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Seek Ethics Advice

Requesting advice from the Government Accountability Board

 

Who may request an advisory opinion.   Any individual, either personally or on behalf of an organization or governmental body, may request of the Government Accountability Board an advisory opinion regarding the propriety under the Ethics Code or the lobbying law of any matter to which the person is or may become a party.  Any appointing officer, with the consent of a prospective appointee, may request of the Government Accountability Board an advisory opinion regarding the propriety of any matter to which the prospective appointee is or may become a party.

Confidentiality.   Written requests for advice and the Board's replies are confidential unless made public by the requestor.  No member or employee of the Government Accountability Board may make public the identity of anyone requesting an advisory opinion or of persons mentioned in an opinion.  Periodically, the Board publishes summaries of its opinions after making sufficient alterations to prevent the identification of the requestor and persons mentioned in the opinions.

How to request an advisory opinion.   A request for an advisory opinion must be in writing.  The request should state each question upon which an opinion is desired, present all relevant facts, be as specific as possible, identify the names of all parties that are pertinent to the question, and include references to pertinent law known to the requestor.

A request posed by an attorney-at-law on a client's behalf should also set forth: a tentative conclusion upon each question presented, the reasoning upon which that conclusion is based, and all relevant statutory provisions, case law, opinions of the Attorney General, prior opinions of the Government Accountability Board, and other authorities, whether or not they support the tentative conclusion concerning the questions presented.

A request requiring the resolution of questions of fact should not be submitted because the Government Accountability Board cannot resolve factual issues in an opinion.  A local public official may request an advisory opinion relating to the code of ethics for local government officials, §19.59, Wisconsin Statutes, from the attorney for the official's local unit of government.  A local government attorney may seek advice from the Government Accountability Board.

Requesting opinions - County, municipal and other local government attorneys

Pursuant to section 19.59(6), Wisconsin Statutes. A county corporation counsel, an attorney for a local governmental unit, or a state-wide association of local governmental units may ask the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board to issue an opinion concerning the interpretation of § 19.59, the Code of Ethics for local government officials, employees and candidates. Written requests for advice are confidential. No member or employee of the Government Accountability Board may make public the identity of anyone requesting an advisory opinion or of persons mentioned in an opinion. Periodically, the Board publishes summaries of its opinions after making sufficient alterations to prevent the identification of the requestor and persons mentioned in the opinions. The Statutes do not authorize the Board to issue an opinion to an official or representative of a local government other than the local government's legal counsel.

A request from a county corporation counsel, an attorney for a local governmental unit, or a state-wide association of local governmental units should:

 a. State on whose behalf the opinion is requested.
 b. State each question upon which an opinion is desired.
 c. State all of the facts giving rise to each question presented.
 d. Set forth a tentative conclusion upon each question presented and the reasoning upon which that conclusion is 
     based.
 e. Set forth and analyze all relevant statutory provisions, case law, prior opinions of the Government Accountability
     Board, and ther authorities whether or not they support the tentative conclusion concerning the questions presented.

A request requiring the resolution of questions of fact should not be submitted because the Government Accountability Board has no authority to decide questions of fact.  The Government Accountability Board does not issue opinions on whether past conduct has violated the law.  Although the foregoing criteria are subject to exception when the circumstances warrant, a request which does not meet these criteria may be returned and the requestor asked to resubmit the request in an appropriate form.

Evidence of intent to comply with law.   It is prima facie evidence of intent to comply with the Ethics Code for State Public Officials (subch. III, ch. 19, Wisconsin Statutes) and the lobbying law (subch. III, ch. 13, Wisconsin Statutes) when a person refers a matter to the Government Accountability Board and abides by the Board's advisory opinion, if the material facts are as stated in the opinion request.  §19.46(2), Wisconsin Statutes.