Legal Consequences of Ethics Law Violations
Chart of Potential Penalties
There are a variety of civil, criminal and administrative penalties for violating state or federal ethics laws. Penalties vary depending on the severity of the violation and the degree of intent to violate the law. The potential penalties are outlined in the chart at right. Legal penalties are often only a small part of the overall cost of being the subject of an investigation for ethics laws violations.
- Attorneys fees: Hiring an attorney to advise and represent an official in an FPPC enforcement typically costs $3,000 to $5,000, but fees of in the tens of thousands of dollars are not uncommon for more involved cases. Fees for defending against state or federal criminal charges can be significantly higher, upwards of $1 million or more depending on the complexity of the case.
- Personal Costs: Another cost of facing ethics law violations are the personal costs to the individual. These costs include the loss of livelihood and future employment prospects, the emotional toll and stress on a public official and their family from the negative publicity and enduring damage to the official’s reputation in the community. These costs have sometimes resulted in the official relocating out of the area
Although there is strict liability for violation of most ethics laws, the FPPC may consider intent in its enforcement proceedings under certain circumstances. Efforts to do one’s best to remedy the violation (for example, returning unlawful contributions or gifts, self-reporting potential violations and re-voting on matters without those with conflicts participating) could incline the Commission to issue only a warning letter or reduce fine amounts.