California has such an extensive set of laws to promote public
trust and confidence in public officials that it’s easy to just
focus on those. However, there is a body of federal ethics
laws as well.
Such laws are enforced by the federal government; typically the
local US Attorney’s Office, working with the Federal Bureau of
To preserve the public’s trust, laws were designed at both the
state and federal levels to prevent breaches of trust by local
officials. Therefore, improper conduct can violate both
sets of laws.
State laws tend to be more specific in describing what kind of
behavior crosses the line. Federal law is broader in some
respects and thus arguably offers more opportunities for
In a June 24,
2010 opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court has limited the
scope of the federal crime of “honest services” fraud.
The case involving a private sector actor (former Enron
executive Jeffrey Skilling).
The Hatch Act restricts some federal employees’
partisan political activity as well as those of some
state and local employees who work in connection with
The Office of Special Counsel has a useful website explaining these
restrictions, including how they apply to local employees.