Filing an Ethics Complaint
Who may file a complaint?
Any individual may file a complaint concerning alleged violations of the Ethics Act.
How do I file a complaint?
Complaint forms are available by scrolling to the bottom of this page. Paper forms are also available upon request from the State Ethics Commission. The complaint should state the name, job or office held by the subject of the complaint, and a description of the facts which are alleged to constitute a violation. Complaints must be sworn before a notary public.
What constitutes a violation of the Ethics Act?
It is a violation of the Ethics Act to engage in activity that is "restricted" by Section 1103 of the Ethics Act or to fail to make any financial or other disclosure required by the Ethics Act.
What can I expect after a complaint is filed?
The Commission will initially acknowledge receipt of the complaint.
- If the matter is not within the Commission's jurisdiction or if the complaint lacks sufficient information, it will not be processed and the complainant will be notified.
- Upon receipt of a sufficient complaint, the Commission may initiate a preliminary inquiry. A preliminary inquiry must be completed within 60 days, after which it must either be terminated or opened as a full investigation.
- If after a preliminary inquiry the matter is terminated, both the complainant and subject of the inquiry will be notified. If a complaint is frivolous, the Commission must so state.
- The subject of an investigation must be notified prior to the initiation of a full investigation of the allegations against said person.
- The complainant will be notified within 72 hours of the commencement of a full investigation, and both the complainant and subject of the investigation will be notified every 90 days thereafter of the status of the matter.
- If a full investigation has been conducted, upon the conclusion of the field investigation, the subject of the complaint will be issued a findings report containing the relevant findings of fact. Such reports must be issued within 360 days of the initiation of the full investigation. The subject of the investigation must respond to said report within 30 days after the issuance thereof.
- The subject will be afforded a full and fair opportunity to challenge the findings and allegations. Such may include evidentiary hearings and arguments of law.
- Upon the conclusion of the proceedings, the Commission will issue a final order containing findings of fact and conclusions of law. Final orders issued by the Commission may be appealed to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania.
How long will an investigation take?
- The Commission’s Investigative Division initially conducts a preliminary inquiry to determine if there is reasonable cause to indicate that the Ethics Act has been violated. Preliminary inquiries must be completed within sixty (60) days.
- If there is reasonable cause to believe the Ethics Act has been violated, the Investigative Division will conduct a full investigation. The investigation must be completed within one hundred-eighty (180) days, however, the Investigative Division may obtain ninety (90) day extensions of the time frame to complete the investigation, if needed.
- No more than two (2) ninety day extensions may be obtained.
Is there any statute of limitation for Commission investigations?
The Commission may conduct an investigation within five (5) years after the alleged occurrence of any violation of the Ethics Act.
Will the complaint be confidential?
The Commission will keep information, records, and proceedings relating to any preliminary inquiries and investigations confidential (this includes the identity of the complainant, unless there has been a wrongful use of the act as defined below).
The Commission may disclose information or records regarding a preliminary inquiry or investigation in relation to:
- Final orders of the Commission which become public.
- Hearings conducted in public, as provided by law.
- Appeals of Commission orders.
- Seeking the advice of legal counsel.
- Consulting with a law enforcement official or agency for the purpose of initiating, participating in or responding to an investigation or prosecution by the law enforcement official or agency.
- Testifying under oath before a governmental body or a similar body of the United States of America.
- The provision of discovery materials to the subject of an investigation, as required by law.
Are there protections for a complainant or witness?
No public official or public employee shall discharge any official or employee or change his official rank, grade, or compensation, or deny him a promotion, or threaten to do so, for filing a complaint with or providing information to the Commission or testifying in any Commission proceeding.
Any person who engages in such retaliatory activity commits a misdemeanor and, in addition to any other penalty provided by law, shall upon conviction be fined not more than $1,000 or imprisoned for not more than one year, or be both fined and imprisoned. See also, 43 P.S. § 1423 (Whistleblower Law).
What is a wrongful use of act?
A complainant may be civilly liable for a wrongful use of act if t he complaint was frivolous (filed in a grossly negligent manner without a basis in law or fact) or without probable cause and made primarily for a purpose other than that of reporting a violation of the Ethics Act.
A person who signs a complaint alleging a violation of the Ethics Act has probable cause for doing so if he reasonably believes in the existence of the facts upon which the claim is based and either: (1) reasonably believes that under those facts the complaint may be valid under the Ethics Act; or (2) believes to this effect in reliance upon the advice of counsel, sought in good faith and given after full disclosure of all relevant facts within his knowledge and information.
Does a wrongfully accused public official have any recourse?
If a public official or public employee has reason to believe a complaint was frivolous or without probable cause and made primarily for a purpose other than reporting a violation of the Ethics Act, such person may file a "notification" with the Commission, identifying the complaint/investigation involved and providing a detailed explanation of the reasons, information, facts or revisions establishing a wrongful use of act. Pursuant to such a notification, the Commission will initiate proceedings to determine whether there has been a wrongful use of act. If the Commission determines that there has been a wrongful use of act, the complainant may appeal such decision to the Commission at which time the complainant must show cause why such decision should not be the Commission's final determination.
If the Commission determines that there has been no wrongful use of act, the subject may appeal such decision to the Commission at which time the subject must show cause why the complainant violated such provisions.
If the Commission's final determination is that there has been a wrongful use of act, the identity of the complainant may, upon request of the subject, be released.
If it has been determined that there has been a wrongful use of act, the subject may bring an action for such and he may recover for the following:
- The harm to his reputation by a defamatory matter alleged as the basis of the proceeding.
- The expenses, including any reasonable attorney fees, that he has reasonably incurred in proceedings before the Commission.
- Any specific pecuniary loss that has resulted from the proceedings.
- Any emotional distress that has been caused by the proceedings.
- Any punitive damages according to law in appropriate cases.
What are the penalties for violating the Ethics Act?
- Violations of Sections 1103(a), (b), and (c) are felonies and can result in a fine of not more than $10,000 and/or imprisonment for not more than five years. Violations of Sections 1103(d) through (j), Section 1104, or Section 1105(a) are misdemeanors and can result in a fine of not more than $1,000 and/or imprisonment for not more than one year. Any person who obtains financial gain from violating any provision of the Ethics Act can be ordered to pay three times the financial gain into the State Treasury or the treasury of the political subdivision.
- In addition to the above penalties, any person who obtains a financial gain in violation of the Ethics Act may be required to pay restitution plus interest to the appropriate governmental body.
- Any person who willfully affirms or swears falsely in regard to any material matter before a Commission investigative proceeding commits a felony and shall upon conviction be fined not more than $5,000 and/or imprisoned for not more than five years.
- In addition to any other civil or criminal penalty provided for in the Ethics Act, failure to timely file a Statement of Financial Interests or the filing of a deficient statement may result in a civil penalty of not more than $25 per day up to $250.
NOTE: A public official of a political subdivision who acts in good faith reliance on an opinion of the political subdivision solicitor shall not be subject to the criminal or treble damage penalties of the Ethics Act if the solicitor's opinion was written and non confidential or was publicly stated at an open meeting of the political subdivision and recorded in the official meeting minutes.