Frequently Asked Questions

The Ethics Commission generally deals with issues involving conflicts of interest, or the use of office for personal gain, on the part of public officials and public employees in Alabama. We do this through both our Opinions process and our enforcement process.

A public official is “any person elected to public office, whether or not that person has taken office, by the vote of the people at state, county, or municipal level of government or their instrumentalities, including governmental corporations, and any person appointed to a position at the state, county, or municipal level of g overnment or their instrumentalities, including governmental corporations. For purposes of this chapter, a public official includes the chairs and vice-chairs or the equivalent offices of each state political party as defined in Section 17-13-40.” Ala. Code § 36-25-1(27).

A “public employee” is any person employed at the state, county, or municipal level of government or their instrumentalities, including governmental corporations and authorities, but excluding employees of hospitals or other health care corporations including contract employees of those hospitals or other health care corporations, who is paid in whole or in part from state, county, or municipal funds. For purposes of this chapter, a public employee does not include a person employed on a part-time basis whose employment is limited to providing professional services other than lobbying, the compensation for which constitutes less than 50 percent of the part-time employee's income. Ala. Code § 36-25-1(26).

No. Public Officials and Public Employees may not use their official position to benefit their “family members” or businesses with which they are associated. “Lobbyists” and “Principals” are subject to many provisions of the Ethics Act, as well.

Family member of the public employee includes the spouse or a dependent of the public employee.

Family member of the public official includes the spouse, a dependent, an adult child and his or her spouse, a parent, a spouse's parents, a sibling and his or her spouse, of the public official.

Ala. Code §§36-25-1 (14)(15).

The term lobbyist includes any of the following:

  1. A person who receives compensation or reimbursement from another person, group, or entity to lobby.
  2. A person who lobbies as a regular and usual part of employment, whether or not any compensation in addition to regular salary and benefits is received.
  3. A consultant to the state, county, or municipal levels of government or their instrumentalities, in any manner employed to influence legislation or regulation, regardless whether the consultant is paid in whole or part from state, county, municipal, or private funds.
  4. An employee, a paid consultant, or a member of the staff of a lobbyist, whether or not he or she is paid, who regularly communicates with members of a legislative body regarding pending legislation and other matters while the legislative body is in session.

The term lobbyist does not include any of the following:

  1. An elected official on a matter which involves that person's official duties.
  2. A person or attorney rendering professional services in drafting bills or in advising clients and in rendering opinions as to the construction and effect of proposed or pending legislation, executive action, or rules or regulations, where those professional services are not otherwise connected with legislative, executive, or regulatory action.
  3. Reporters and editors while pursuing normal reportorial and editorial duties.
  4. Any citizen not lobbying for compensation who contacts a member of a legislative body, or gives public testimony on a particular issue or on particular legislation, or for the purpose of influencing legislation and who is merely exercising his or her constitutional right to communicate with members of a legislative body.
  5. A person who appears before a legislative body, a regulatory body, or an executive agency to either sell or purchase goods or services.
  6. A person whose primary duties or responsibilities do not include lobbying, but who may, from time to time, organize social events for members of a legislative body to meet and confer with members of professional organizations and who may have only irregular contacts with members of a legislative body when the body is not in session or when the body is in recess.
  7. A person who is a member of a business, professional, or membership organization by virtue of the person's contribution to or payment of dues to the organization even though the organization engages in lobbying activities.
  8. A state governmental agency head or his or her designee who provides or communicates, or both, information relating to policy or positions, or both, affecting the governmental agencies which he or she represents.

Ala. Code § 36-25-1 (21).

A “principal” is a person or business which employs, hires, or otherwise retains a lobbyist. Ala. Code § 36-25-1 (24).

“Any business of which the person or a member of his or her family is an officer, owner, partner, board of director member, employee, or holder of more than five percent of the fair market value of the business.” Ala. Code § 36-25-1(2). A “business” is defined as “any corporation, partnership, proprietorship, firm, enterprise, franchise, association, organization, self-employed individual, or any other legal entity.” Ala. Code § 36-25-1(1).

No. We are responsible for collecting Statements of Economic Interest forms, lobbyist and principal disclosure forms, and many other documents from public officials in Alabama.

Yes, and you may search these documents directly from this website.

Yes. The Commission has jurisdiction over the Fair Campaign Practices Act (FCPA), as well. If you’re a candidate or office holder, the following links will take you to the FCPA:

Fair Campaign Practices Act - Alabama Code
Fair Campaign Practices Act

There is a list of 25 qualifiers for those individuals who must file a Statement of Economic Interests form, see the list here:

Who Must File

Each entity at the state, county and municipal levels (your employer) determines who should file a SEI form and sends a listing of those individuals to the Ethics Commission each year. However, if you’re unsure whether you should file a Statement of Economic Interests form, please call our office and ask.

The Commission staff can give guidance through either our Formal Advisory Opinion process or our Informal Opinion process. There is a significant difference between these two types of Opinions. Our Informal Opinion process is meant to provide general guidance about an issue which the Commission has formally addressed in the past. Requests for Informal Opinions do not provide you with legal protection and are meant to be general guidance only. All requests for Informal Opinions must be in writing and all responses must be in writing. We cannot give informal opinions over the phone or in an office consultation; we can only give informal opinions on a prospective issue (in other words, we cannot “bless” past conduct), and we can’t give informal third-party opinions.

