Does the state ethics code for local government officials
prohibit a local official from voting on a matter or using their office
to affect a matter involving the official's son, father, sister, uncle,
mother-in-law or other relative?
The answer depends on the circumstances. The state ethics code for
local government officials does prohibit a local official from using
their office to obtain financial gain or anything of substantial value
for the private benefit of their immediate family, taking official
action substantially affecting a matter in which an immediate family
member has a substantial financial interest or using their office in a
way that produces or assists in the production of a substantial benefit
for an immediate family member. Wis. Stat. secs. 19.59(1)(c)1 and 2.
However, the state ethics code defines "immediate family" in a limited
way that substantially limits the scope of these prohibitions.
Under the state ethics code, "immediate family member" is defined as a
spouse or relative by marriage, lineal descent or adoption who
receives, directly or indirectly, more than one-half of his or her
support from the official or contributes, directly or indirectly, that
amount for the official’s support. Wis. Stat. sec. 19.42(7). Thus, state
law only prohibits voting or other action by an official in certain
cases involving her son, father, sister, uncle or mother-in-law and only
when the official provides more than 50 percent of their support or the
official receives more than 50 percent of her support from that person.
But, it is worth noting that municipalities are authorized to adopt a
more stringent code of ethics that prohibits such action irrespective of
subject matter or support. Wis. Stat. sec. 19.59(1m).