Election Laws


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Section 36-25-4

State Ethics Commission - Duties; complaint; investigation; hearings; fees; finding of violation.

(a) The commission shall do all of the following:

(1) Prescribe forms for statements required to be filed by this chapter and make the forms available to persons required to file such statements.

(2) Prepare guidelines setting forth recommended uniform methods of reporting for use by persons required to file statements required by this chapter.

(3) Accept and file any written information voluntarily supplied that exceeds the requirements of this chapter.

(4) Develop, where practicable, a filing, coding, and cross-indexing system consistent with the purposes of this chapter.

(5) Make reports and statements filed with the commission available during regular business hours and online via the Internet to public inquiry subject to such regulations as the commission may prescribe.

(6) Preserve reports and statements for a period consistent with the statute of limitations as contained in this chapter. The reports and statements, when no longer required to be retained, shall be disposed of by shredding the reports and statements and disposing of or recycling them, or otherwise disposing of the reports and statements in any other manner prescribed by law. Nothing in this section shall in any manner limit the Department of Archives and History from receiving and retaining any documents pursuant to existing law.

(7) Make investigations with respect to statements filed pursuant to this chapter, and with respect to alleged failures to file, or omissions contained therein, any statement required pursuant to this chapter and, upon complaint by any individual, with respect to alleged violation of any part of this chapter to the extent authorized by law. When in its opinion a thorough audit of any person or any business should be made in order to determine whether this chapter has been violated, the commission shall direct the Examiner of Public Accounts to have an audit made and a report thereof filed with the commission. The Examiner of Public Accounts, upon receipt of the directive, shall comply therewith.

(8) Report suspected violations of law to the appropriate law-enforcement authorities.

(9) Issue and publish advisory opinions on the requirements of this chapter, based on a real or hypothetical set of circumstances. Such advisory opinions shall be adopted by a majority vote of the members of the commission present and shall be effective and deemed valid until expressly overruled or altered by the commission or a court of competent jurisdiction. The written advisory opinions of the commission shall protect the person at whose request the opinion was issued and any other person reasonably relying, in good faith, on the advisory opinion in a materially like circumstance from liability to the state, a county, or a municipal subdivision of the state because of any action performed or action refrained from in reliance of the advisory opinion. Nothing in this section shall be deemed to protect any person relying on the advisory opinion if the reliance is not in good faith, is not reasonable, or is not in a materially like circumstance. The commission may impose reasonable charges for publication of the advisory opinions and monies shall be collected, deposited, dispensed, or retained as provided herein. On October 1, 1995, all prior advisory opinions of the commission in conflict with this chapter, shall be ineffective and thereby deemed invalid and otherwise overruled unless there has been any action performed or action refrained from in reliance of a prior advisory opinion.

(10) Initiate and continue, where practicable, programs for the purpose of educating candidates, officials, employees, and citizens of Alabama on matters of ethics in government service.

(11) In accordance with Sections 41-22-1 to 41-22-27, inclusive, the Alabama Administrative Procedure Act, prescribe, publish, and enforce rules to carry out this chapter.

(b) Additionally, the commission shall work with the Secretary of State to implement the reporting requirements of the Alabama Fair Campaign Practices Act and shall do all of the following:

(1) Approve all forms required by the Fair Campaign Practices Act.

(2) Suggest accounting methods for candidates, principal campaign committees, and political action committees in connection with reports and filings required by the Fair Campaign Practices Act.

(3) Approve a retention policy for all reports, filings, and underlying documentation required by the Fair Campaign Practices Act.

(4) Approve a manual for all candidates, principal campaign committees, and political action committees, describing the requirements of the Fair Campaign Practices Act that shall be published by the Secretary of State.

(5) Investigate and hold hearings for receiving evidence regarding alleged violations of the Fair Campaign Practices Act as set forth in this chapter that demonstrates a likelihood that the Fair Campaign Practices Act has been violated.

(6) Conduct or authorize audits of any filings required under the Fair Campaign Practices Act if evidence exists that an audit is warranted because of the filing of a complaint in the form required by this chapter or if there exists a material discrepancy or conflict on the face of any filing required by the Fair Campaign Practices Act.

(7) Affirm, set aside, or reduce civil penalties as provided in Section 17-5-19.2.

