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 Overview of the Ethics Act


Who is subject to the Ethics Act?
Private Gain
Gifts - Solicitation and Acceptance
Public Contracts
Licensing & Ratemaking
• Moonlighting or Changing Jobs
Dual Compensation
Purchase of Real Property
Conflicts of Interest and Confidential Information
Employment Limitations During and after Government Service
• Nepotism
• County Public Servants - W. Va. Code § 61-10-15   click to view complete text
Financial Disclosure
Name/Likeness Prohibition ("Trinkets") 
Administrative Law Judges - ALJ's Code of Conduct
Open Meetings 

All Public Servants are Subject to the Ethics Act

        The code of conduct established by the Ethics Act applies to all public servants including public employees, elected public officials, and appointed public officials, whether full-time or part-time, in the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of state, county and municipal government, including all boards, commissions and agencies.



Private Gain

           The basic principle underlying the Ethics Act is that those in public service should use their positions for the public’s benefit and not for their own private gain or the private gain of another. 
            Public employees and employees may not use their employer’s supplies or equipment for personal projects or activities.  Public officials and employees may not use their subordinates to work on their personal projects or activities during work hours or compel them to do so on their own time.
           The Ethics Act prohibits any misuse of public resources which is more than de minimis, that is, which involves more than a trifling or insignificant amount of time, funds, supplies, personnel or equipment. 
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         A public employee may not solicit a gift unless it is for a charitable purpose from which the public employee and his/her immediate family members derive no direct personal benefit. The Ethics Commission determines whether a purpose is charitable on a case-by-case basis.  Charities which benefit the poor and disadvantaged, which provide for the cure or treatment of an illness or disease, or which benefit the public generally through cultural and educational programs such as museums and libraries have been determined to be charitable.
         The Ethics Act's prohibition against solicitation of gifts does not apply to solicitation of political contributions.
         A public employee may not solicit a subordinate for any gift, including one for a charitable purpose.  Public employees may not accept gifts from lobbyists;   from persons with whom they do business, or seek to do business, or from persons who are regulated by, or are otherwise financially interested in, activities of the public employee’s governmental agency or entity unless the gift fits into one of the following exceptions:
        • meals and beverage;
        • unsolicited gifts of a value of $25 or less;
        • ceremonial gifts or awards of insignificant value;
        • reasonable expenses incurred in appearing at a speaking engagement;
        • reasonable honoraria when permitted by the Ethics Commission’s Rules;
        • free tickets to political, charitable, or cultural events customarily given as a courtesy
        to the office;
        • purely private and personal gifts, and
        • lawful political contributions.

        Additional guidance on accepting and soliciting gifts may be found in the Ethics Commission’s Legislative Rule entitled Solicitation and Receipt of Gifts and Charitable Contributions by Public Employees and Officials at Title 158, Series 7 and the Commission’s Guidelines on Gifts

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        Public officials may not vote on a matter in which they, or an immediate family member, have a financial interest nor on a matter involving a business with which the public official or an immediate family member is associated.  
        Public officials or their immediate family members are considered to be associated with a business if either the public official or an immediate family member is a director, officer, owner, employee, compensated agent, or owns 5% or more of the outstanding stocks of any class.
       Click here for Guideline on Voting

Family and Relatives 
        Public officials may not vote on matters involving a business with which the public official or an immediate family member is associated. 
        The Act defines “immediate family” to include the spouse with whom an individual is living as husband or wife as well as any dependent children, dependent grandchildren or dependent parents.
        The Act defines “relative” as a husband or wife, mother, father, sister, brother, son, daughter, grandmother, grandfather, grandchild, mother-in-law, father-in-law, sister-in-law, brother-in-law, son-in-law or daughter-in-law.  
Public Officials May Not Vote 
      Public officials may not vote on a personnel matter involving the public official's spouse or relative.  The Act further prohibits voting to appropriate public funds or award a contract to a non-profit corporation if the public official or an immediate family member is employed by the non-profit.
       Further, a public official who is employed by a financial institution, and whose primary responsibilities with the institution include consumer and commerical lending, may not vote on a matter that involves a customer of the financial institution.  This prohibition only applies if the amount of the loan or loans to the customer exceeds $15,000 in a calendar year, and the public official was directly involved in approving a loan to that customer within the past twelve months, or is currently considering such a loan.

