Washington 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.
Washington is among the 22 states that established outside oversight of ethical conduct and/or disclosure requirements of legislators in the post-Watergate 1970s.
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 -Washington 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.
Washington 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, unlike Washington’s, which cannot. 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 Washington’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. Washington 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.
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.
Washington 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?
Yes. Washington has the Washington Legislative Ethics Board, which is enabled by Revised Code of Washington s.42.52.310. The board consists of two senators, two house members and five citizen members.
Are there state statutes that address ethical conduct for legislators?
Yes. Revised Code of Washington Chapter 42.52, “Ethics in Public Services” contains provisions that apply to legislators.
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.
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