Pecuniary Interest FAQ 5

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. § 19.59(1)(c)1, 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. § 19.42(7). Thus, state law only prohibits voting or other action by an official in certain matters involving their son or daughter, parent, sibling, aunt or uncle, or father/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 their 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. § 19.59(1m).

(rev. 4/20)