Public Officials May Vote 
       Public officials may vote on a matter involving a spouse, immediate family member, relative or business with which they are associated if they are affected by the matter as a member of a profession, occupation, class of persons or class of businesses. The law defines a “class” as consisting of not fewer than five similarly situated persons or businesses. 
       A public official may vote on a matter affecting a publicly traded company so long as: 
       (1) the public official and dependent family members individually or jointly own no more than 5% of the company’s issued stock; 
       (2) the value of the stocks individually or jointly owned is less than $10,000, and 
       (3) prior to casting a vote, the public official discloses his or her interest in the publicly traded company.

Members of the Legislature 
        These voting rules do not apply to members of the Legislature.   Legislative voting is governed by a separate provision in the Act (W. Va. Code § 6B-2-5(i)) which permits Legislators to vote after obtaining a ruling from the presiding officer in their chamber regarding any potential conflict.

Public Disclosure and Recusal are Required 
        Whenever a public official is prohibited from voting under the Act, the public official must fully disclose his or her interests and physically remove himself or herself from the room during the discussion and vote on the matter from which they are disqualified.   Meeting minutes should reflect the recusal as well as the reason for the recusal.

Selling to Subordinates
        A public servant may solicit private business from a subordinate only when: 
        (1) The solicitation is general and directed to the public at large; 
        (2) The solicitation is limited to the posting of a notice in a communal work area; 
        (3) The solicitation is for the sale of property of a kind that the person does not regularly sell; or 
        (4) The subordinate goes to the supervisor’s private business on his or her own initiative to purchase goods or services. 
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 Click here for Guideline on Voting


Private Interests in Public Contracts Purchases and Sales

        The Ethics Act prohibits elected public officials and full-time public employees, whether appointed or employed, from having a financial interest in any contract, purchase or sale over which their public position gives them control, unless the total value of such contracts, purchases or sales does not exceed $1,000 in a calendar year. Even then, the public official may not be involved in influencing the award of the contract. This $1,000 exception may not be relied upon by county officials who are governed by the stricter limitations in W. Va. Code § 61-10-15.
        This prohibition also extends to contracts in which the public servant’s spouse, dependent parents, or dependent children have a financial interest, as well as to any business with which the public servant or his or her immediate family members are associated. 
        For purposes of this prohibition, public servants and their immediate family members are associated with a business if any one of them is a director or officer in the business, or if they hold stock in the business which constitutes 5% or more of the outstanding stock of any class. 
        This provision applies only to: 
        (1) those contracts your job gives you authority to award or control and 
        (2) those purchases and sales you are authorized to make or direct others to make. 

        The Commission has authority to grant your agency a hardship exemption from this provision of the Ethics Act. 
        Part-time appointed officials (except those county officials covered by W. Va. Code § 61-10-15) are not subject to the prohibition, provided that they recuse themselves from considering and acting on such matters, consistent with the on voting provisions of the Act.
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Licensing and Rate-Making

        You may not take official action on a license or rate-making matter affecting an entity in which you, or the members of your immediate family, own or control more than a 10 % interest. In addition, UNLESS you file a prior written public disclosure with your agency, you may not take official action on a license or rate-making matter affecting a person to whom such an entity has sold goods or services totaling more than $1,000 during the preceding year.   (back to top)