(8) Refer all evidence and information necessary to the Attorney General or appropriate district attorney for prosecution of any criminal violation of the Fair Campaign Practices Act as set forth in this chapter.

(9) Make investigations with respect to statements filed pursuant to the Fair Campaign Practices Act, and with respect to alleged failures to file, or omissions contained therein, any statement required pursuant to the Fair Campaign Practices Act and, upon complaint by any individual, with respect to alleged violation of any part of that act to the extent authorized by law. When in its opinion a thorough audit of any person or any business should be made in order to determine whether the Fair Campaign Practices Act has been violated, the commission shall direct the Examiner of Public Accounts to have an audit made and a report thereof filed with the commission. The Examiner of Public Accounts, upon receipt of the directive, shall comply therewith.

(10) Issue and publish advisory opinions on the requirements of the Fair Campaign Practices Act, based on a real or hypothetical set of circumstances. Such advisory opinions shall be adopted by a majority vote of the members of the commission present and shall be effective and deemed valid until expressly overruled or altered by the commission or a court of competent jurisdiction. The written advisory opinions of the commission shall protect the person at whose request the opinion was issued and any other person reasonably relying, in good faith, on the advisory opinion in a materially like circumstance from liability of any kind because of any action performed or action refrained from in reliance of the advisory opinion. Nothing in this section shall be deemed to protect any person relying on the advisory opinion if the reliance is not in good faith, is not reasonable, or is not in a materially like circumstance. The commission may impose reasonable charges for publication of the advisory opinions and monies shall be collected, deposited, dispensed, or retained as provided herein.

(11) In accordance with Sections 41-22-1 to 41-22-27, inclusive, the Alabama Administrative Procedure Act, prescribe, publish, and enforce rules to carry out this section.

(c) Except as necessary to permit the sharing of information and evidence with the Attorney General or a district attorney, a complaint filed pursuant to this chapter or the Fair Campaign Practices Act, together with any statement, evidence, or information received from the complainant, witnesses, or other persons shall be protected by and subject to the same restrictions relating to secrecy and nondisclosure of information, conversation, knowledge, or evidence of Sections 12-16-214 to 12-16-216, inclusive, except that a violation of this section shall constitute a Class C felony. Such restrictions shall apply to all investigatory activities taken by the director, the commission, or a member thereof, staff, employees, or any person engaged by the commission in response to a complaint filed with the commission and to all proceedings relating thereto before the commission. Such restrictions shall also apply to all information and evidence supplied to the Attorney General or district attorney.

(d) The commission shall not take any investigatory action on a telephonic or written complaint against a respondent so long as the complainant remains anonymous. Investigatory action on a complaint from an identifiable source shall not be initiated until the true identity of the source has been ascertained and written verification of such ascertainment is in the commission's files. The complaint may only be filed by a person who has or persons who have credible and verifiable information supporting the allegations contained in the complaint. A complainant may not file a complaint for another person or persons in order to circumvent this subsection. Prior to commencing any investigation, the commission shall: (1) receive a written and signed complaint which sets forth in detail the specific charges against a respondent, and the factual allegations which support such charges; and (2) the director shall conduct a preliminary inquiry in order to make an initial determination that the complaint, on its face alleges facts which if true, would constitute a violation of this chapter or the Fair Campaign Practices Act and that reasonable cause exists to conduct an investigation. If the director determines that the complaint does not allege a violation or that reasonable cause does not exist, the charges shall be dismissed, but such action must be reported to the commission. The commission shall be entitled to authorize an investigation upon written consent of four commission members, upon an express finding that probable cause exists that a violation or violations of this chapter or the Fair Campaign Practices Act have occurred. Upon the commencement of any investigation, the Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure as applicable to the grand jury process promulgated by the Alabama Supreme Court shall apply and shall remain in effect until the complaint is dismissed or disposed of in some other manner. A complaint may be initiated by a vote of four members of the commission, provided, however, that the commission shall not conduct the hearing, but rather the hearing shall be conducted by three active or retired judges, who shall be appointed by the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, at least one of whom shall be Black. The three-judge panel shall conduct the hearing in accordance with the procedures contained in this chapter and in accordance with the rules of the commission. If the three-judge panel unanimously finds that a person covered by this chapter has violated it or that the person covered by the Fair Campaign Practices Act has violated that act, the three-judge panel shall forward the case to the district attorney for the jurisdiction in which the alleged acts occurred or to the Attorney General. In all matters that come before the commission concerning a complaint on an individual, the laws of due process shall apply.

