Legislators, public employees, and other public servants may face severe consequences for violating the public trust.
The range of penalties includes censure, removal from office, permanent disqualification from holding any state position, restitution, decades in prison, and fines up into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Not all ethics violations are treated equally. Punishments correspond to how bad an instance of misconduct is viewed in the eyes of a state with consideration of the harm a violation may cause. The most severe consequences are normally reserved for cases of bribery involving large sums or similar types of violations. Like most issues in ethics, however, states vary widely on the details.
The criminal justice process works separately from commissions and committees to impose punishments for wrongdoing. Each may discipline violators of ethics laws using criminal or administrative penalties, respectively, independently and concurrently, depending on the law violated.
The following table details the variety of consequences that correspond to different types of ethical violations, with the emphasis on statutory provisions. Administrative rules and chamber rules, which public officials and employees may also be bound by, are not included in this table. For example, a state's statutes may not require that a legislator be removed from office for engaging in nepotism, but the offender may still be removed from office if provided for by some other policy or procedure not covered here. Provisions may also subject to judicial interpretation and common law principals not included here.
VIOLATIONS AND PENALTIES
Bribing is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three or four years. Cal. Penal Code § 85. Acceptance of a bribe is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three, or four years and, in cases in which no bribe has been actually received, by a restitution fine of not less than $4,000 or not more than $20,000 or, in cases in which a bribe was actually received, by a restitution fine of at least the actual amount of the bribe received or $4,000, whichever is greater, or any larger amount of not more than double the amount of any bribe received or $20,000, whichever is greater. In imposing a fine under this section, the court shall consider the defendant's ability to pay the fine. Cal. Penal Code § 86. Shall also result in forfeiture of elected office. Cal. Penal Code § 88.
Intoxicated while in discharge of the duties of his office is a misdemeanor. Shall result in forfeiture of office. Cal. Gov't Code § 3001.
Willful or knowing violation of the statutory chapter on ethics, i.e. Title 9. Political Reform, is a misdemeanor. In addition to other penalties provided by law, a fine of up to $10,000 or three times the amount failed to be reported, unlawfully contributed, expended, gave or received may be imposed upon conviction for each violation. Cal. Gov't Code § 91000.