Employment, Moonlighting or Changing Jobs

        The Ethics Act prohibits full-time public servants from seeking or accepting employment from persons or businesses that they or their subordinates regulate. 
        The Act also prohibits full-time public servants from seeking or accepting employment from vendors if the public servant, or his or her subordinates, exercise authority or control over a public contract with that vendor. It does not apply to members of the Legislature. 
        Public Servants may request an exemption from the Ethics Commission to seek employment with vendors or regulated persons with whom they or a subordinate exercise control at present or in the past twelve months. This process is set forth in the Commission’s Legislative Rule, Title 158, Series 11.  
Click here for a printable brochure on Moonlighting and Employment.
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Dual Compensation    

        No public servant may receive compensation from two sources in state, county or municipal government for working the same hours, except under certain limited circumstances. Persons who are allowed to make up time missed with a governmental employer to perform the duties of another governmental position are required to maintain specific time records. Their governmental employer is required to submit these records to the Ethics Commission quarterly.  
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Purchase of Real or Personal Property

        Full-time public servants may not purchase real or personal property from: 
        (1) a person or business which they or their subordinates are currently regulating; 
        (2) a person or business which they or their subordinates have regulated within the preceding twelve months; or 
        (3) a vendor to their agency, if they exercise authority or control over a public contract with that vendor. 
        The Commission, by Legislative Rule, has established certain exemptions from these limitations, such as purchases of personal property from a business that is available to the general public on the same terms and conditions. 
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Other Conflicts of Interest 

        Full-time public servants may not take personal regulatory action on matters affecting a person 
        (1) by whom they are secondarily employed or
        (2) with whom they are seeking employment or have an agreement concerning future employment. 
        A similar limitation applies to employees or prospective employees of vendors. A full-time public servant may not personally participate in any decision, approval, disapproval, recommendation, investigation, or inspection of a vendor by whom they are secondarily employed, or with whom they are seeking employment or have an agreement regarding future employment. 
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Confidential Information

        You may not, during or after government service, knowingly and improperly disclose confidential information acquired through your public position or use it to further the personal interests of yourself or another person. 
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Private Pay Prohibited

        Full-time public servants may not accept private pay for providing infor­mation or services that are within the scope of their public duties. In other words, they can't sell, even on their own time, services their public position requires them to provide. 
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Employment Limitations During and After Government Service

Prohibited Representation 
        The Ethics Act requires you to obtain your agency's consent before you represent a client in a matter in which you are or were substantially involved on behalf of the agency. This applies both during and after your government service. 
        The prohibition applies only to those matters in which you were personally involved in a decision making, advisory, or staff support capacity. It does not apply to legislators or legislative staff. 
Limitation on Practice 
        Certain public servants are prohibited from representing persons before their agency: 
        (1) while they are with the agency, and 
        (2) for one year after leaving the agency. 
        The prohibition applies only to elected and appointed public officials and full-time staff attorneys and accountants in agencies authorized to hear contested cases or make regulations. 
        This prohibition applies to representation in contested cases, regulation filings, license or permit applications, rate-making proceedings and to influence the expenditure of public funds. It does not apply to legislators or legislative staff. 
        The Ethics Commission has authority to grant an exemption from this prohibition. 
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        Nepotism means favoritism shown or patronage granted in employment matters by a public official or public employee to relatives or cohabitating sexual partners without giving public notice and consideration to other qualified applicants. 
        The hiring of relatives is not strictly prohibited but limitations do apply. Stricter limitations apply to County Officials regarding the hiring of spouses and family members. 
        These limitations are outlined in the section entitled “For County Public Servants Only.”
"Relatives" are defined as individuals who are related to the public official or public employee as father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, spouse, grandmother, grandfather, grandchild, mother-in-law, father-in-law, sister-in­law, brother-in-law, son-in-law or daughter-in-law. 
        A public official or public employee may avoid the appearance of nepotism by following these steps in hiring a relative or cohabitating sexual partner for a public position: 
        (1) The public should be given reasonable advance notice of the availability of the job. 
        (2) An objective, independent third party should be involved in the selection where a cohabitating sexual partner or family member is among those who have made application for the job. 
        (3) To the extent possible, the public official or public employee should stay out of the selection process altogether. If he or she is one of several people with the authority to hire, others with authority should make the selection. If appropriate, the matter should be handled by his or her supervisor or in the case of an elected official by a qualified person in another office. 
        (4) A public official or public employee should at least have some independent person take part in the selection. He or she should avoid using a subordinate for the independent person. 
        (5) Public officials must recuse themselves from voting on the employment of a relative if this matter comes before the governing body on which they serve. 

