With yesterday’s election of members for all seats in the Alabama Legislature and Constitutional officers, as well as many local officials and judicial positions, newly elected persons will change status from a private citizen to a Public Official. In Alabama, a Public Official is defined, in part, as:
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, …
(Ala. Code § 36-25-1). Thus, all persons elected last night, effective immediately, are subject to the regulations and prohibitions governing transactions with public officials.
Alabama Code Section 36-25-7 (a) provides that:
No person shall offer or give to a public official or public employee or a member of the household of a public employee or a member of the household of the public official and none of the aforementioned shall solicit or receive a thing of value for the purpose of influencing official action.
“Thing of value” is defined by the Code to include:
Any gift, benefit, favor, service, gratuity, tickets or passes to an entertainment, social or sporting event offered only to public officials, unsecured loan, other than those loans made in the ordinary course of business, reward, promise of future employment, or honoraria.
There are some exceptions to what is a “thing of value” that may not be provided to a Public Official, such as campaign contributions, seasonal gifts of an insignificant economic value, some hospitality below daily thresholds (and above which requires disclosure to the Alabama Ethics Commission), and promotional items distributed to the general public.
While “no quid pro quo” would seem obvious to all but the most ethically challenged, our friends and clients are reminded to avoid even the appearance of having improperly influenced official action. For example, benefits provided to members of the Legislature that could appear to be linked to any action taken in the future by a Public Official should be given close scrutiny prior to providing the value, especially if not carved out of the definition for “thing of value.” Moreover, a Public Official must not use his or her position as a means to seek such things of value. (Public Officials and registered lobbyists may also be required to make disclosure with the Alabama Ethics Commission.)
An intentional violation of this provision is a felony.
The bottom line is that application of this law to newly elected officials is immediate, even if the victorious candidate has not taken office. If you have any questions or concerns about your compliance with these provisions, please contact us.