of the research took place for the year between October 2000 and October 2001.

Survey Questions

On the books

1. Does the ethics law include specific provisions governing state legislators' official conduct (not including disclosure requirements) and penalties for violations of those provisions?

2. Are any violations of the ethics statutes by a legislator punishable by incarceration?

3. Are the ethics agency and its powers provided for in the state constitution?

Staff and budget

4. How much has the ethics agency's budget increased between the fiscal years 1997 and 2000?

5. How many full time staff members does the ethics agency employ?

Disclosure oversight

6. To what extent does the agency oversee personal financial disclosure requirements for state lawmakers?

  • Acts as a repository (receives, stores and makes copies available)
  • Enforces filing deadlines
  • Has audit authority (can look into content and completeness of filing)

The ethics agency has no oversight of personal financial disclosure requirements for state lawmakers.

7. To what extent does the agency oversee campaign disclosure requirements for state lawmakers?

  • Acts as a repository (receives, stores and makes copies available)
  • Enforces filing deadlines
  • Has audit authority (can look into content and completeness of filing)

The ethics agency has no oversight of campaign disclosure requirements for state lawmakers.

Conduct oversight

8. Does the agency oversee any aspect of entities/agents registered to lobby the state legislature?

Does the agency have the statutory authority to oversee/enforce the following categories of conduct for state lawmakers?

9. Conflicts of interest

10. Improper use of office/use of power for personal gain/abuse of power

11. Nepotism

12. Honorarium

13. Gifts

14. Post-term employment restrictions

Investigation powers

15. Can the agency initiate its own investigations?

  • If not, can the agency investigate anonymous complaints?

16. Can the commission issue subpoenas?

Enforcement powers

17. Does the agency have the power to levy fines directly upon state lawmakers?

  • If not, can the agency recommend fines be levied upon state lawmakers?

18. Does the agency have the power to criminally prosecute violations of the ethics statutes? o If not, can the agency recommend violations be criminally prosecuted?

19. Does the statute provide the agency the power to remove legislators from office for violations of the ethics statutes?

  • If not, can the agency recommend a legislator be removed from office for a violation?

Opinions and investigative findings

20. Can the agency issue advisory opinions to state lawmakers?

  • If so, are legislator names included when published?
  • Are opinions available on the Internet?
  • If not available on the Internet, is the copy charge less than 50 cents per page?

21. Are investigative findings binding upon a legislator?

  • If so, are legislator names included when published?
  • Are investigative findings available on the Internet?
  • If not available on the Internet, is the copy charge less than 50 cents per page?

22. Has the agency made a finding against a serving lawmaker who violated the FILING REQUIREMENTS (either personal or campaign filing) of ethics statute in the last five years?

23. Has the agency made a finding against a serving lawmaker who violated the ETHICAL CODE OF CONDUCT portion of the ethics statute in the last five years?

Meetings

24. How many public meetings are scheduled per year?

25. Are minutes for public meetings available on the Internet?

  • If not available on the Internet, is the copy charge less than 50 cents per page?

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