        Public servants should review and comply with the nepotism provisions in the Ethics Commission’s Legislative Rule, Title 158, Series 6. This rule may be viewed in the Rules section of this website. State employees should consult with the WV Division of Personnel for any additional limitations that may apply to State employees.  
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For County Public Servants Only

W. Va. Code § 61-10-15
       Certain county personnel are also subject to W. Va. Code § 61-10-15, a criminal statute which contains a more comprehensive public contract prohibition. The Ethics Commission is responsible for advising public servants about § 61-10-15 but has no role in its enforcement.
W. Va. Code § 61-10-15 applies to: 
        (1) elected county officials (such as sheriff, county commissioners and school board members), 
        (2) appointed county officials (those who serve on county boards, commissions, authorities and agencies), and 
        (3) public school superintendents, principals, and teachers. It does not apply to other county workers. 
        W. Va. Code § 61-10-15 prohibits these designated county personnel from having personal financial interests, directly or indirectly, in a contract, purchase or sale over which their public position gives them "voice, influence or control." The prohibition extends to their spouses, their dependents, and businesses in which they have an ownership interest or by which they are employed. 
        The Ethics Commission has authority to grant an exemption from the prohibition to a County Agency based upon a documented hardship.

Nepotism and County Employment
        W. Va. Code § 61-10-15 imposes strict limitations on nepotism in employment. County Officials may not hire their spouses or dependent family members. Further, County Commissioners, their spouses, and dependent family members are prohibited from working at any County office or agency. If a County Official is elected when the official’s spouse is currently employed in the same County Office, or in the case of a County Commissioner in any County Office, then the spouse must immediately terminate his or her employment.
        • The spouse of a County Commissioner may work at a county hospital if the spouse is a licensed medical professional; 
        • Spouses of school board members, superintendents, principals or teachers may be employed as a principal, teacher, auxiliary or service employee in the public schools; 
        • A joint county and circuit clerk may employ his or her spouse.  
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Additional Agency Restrictions

       Agencies are permitted to adopt additional standards of conduct for their personnel that are more restrictive than the minimum standards established in the Ethics Act. Therefore, you may want to check with your agency to see if it imposes additional rules of conduct that supplement these general prohibitions. 
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        The Ethics Act requires anyone who is compensated to lobby in support of or opposition to any legislation or legislative or administrative rules, or who spends over $150 annually on public officials in furtherance of such activity, to register with the Ethics Commission.     
        Registered lobbyists are required to file periodic reports of their lobbying activity, including reporting certain expenses. These reports are public records and are subject to random audits by the Commission.     
        Additional information on lobbying is available in the Commission’s Guide to Lobbying in West Virginia. This pamphlet my be obtained from the Commission’s office or downloaded from the Commission’s website. 
        The Commission also publishes annually a directory of registered lobbyists. This same information is updated and posted on the Commission’s website.  
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  Lobbyist Information

Financial Disclosure 

        Certain public officials and candidates are required to file financial disclosure statements with the Commission. Candidates for all state and county offices must file a financial disclosure statement within ten days after he or she files a certificate of candidacy. Those persons who are elected to such positions thereafter must file a financial disclosure report annually. In addition, all members of state boards, commissions and agencies who are appointed by the governor must file within 30 days after assuming their duties. Thereafter, they must file annually as long as they serve in an appointed position.     Cabinet secretaries, commissioners, deputy commissioners, assistant commissioners, directors, deputy directors, and department heads are required to file annual reports. These forms are public records available for inspection in the Commission’s offices during regular business hours.  (back to top)


