Conflicts of Interest When Leaving Office
Overview of Laws
If you do not stay in state government service for the remainder of your career, you need to know there are restrictions imposed on you once you begin to contemplate your departure from state service. Some of the restrictions apply during the time you are seeking future employment.
Several restrictions apply for a one or two-year period after your departure from state service. Still others remain in effect for the duration of particular proceedings or contracts.
Tim, a public official, is getting ready to leave office and retire. While packing up his personal items, Michelle, a colleague stops by to wish him well.
Michelle: “Hey Tim, I just wanted to stop by on your last day to say how great it has been working with you these past few years.”
Tim: “Thanks Michelle, for coming by. I will really miss you and all of the other great people around here.”
Michelle: “So what are you going to do with all of that extra time?”
Tim: “Actually, I’ve got some truly promising irons in the fire.”
Michelle: “What do you mean?”
Tim: “Once I decided to retire, I started contacting some of the folks in the private sector to see what might be available out there to supplement my state retirement check.”
Michelle: “Tim, I hope you read up on the law before you started this process. There are some serious restrictions that carry with them some significant consequences for violation.”
Tim: “No. I guess I didn’t know about any specific laws in this area. What can you tell me about them?”
Michelle: “Prior to leaving government office, you are prohibited from participating in or influencing any decisions directly relating to any persons with whom you are negotiating or otherwise involved in connection with prospective employment.”
Tim: “Oh, I see. That’s like a disqualification requirement, right?”
Michelle: “Right. But there’s a lot more.”
Tim: “Hold on a second. Let me tell you my idea about launching myself into the private business world. You know the Apex project that we’ve been working on for the past year?”
Michelle: “Of course. We have all been living with that project day and night.”
Tim: “Exactly! Well, I’ve figured how to make that project work big time for everyone’s advantage. So, just as soon as I get out, I’m going to incorporate myself and get to work convincing the agency on the soundness of my plan.”
Michelle: “Hold on, Tim! Slow down! You are about to wander into a number of potential legal violations.”
Tim: “What do you mean? I’m not doing anything until I get out. There can’t be a problem with that!”
Michelle: “There are several laws that regulate the kind of thing that you’re talking about. There is a one-year ban on some activities, a two-year ban on others, and a lifetime ban on still others.”
Tim: “Oh no! That sounds bad. Did you say lifetime ban?”
Michelle: “Well, the lifetime ban is pretty complicated, so I’ll just give you the highlights. A former state official can’t: get paid to act on another’s behalf; in order to influence a contract or a case; if the official worked on that matter as a government employee.”
Tim: “What does that mean?”
Michelle: “It means that you had better be careful before you attempt to influence a contract or case that you participated in as a government official.”
Tim: “I guess it pays to check this stuff out in advance. I think I will just crawl into my hammock and read a book.”
Restrictions While Seeking Employment
Prior to leaving government office or employment, Government Code section 87407 prohibits most state officials from making, participating in the making or using their official position to influence the making of government decisions directly relating to any persons with whom they are negotiating or otherwise involved, in connection with prospective employment.
Government Code section 87406 places a one-year ban on former state government officials from contacting specified government agencies. Former officials may not accept compensation to act as the agent, attorney or representative of another person for purposes of influencing specified government agencies through oral or written communications. (For additional restrictions, see Pub. Contract Code, § 10411.)
Permanent Ban for Specified Proceedings or Contracts
The prohibition contained in Government Code section 87400 and following provides that: No former state administrative official, shall, for compensation, act as agent or attorney for any person other than the State of California, before any court or state administrative agency, in a contract, judicial or quasi-judicial proceeding, if previously the official personally and substantially participated in the proceeding in his or her official capacity.
If the elements of the Permanent Ban are found to be present, a former state administrative official is forever banned from acting as an agent or attorney in a covered proceeding or from assisting another to so act.
Government Code section 1090 reaches a similar result with respect to contracts that the official participated in making.
Remember This Point
As you contemplate leaving office, familiarize yourself with these laws so that you do not violate them.
This concludes the core course on conflict of interest laws presented by the Attorney General’s Office and the Fair Political Practices Commission. The purpose of this orientation was to familiarize you with California’s ethics laws in order to help you avoid conflict-of-interest situations.
Remember, when conflict-of-interest situations arise, you need to consult with your legal counsel.
You may also wish to consult other sources such as informational materials prepared by the Attorney General’s Office or the Fair Political Practices Commission.
Additional Resources on the World Wide Web
Here are some suggestions for additional information regarding California’s ethics laws. Many of these sites will provide you with additional links.
Attorney General’s Conflicts of Interest Pamphlet
This publication, prepared by the California Attorney General’s office, focuses on financial conflicts of interests by local and state executive and legislative officials. It does not cover judicial conflicts of interests, the Legislative Code of Ethics, nor the ethical requirements of the state bar. It is available for viewing in two different formats. You can view it as an HTML document via your browser or in PDF format. To view the document in PDF format you must have an Acrobat Reader, which can be downloaded free.
California Fair Political Practices Commission
This is the site for the FPPC, California’s independent regulatory agency, created by a vote of the people, to carry out the mandate of the Political Reform Act of 1974. The Act’s major provisions regulate political activities in campaign finance, lobbying registration and conflicts of interest.
Official California Legislative Information
From here you can link to the Government Code, including section 8920, the Code of Ethics, and section 8314, concerning the misuse of public funds, as well as all other Government Code provisions referred to in this course. You can also link to Penal Code Section 424 and the California Constitution, Article 16, Section 6, which relate to the misuse of public funds.
Institute for Local Government
This site contains general resources available on ethics laws and principles that apply to local officials in general. This site also includes a free online self-study course for local officials.
Conflict of Interest Issue Spotter Checklist
The issue spotter checklist provides a reference to California’s major conflict-of-interest laws and indicates the types of issues that each law addresses.
California Attorney General (Department of Justice),
This site hosts the Internet core course Ethics Orientation for State Officials.
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The California Attorney General's Office and the Fair Political Practices Commission