Tennessee 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 both personal financial disclosure and campaign finance disclosure.
Tennessee 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.
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 — Tennessee is one of 12 where the legislature appoints at least one commission member. Only three states – California, Hawaii and Massachusetts — have members picked without the input of the legislature.
Tennessee is among 22 states that did approve a budget for its ethics agency exceeding the rate of inflation, or 7 percent, between 1997 and 2000. Those states include Alabama, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Tennessee, Washington and Wisconsin. Six state ethics agency budgets — in Arkansas, Georgia, Maine, Nevada, New Jersey and Washington — at least doubled 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 Tennessee’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, unlike Tennessee’s, which cannot.
Opinions and Investigative Findings
All 32 outside agencies that oversee some ethics and/or disclosure requirements for legislators can issue advisory opinions. Tennessee is one of 18 states that does publish legislator names within the advisory opinion reports, which cannot be found on the agency’s Web site. Copies can be requested from the state agency.
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.
Tennessee 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; minutes for those meetings are on the Web site.
Since the agency does not oversee legislators’ conduct, is legislative oversight defined in statute?
Are there state statutes that address ethical conduct for legislators?
No, except for the standard personal financial disclosure and campaign finance disclosure statutes found in Tennessee Code Annotated Title 2, Chapter 10.
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.