          The Ethics Commission investigates and resolves violations of the Ethics Act.   Any person may file a written complaint, which must include a notary public’s signature.     
          To access a Complaint form and instructions, click here.
          The Commission itself may initiate a Complaint if it receives credible evidence of a material violation of the Ethics Act.  All Complaints are considered by the three-member Probable Cause Review Board, which initially determines whether the allegations in the Complaint, if taken as true, state a “material” violation of the Ethics Act.  (A material violation is one which is not trivial or inconsequential.) Those Complaints which do state a material violation are then investigated.  Those which do not are dismissed.
          Complaints which allege trivial or inconsequential violations or were filed outside of the statute of limitations are dismissed.  The statute of limitations for alleged violations which occurred before July 1, 2016, is two years.  For violations which occur on or after July 1, 2016, the statute of limitations is five years.
          The Ethics Commission has the authority to subpoena evidence and testimony, although no person alleged to have violated the Act is required to give testimony.   It is a violation of the Act to give false and misleading information to the Commission or to procure or induce another person to provide false information.
          Persons found to have violated the Ethics Act may be publicly reprimanded, fined up to $5,000 per violation, ordered to pay restitution and/or ordered to reimburse the Commission for its costs of investigation and prosecution.  The Commission also may recommend that the person be removed from office or that his employment be terminated.  
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 Name/Likeness Prohibition ("Trinkets")

             This section of the Act is commonly referred to as the “trinkets statute” and provides that public officials, their agents, or anyone on public payroll may not place the official’s name or likeness on trinkets and other places paid for with public funds in violation of the section’s limitations and prohibitions. This section is set forth in W.Va. Code § 6B-2B-1 through -6. 

            The Act provides limitations and prohibitions on the use of public officials’ names or likenesses on “trinkets,” advertising, vehicles, table skirts, banners, educational materials, websites and social media that are paid for with public funds. 

            The statute does not prohibit a public official’s name and likeness on any official record or report, letterhead, document or certificate or instructional material issued in the course of his/her duties as a public official. Other official documents, such as fax cover sheets, press release headers, office signs and envelopes may include the public official’s name, but not his/her likeness.

To view more detail concerning the name/likeness provisions, click here.   
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 Code of Conduct for Administrative Law Judges

        The Ethics Commission administers a Code of Conduct for Administrative Law Judges serving in the executive branch of state government. The Code of Conduct was developed in consultation with the West Virginia State Bar to establish rules of professional conduct for the administrative judiciary similar to the rules governing judges in the judicial branch of state government. The Code is found in the Commission’s Legislative Rule Title 158, Series 13. 

        A three member Committee on Standards of Conduct for Administrative Law Judges issues written advisory opinions on the meaning and application of the Code to persons who are subject to these standards. The Commission also adjudicates verified complaints filed against administrative law judges through a formal complaint process.

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Open Meetings Act

The Ethics Commission interprets, but does not enforce, the Open Governmental Meetings Act, W. Va. Code § 6-9A1 through 12.

The Commission’s Committee on Open Governmental Meetings issues written Advisory Opinions in response to requests from governing bodies, or members thereof, as to whether an action or proposed action violates the Open Governmental Meetings Act. In addition, the Commission’s staff provides guidance to governing bodies and the public on how to comply with the Open Governmental Meetings Act.

However, the Ethics Commission does not have jurisdiction or power to enforce the Open Governmental Meetings Act. To address violations, a citizen may file a civil action in the circuit court in the county where the public agency regularly meets. These actions must be filed within 120 days after the action or decision complained of was taken. For more information, click here.

For questions regarding public notices of meetings by state governing bodies or notice requirements of the Secretary of State, please contact the Secretary of State’s office or visit its website at

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