Delaware is one of 27 states in which no outside agency oversees ethical conduct of state legislators. It is one of 9 of those states where an outside ethics agency does oversee disclosure for members of the legislature, in this case only personal financial disclosure.
Delaware is one of 9 states that waited until the 1980s or the 1990s to established outside oversight of ethical conduct and/or disclosure requirements of legislators; the Delaware State Public Integrity Commission, in place in 1994, is the most recent ethics agency to be setup.
Of the 32 states that have outside oversight of ethical conduct and/or disclosure requirements for legislators — 23 that cover ethics and disclosure, plus nine that cover disclosure only — Delaware is one of 17 where the legislature has some involvement in choosing commission members. Only three states — California, Hawaii and Massachusetts — have members picked without the input of the legislature.
Delaware is among 10 states that did not approve a budget for its ethics agency exceeding the rate of inflation, or 7 percent, between 1997 and 2000. Those states include Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon and West Virginia. Two state ethics agency budgets — in Missouri and Montana — actually decreased during this time period.
Of the 32 two states with outside ethics and/or disclosure oversight, only two ethics agencies — in Florida and West Virginia — cannot initiate an investigation or investigate an anonymous complaint. Only one agency, Alabama’s, cannot issue subpoenas.
Only Nebraska’s ethics agency can directly prosecute criminal cases against legislators; 25 more agencies can recommend criminal prosecution to the appropriate authority, including Delaware’s ethics agency. Only Rhode Island’s ethics agency has the power to remove legislators from office; another 11 state agencies can recommend removal as part of punishment, including Delaware’s ethics agency.
Opinions and Investigative Findings
All 32 outside agencies that oversee some ethics and/or disclosure requirements for legislators can issue advisory opinions. Delaware is one of 18 states that does publish legislator names within the advisory opinion reports, which can be found on the agency’s Web site. However, Delaware’s ethics agency, like five other states, does not have the power to make its investigative findings binding.
Just three states — Connecticut, Pennsylvania and West Virginia — have not issued a finding against a legislator for violating disclosure-filing requirements in the past five years.
Delaware is among the 18 state agencies, of 32 with oversight of ethics and/or disclosure laws for the legislature, that have at least one public meeting per month, however minutes for those meetings are not on the Web site. Copies can be requested from the state agency.
Since the agency does not oversee legislators’ conduct, is legislative oversight defined in statute?
Yes. Delaware has the House Ethics Committee and the Senate Ethics Committee, which are enabled by Delaware Code Title 29, Part 2, Chapter 10, Section 1003.
Are there state statutes that address ethical conduct for legislators?
Yes. Delaware Code Title 29, Part 5, Chapter 58, “Laws Regulating the Conduct of Officers and Employees of the State,” has provisions that apply to legislators, in addition to s.29-2-10-1002, “Restrictions relating to personal or private interest.”
Note: Some information provided by the Council on Governmental Ethics Laws’ “Ethics Update” 2000. For more information or to purchase the reference, visit www.cogel.org.