(e) Not less than 45 days prior to any hearing before the commission, the respondent shall be given notice that a complaint has been filed against him or her and shall be given a summary of the charges contained therein. Upon the timely request of the respondent, a continuance of the hearing for not less than 30 days shall be granted for good cause shown. The respondent charged in the complaint shall have the right to be represented by retained legal counsel. The commission may not require the respondent to be a witness against himself or herself.

(f) The commission shall provide discovery to the respondent pursuant to the Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure as promulgated by the Alabama Supreme Court.

(g)(1) All fees, penalties, and fines collected by the commission pursuant to this chapter shall be deposited into the State General Fund.

(2) All monies collected as reasonable payment of costs for copying, reproductions, publications, and lists shall be deemed a refund against disbursement and shall be deposited into the appropriate fund account for the use of the commission.

(h) In the course of an investigation, the commission may subpoena witnesses and compel their attendance and may also require the production of books, papers, documents, and other evidence. If any person fails to comply with any subpoena lawfully issued, or if any witness refuses to produce evidence or to testify as to any matter relevant to the investigation, it shall be the duty of any court of competent jurisdiction or the judge thereof, upon the application of the director, to compel obedience upon penalty for contempt, as in the case of disobedience of a subpoena issued for such court or a refusal to testify therein. A subpoena may be issued only upon the vote of four members of the commission upon the express written request of the director. The subpoena shall be subject to Rules 17.1, 17.2, 17.3, and 17.4 of the Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure. The commission upon seeking issuance of the subpoena shall serve a notice to the recipient of the intent to serve such subpoena. Upon the expiration of 10 days from the service of the notice and the proposed subpoena shall be attached to the notice. Any person or entity served with a subpoena may serve an objection to the issuance of the subpoena within 10 days after service of the notice on the grounds set forth under Rule 17.3(c) of the Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure, and in such event the subpoena shall not issue until an order to dismiss, modify, or issue the subpoena is entered by a state court of proper jurisdiction, the order to be entered within 30 days after making of the objection. Any vote taken by the members of the commission relative to the issuance of a subpoena shall be protected by and subject to the restrictions relating to secrecy and nondisclosure of information, conversation, knowledge, or evidence of Sections 12-16-214 to 12-16-216, inclusive.

(i) After receiving or initiating a complaint, the commission has 180 days to determine whether probable cause exists. At the expiration of 180 days from the date of receipt or commencement of a complaint, if the commission does not find probable cause, the complaint shall be deemed dismissed and cannot be reinstated based on the same facts alleged in the complaint. Upon good cause shown from the general counsel and chief investigator, the director may request from the commission a one-time extension of 180 days. Upon the majority vote of the commission, the staff may be granted a one-time extension of 180 days in which to complete the investigation. If the commission finds probable cause that a person covered by this chapter has violated it or that the person covered by the Fair Campaign Practices Act has violated that act, the case and the commission's findings shall be forwarded to the district attorney for the jurisdiction in which the alleged acts occurred or to the Attorney General. The case, along with the commission's findings, shall be referred for appropriate legal action. Nothing in this section shall be deemed to limit the commission's ability to take appropriate legal action when so requested by the district attorney for the appropriate jurisdiction or by the Attorney General.

(j) Within 180 days of receiving a case referred by the commission, the Attorney General or district attorney to whom the case was referred may, upon written request of the commission notify the commission, in writing, stating whether he or she intends to take action against the respondent, including an administrative disposition or settlement, conduct further investigation, or close the case without taking action. If the Attorney General or district attorney decides to pursue the case, he or she, upon written request of the commission, may inform the commission of the final disposition of the case. The written information pursuant to this section shall be maintained by the commission and made available upon request as a public record. The director may request an oral status update from the Attorney General or district attorney from time to time.

(Acts 1973, No. 1056, p. 1699, §18; Acts 1975, No. 130, p. 603, §1; Acts 1979, No. 79-460, p. 814, §1; Acts 1995, No. 95-194, p. 269, §1; Act 2010-763, 1st Sp. Sess., p. 17, §1; Act 2015-495, §1.)
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