Formal Advisory Opinions, on the other hand, are formal determinations actually voted on by our Commission in a public meeting. Those individuals who receive Formal Advisory opinions are protected from prosecution as long as their conduct is consistent with the guidance provided in the Opinion and as long as all the necessary facts were given to the Commission prior to its rendering the Opinion.

You may either email or write the Commission office making the request. You should send the request to the attention of the Commission’s General Counsel.

Formal Advisory Opinions are voted on by the Commission Members at regularly scheduled meetings held every 60 days (Meeting Dates).

With informal opinions, we do our best to answer them as quickly as we can but it will not be the same day in most cases. If you’ve made a request for an opinion and haven’t heard from us, you may call us and ask for the status.

You may. The Commission often “precertifies” events for organizations and Associations that host these kinds of things. All requests for precertification must be received at least 10 days ahead of the event. We will not precertify any event on less than 10 days’ notice. Our failure to precertify does not mean that you cannot host the event or that the event violates the Ethics Act. It simply means that we have not approved it.

No. Both anonymous complaints and filing as a “straw man” are prohibited by state law. You must sign the complaint and it can only be based on credible and verifiable information.

The staff of the Commission reviews it to make sure it states a violation of the Act. If it does not, then we may either request additional information from you or dismiss the Complaint. If the Complaint does state a violation of the Act, then we will assign it to an investigator for investigation. If after investigating the Complaint the investigators in consultation with the General Counsel and the Executive Director of the Commission determine that the allegations are credible, we will present the information to our Commissioners who will then determine whether probable cause exists that a violation has occurred. We will then either refer the matter to the Office of the Attorney General, the District Attorney in the location where the violation occurred, or impose an Administrative fine.

All Complaints must be resolved within 180 days from receipt. The staff of the Commission can request one 180-day extension. Therefore, a complaint could remain pending with the Commission for 360 days.

Intentional violations of the Ethics Act are Class B felonies punishable upon conviction with a sentence of between 2-20 years in prison per violation and a fine of up to $20,000.00 per violation. All other violations are Class A misdemeanors punishable, upon conviction, of up to a year in prison per violation and a fine of up to $6,000.00 per violation. It may either be referred to the Attorney General’s office or the appropriate District Attorney for presentation to a grand jury for possible prosecution, or the Commission may resolve the matter administratively through the imposition of a fine. Administrative resolutions are limited to minor violations (defined as less than $250.00 gain to the public official or employee, or less than $250.00 loss to the public entity). Administrative fines may not exceed $1,000.00 per violation.

The Statute of Limitations for intentional violations is 4 years. Otherwise, it’s governed by a 2-year Statute of Limitations.

Because the existence of the complaint and any investigation into the Complaint are protected by Alabama’s Grand Jury Secrecy laws, we request that you refrain from discussing the matter publicly.

No, not from the Commission. If the Complaint against you appears to have merit, then the Commission is required to give you a summary of the allegations against you no later than 45 days prior to any hearing on the Complaint. Moreover, you are entitled to receive some of the evidence against you under Alabama’s Rules of Criminal Procedure.

It may either be referred to the Attorney General’s office or the appropriate District Attorney for presentation to a grand jury for possible prosecution, or the Commission may resolve the matter administratively through the imposition of a fine. Administrative resolutions are limited to minor violations (defined as less than $250.00 gain to the public official or employee, or less than $250.00 loss to the public entity). Administrative fines may not exceed $1,000.00 per violation.

The Ethics Act contains a “whistleblower” provision. It states:

“A supervisor shall not discharge, demote, transfer, or otherwise discriminate against a public employee regarding such employee's compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment based on the employee's reporting a violation, or what he or she believes in good faith to be a violation, of this chapter or giving truthful statements or truthful testimony concerning an alleged ethics violation.” Ala. Code § 36-25-24.

“A supervisor who is alleged to have violated this section shall be subject to civil action in the circuit courts of this state pursuant to the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure as promulgated by the Alabama Supreme Court.” Ala. Code § 36-25-24.

Several provisions in the Code cover this situation, as well.

“No public employee shall file a complaint or otherwise initiate action against a public official or other public employee without a good faith basis for believing the complaint to be true and accurate.” Ala. Code § 36-25-24.

“A public employee who without a good faith belief in the truthfulness and accuracy of a complaint filed against a supervisor, shall be subject to a civil action in the circuit courts in the State of Alabama pursuant to the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure as promulgated by the Supreme Court. Additionally, a public employee who without a good faith belief in the truthfulness and accuracy of a complaint as filed against a supervisor shall be subject to appropriate and applicable personnel action.” Ala. Code § 36-25-24.

“Nothing in this section shall be construed to allow a public employee to file a complaint to prevent, mitigate, lessen, or otherwise to extinguish existing or anticipated personnel action by a supervisor. A public employee who willfully files such a complaint against a supervisor shall, upon conviction, be guilty of the crime of false reporting.” Ala. Code § 36-25-24.

“Nothing in this chapter shall be construed in any manner to prevent or prohibit or otherwise limit a supervisor from disciplining, discharging, transferring, or otherwise affecting the terms and conditions of a public employee's employment so long as the disciplinary action does not result from or is in no other manner connected with the public employee's filing a complaint with the commission, giving truthful statements, and truthfully testifying.” Ala. Code § 36-25-24.