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Free Transportation Ban

What Does the Ban Do?

The California Constitution prohibits public officers from accepting passes or discounts from transportation companies. The ban is currently contained in article XII, section 7, of the California Constitution.

What is the Origin of the Ban?

The genesis of the ban emanates from the early days of California and lies with the historical relationship between the legislature and the railroads.

The ban focused on the corruptive influences of gifts of free transportation by railroads and other transportation companies to legislators and other public officials.

In 1970, a proposal to repeal this provision from the Constitution was defeated by the electorate.

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What are the Elements of the Ban?

The Free Transportation Ban can be reduced down to five component parts. Let’s take a look at how each of the components applies.

Element 1

The ban is violated when a transportation company makes a gift of transportation or discounts the price of transportation to a public officer.

Element 2

The ban applies to public officers, both elected and non-elected, but does not apply to employees.

Element 3

The ban applies to interstate and foreign carriers, as well as domestic carriers.

Element 4

The ban applies regardless of whether the pass or discount was provided in connection with personal or public business.

Element 5

Violation of the ban is punishable by forfeiture of office.

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Gifts or Discounts from a Transportation Company

The ban only applies to gifts made by transportation companies. For example, a prohibited gift includes an airline ticket or rail pass provided by the airline or railroad as well as free transportation received by officers on the lightrail, a bus or even in a taxi if provided by the owning company. The ban does not apply when a ticket or pass is donated to a charity for a door prize and an officer wins the prize.

For purposes of the ban, the receipt of free transportation includes all other benefits accompanying the transportation.

For example, when a railroad wished to provide transportation to some state and local public officers from San Francisco to the Dixieland Jazz Festival in Sacramento, along with food, beverages, and entertainment, the officials in question were advised that the railroad should not merely charge them the standard fare for the transportation.

Rather, all of the benefits received along with the transportation should be included in computing the value of the transportation. Officials who paid the full value of the goods and services could avoid receipt of a prohibited gift.

Where the gift or discount is made to the officer, as part of a larger group, and without regard to official status, the ban may not apply. For example, if the officer’s spouse is employed by a transportation company and receives free or discounted transportation as an employment benefit, receipt of such a benefit by the officer solely as a result of the marital relationship would not trigger the ban.

Similarly, when a honeymooning official received an upgrade in airline service, the ban was not triggered because the upgrade was provided as a part of the airline’s policy of providing free first-class upgrades to all persons on their honeymoons.

These situations are distinguishable from the case in which a mayor received a free first-class airline upgrade as a part of a promotion designed to bestow upgrades on high-profile, prominent individuals in the community. In that case, the mayor received the upgrade as a result of his status as mayor and not as a result of his participation in some larger group unrelated to his official status. For that reason, the mayor was found to have violated the ban.

Let's Review

Question: Cy is a deputy director. He has accumulated twenty thousand miles on his personal airline mileage program, and is entitled to a free ticket to any location in the country where his airline flies. May Cy accept the ticket?

Yes. He may accept it.

No. Accepting it would violate the Free Transportation Ban.

Answer: Yes. Cy may accept the free ticket because it was earned as part of a program designed to promote that airline, and the program was offered to the public generally without regard to official status.

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Only Officers are Covered

The ban specifically applies to public officers and does not apply to employees. However, the officer/employee distinction is not always an easy one to make.

It is generally said that an office requires the vesting in an individual of a portion of the sovereign powers of the state.

For purposes of the ban, if a particular individual actually sets or makes policy, he or she is an officer. However, if the official merely advises policy makers, the official is probably not an officer.

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The Ban Covers Both Interstate and Intrastate Travel

Here’s Jessica Carrington speaking with Jose Lopez about the logistics of the Free Transportation Ban. Follow along to learn more.

Jessica: “Jose, on this Free Transportation Ban, I understand it applies to gifts or discounts provided by a transportation company to officers, and not employees. But, does the ban apply to travel outside of California?”

Jose: “Over the years, the Attorney General has interpreted the constitutional ban against the acceptance of passes or discounts from transportation companies to apply to interstate as well as intrastate carriers and transportation.”

Jessica: “If a carrier is not regulated by the officer, would the ban still apply?”

Jose: “The prohibition applies to local, national, and international carriers whether or not the officer has any regulatory or other jurisdiction over the carrier.”

Jessica: “Does it matter that I will be on vacation? In other words, does the ban apply for personal travel or is it only for public business?”

Jose: “The Free Transportation Ban applies to both personal travel and travel on public business.”

Jessica: “What happens if the official accepts free transportation despite the ban?”

Jose: “An official who accepts transportation in violation of the ban is deemed to forfeit his or her public office.”

Jessica: “Thanks for filling me in on this one, Jose. Once again, making a mistake can lead to serious consequences.”

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The Ban Covers Both Public and Personal Travel

The issue of public versus personal business is generally not viewed as relevant to the application of the ban. There is a specific exception for Public Utility Commissioners who are authorized to accept free transportation in connection with the performance of their official duties. For all others, the ban against the acceptance of free passes or discounts for transportation applies equally to personal and business travel.

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Violation of the Free Transportation Ban Means Forfeiture of Office

The Constitution specifically provides that an officer can be removed from office for accepting a pass or discount from a transportation company.

Let's Review

Question: Jennifer is a deputy director with a state agency. An airline wishes to persuade California to embrace a new technology in public transportation. The airline wishes to give Jennifer a pass on its airline to fly her to Austria to witness the technology. Can she accept? Yes or No.

Answer: No. Even though the travel does not benefit her personally, Jennifer may not accept because doing so would be a violation of the Free Transportation Ban.

Let's Review

Question: Susan holds a civil service position as a program analyst to Jennifer. An airline has given her a free airline trip to Hawaii. Would she be in violation of the ban if she accepted the gift? Yes or No.

Answer: No. Susan would not be violating the Free Transportation Ban as the ban applies to officers, and not employees.

Let's Review

Question: An airline donates two tickets to a charity. The tickets are used as a prize at a free drawing to promote a charity fund raising campaign. Meg, a director of a state department, wins the prize. Select the statement below that is true. There is only one correct response.

  1. Meg’s acceptance of the tickets would not violate the ban so long as they were for personal use, not business use.
  2. Meg’s acceptance would not violate the ban unless the tickets are for an out-of-state destination.
  3. Meg’s acceptance of the tickets would violate the ban.
  4. Meg’s acceptance would not violate the ban since the tickets were provided to Meg by the charity and not the airline.

Answer: d. As long as the tickets are from the charity and not from the airline, Meg may accept them without violating the Free Transportation Ban.

Let's Review

Question: Jeff, an officer of a California state agency, accepted transportation in violation of the ban. Based solely on the ban, what consequences does he face? Select the correct answer below. There is only one correct answer.

  1. Jeff must reimburse the transportation company for the full value of the gift or discount.
  2. Jeff may be subject to criminal prosecution.
  3. Jeff may be removed from office.
  4. Jeff may be subject to a civil lawsuit for money damages.

Answer: c. Under the ban, the only sanction is removal from office.

Remember These Points

  • The ban on free transportation applies to passes or discounts from transportation companies for both personal and business travel.
  • The Free Transportation Ban applies only to officers not employees.
  • Violation of the Free Transportation Ban means forfeiture of office.
  • The Free Transportation Ban covers both inter- and intrastate transportation.

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You have completed the "Free Transportation Ban" module. The next module is Incompatible Activities of State Officers and Employees.

presented by
The California Attorney General's Office and the Fair Political Practices Commission

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