ETHICS IN GOVERNMENT
The following is intended to be a summary, in question and answer format, of the Code of Governmental Ethics. The full text of this law can be found at La. R.S. 42:1101, et seq. The following is not intended to constitute legal advice, but is merely intended to summarize the provisions of this law. By its very nature, this is a general presentation. All laws are subject to interpretation based upon the particular facts involved. Additionally, all laws are subject to change, both by legislative action and court decisions, and the following should be understood accordingly. No attempt has been made to identify all exceptions that might exist.
What is the Code of Governmental Ethics?
A set of rules and guidelines that specify ethical standards for public officials and employees. Note that the Code of Governmental Ethics contains specific provisions relative to a variety of public officials. This summary excludes any reference to public officials other than those employed by LCG. For example, this summary does not include specific provisions relative to legislators, hospital service district board members, public trust authority board members or school boards. The complete text of the law can be found at La. R.S. 42:1101, et seq.
Of particular interest in understanding the Code of Governmental Ethics is the fact that it contains a number of very important definitions. The Code uses a number of defined terms, and it is necessary to understand those definitions in order to gain an appreciation of the meaning and effect of the Code. The definitions may be found in La. R.S. 42:1102.
What are the policy objectives of the Code of Governmental Ethics?
To ensure that elected officials and public employees be independent and impartial; that governmental decisions and policy be made in the proper channel of the governmental structure; that public office and employment not be used for private gain other than the remuneration provided by law; and that there be public confidence in the integrity of government.
Who administers the Code of Governmental Ethics?
The Louisiana Board of Ethics. It is composed of eleven members, seven appointed by the Governor with at least one from each congressional district; two elected by the Senate and two elected by the House of Representatives.
What are the duties of the Board?
The Board issues advisory opinions interpreting the Code of Governmental Ethics and conducts private investigations of alleged violations of the Code. It also conducts public hearings to determine whether violations have occurred and, if so, impose penalties. Finally, the Board conducts educational activities, seminars and publishes appropriate materials to provide instruction as to the rules of ethics.
What is meant by a "thing of economic value"? How is that term defined?
"Thing of economic value" means money or any other thing having economic value.
However, the term does not include the following:
- Promotional items having no substantial resale value;
- Food, drink, or refreshments consumed by a public servant, including reasonable transportation and entertainment incidental thereto, consumed while the personal guest of some person; or
- Salary and related benefits due to public employment.
What conduct or activity is prohibited by the Code of Ethics?
There are a variety of actions which are prohibited. A summary of those would be, as follows:
- Receipt of a thing of economic value from a source other than the governmental entity for the performance of official duties and responsibilities.
- Receipt of a thing of economic value for the performance of a service substantially related to public duties or which draws on non-public information.
- Receipt of a thing of economic value by a public servant for services rendered to or for the following
- persons who have or are seeking to obtain a contractual or other business or financial relationship with the public servant’s agency;
- persons who are regulated by the public employee’s agency; or
- persons who have substantial economic interests which may be substantially affected by the performance or nonperformance of the public employee’s official duties. These same restrictions apply to the public servant’s spouse and to any legal entity in which the public servant exercises control or owns an interest in excess of 25%.
- Solicitation or acceptance of a thing of economic value as a gift from any of the persons listed in C, above; however, the restrictions against the receipt of gifts from persons regulated by a public employee’s agency or from persons who may be substantially affected by his or her performance or nonperformance or his or her official duty applies only to “public employees” and not to elected officials. In addition, elected officials are not allowed to solicit or accept anything of economic value from paid lobbyists or their employers.
- Receipt of a thing of economic value for assisting someone with a transaction with the agency of the public servant.
- Participation by a public servant in a transaction involving the governmental entity in which any of the following persons have a substantial economic interest:
- the public servant;
- any member of his or her immediate family;
- any person in which he has an ownership interest that is greater than the interest of a general class;
- any person of which he is an officer, director, trustee, partner, or employee;
- any person with whom he is negotiating or has an arrangement concerning prospective employment;
- any person who is indebted to him or is a party to an existing contract with him and by reason thereof is in a position to affect directly his or her economic interests. See next question concerning “recusal.”
- Bidding on, entering into, or being in any way interested in any contract, subcontract or other transaction under the supervision or jurisdiction of the public servant’s agency. This restriction also applies to the immediate family members of the public servant and to legal entities in which the public servant and/or his or her family members own an interest in excess of 25%.
- A public servant’s use of the authority of his or her office to compel or coerce a person to provide himself or someone else with a thing of economic value that they are not entitled to by law or the use of the authority of his or her office to compel or coerce a person to engage in political activity. A new subsection was added to the “abuse of office” provision of the Ethics Code by Act 418 of the 1999 Regular Legislative Session. The new provision provides that a regulatory employee is prohibited from participating in any way in the sale of goods or services to persons regulated by his or her agency, if a member of his or her immediate family or if a business enterprise in which the regulatory employee or members of his or her immediate family own in excess of 25%, receives or will receive a thing of economic value by virtue of the sale. It is prohibited for a public servant or other person make a payment, give, loan, transfer, or deliver or offer to give, loan, transfer or deliver a thing of economic value to a public servant when the public servant is prohibited by the Ethics Code from receiving such a thing of economic value.
Under what circumstances may an elected official recuse himself?
An elected official may recuse himself from voting on a matter which could violate the provision specified in Part F above, or he may vote only if he files a sworn disclosure statement describing his or her conflict and the reasons why, despite the conflict, he can cast a vote that is fair, objective and in the best interest of the public. This option is not available when the elected official is the sole decision maker.
Under what circumstances may a family member be employed? What are the rules of nepotism?
- Members of the immediate family of an agency head may not be employed in the agency.
- Members of the immediate family of a member of a governing authority or the chief executive of a governmental entity may not be employed in the governmental entity. The term “governing authority” includes parish councils, police juries, school boards, town councils, boards of aldermen, etc.
- Note that the application of this restriction is not affected by whether the agency head, chief executive or governing authority member has authority over or actually participates in the hiring decision such family members are simply ineligible for employment.
Are there exceptions to these rules concerning nepotism?
Yes. The following exceptions are recognized (again, there are additional exemptions not pertinent to LCG):
- persons employed in violation of this rule continuously since April 1, 1980;
- a person employed for one year prior to their family member becoming an agency head; or
- persons employed as volunteer firefighters.
What are the limitations on a public employee being employed after termination from employment by the former agency?
- During the two year period following the termination of public service as an agency head or elected official, these individuals may not assist another for compensation, in a transaction, or in an appearance in connection with any transaction involving their former agency nor may they render any service on a contractual basis to or for their former agency.
- During the two year period following the termination of public service as a board or commission member, these individuals may not contract with, be employed in any capacity by, or be appointed to any position by, that board or commission. The Board has interpreted “board or commission” to include a collective body that shares responsibility for its actions. This would include school boards, police juries, boards of aldermen, a group of selectmen, a council, etc.
- During the two year period following the termination of public service as a public employee, these individuals may not assist another for compensation, in a transaction, or in an appearance in connection with a transaction involving the agency in which the former public employee participated while employed by the agency nor may the former public employee provide on a contractual basis to his or her former public employer, any service the former public employee provided while employed there.