State Ethics Commission Meeting Held
October 16, 2018
The Alabama REALTORS® Public Policy Team attended the Alabama Ethics Commission meeting on October 3. The Ethics Commission is the state body charged with enforcing certain state laws including the ethics laws and Fair Campaign Practices Act, both of which impact the REALTOR® mission of advocacy. At the meeting, the Ethics Commission issued Advisory Opinions and heard appeals of fines for reporting violations of the Fair Campaign Practices Act.
The Ethics Commission released three advisory opinions.
- Advisory Opinion 2018-11 affirmatively states that the Ethics Commission can vacate and/or reduce penalties from violations of the Fair Campaign Practices Act. The Commission hears appeals of civil penalties (fines) issued by the Secretary of State against political action committees (PACs) and political candidates. This opinion confirms that the Commission can set aside or reduce the fine(s) and offense(s).
- Advisory Opinion 2018-12 confirms that public employees can change agencies or departments and still work with their former agency/department without violating Alabama’s Ethics Laws. When public employees leave public employ to work in private practice, the former public employees are prohibited from interacting with the former agencies or departments for two years. This opinion officially carves out an exception for agency-to-agency changes.
- Advisory Opinion 2018-13 allows public officials to gain and use bonus points for private use, like credit card points or SkyMiles, earned from paying for official travel that is later reimbursed by the government. According to the opinion, section 36-25-5(a) specifically applies to this issue, allowing bonuses to be used for personal use.
The Ethics Commission heard multiple appeals of fines levied by the Alabama Secretary of State’s Office for violations of the Fair Campaign Practices Act. Those appealing primarily asked for leniency due to new rules. The Commission waived some fines while upholding others.
The Secretary of State’s Office has the statutory duty of overseeing the reporting of contributions and expenses by candidates for political office. The Secretary of State levies fines for violations, with fines ranging from under $100 to thousands of dollars. The Ethics Commission is the body tasked with hearing appeals of these fines.
The Alabama Ethics Commission was created in 1973 to oversee Alabama’s ethics laws, now including the Ethics Act and Fair Campaign Practices Act. The Commission consists of five commissioners, appointed by the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Day-to-day activities of the Commission are handled by the Executive Director and staff. The Commission’s Mission is “to ensure that public officials are independent and impartial; that decisions and policies are made in the proper governmental channels; that public office is not used for private gain; and, most importantly, that there is public confidence in the integrity of government.”