Filing Number: 95-01
Subject: Candidate for Political Office
Keywords: candidate, conflict, County official, donor, elected official, employee, fundraising, gifts, political contribution, solicitation
Decision By: L. Susan Faw, Ethics Commission Counsel
Contact Email: admin@nccethics.org
 
Status: Active

Question:

          Whether a County official or employee may become a candidate for election to political office without violating the New Castle County Ethics Code.

Conclusion:

          Yes. A County official or employee may become a candidate for political office without violating the Ethics Code.

Analysis:

           The New Castle County Ethics Code1 does not prevent a County official or employee2 from becoming a candidate for election to political office.
 
          The Ethics Code does prohibit a County official or employee from "solicit[ing] or accept[ing] a gift, loan [or] reward, . . . based on an intention of the county official [or] employee. . . that [his or her] vote, official action, or judgment . . . would be influenced thereby."3 However, the term "gift" excludes "a political contribution otherwise reported as required by law."4 Furthermore, even if "gift" were defined to include political contributions, a violation of this section would only occur if such a contribution were solicited or accepted by the county official or employee with the wrongful intention that it would influence his or her official judgment. Thus, this section does not bar a county official or employee from becoming a candidate for political office.

Finding:

           The Commission underscores that the issue presented is whether the Ethics Code imposes any threshold barrier to an official or employee becoming a candidate for political office. The Commission concludes there is none. Once an official or employee becomes a candidate, circumstances may arise which create a potential or real appearance of impropriety or conflict of interest.5
 
The Commission cannot address these issues in the abstract but welcomes further requests for advisory opinions from candidates should such circumstances arise.The Commission also emphasizes that its role is to construe the Ethics Code only. There may be other substantive law relevant to a county official or employee running for political office. Application and construction of such law is outside of the Commission's jurisdiction.
 
 
                                                            
L. Susan Faw
 
September 15, 1995

Footnotes:

1 Section 2-30. et seq.
 
2 The New Castle County Ethics Code applies to all "county officials" and "county employees". For purposes of the Ethics Code, a "county employee" is "[a]n individual employed by the county who is responsible for taking or recommending official action of a non-ministerial nature with regard to: (1) contracting or procurement; (2) administering or monitoring grants or subsidies; (3) planning or zoning; (4) inspecting, licensing, regulating or auditing any person; or (5) any other activity where the official action has an economic impact of greater than [$5001 on the interests of any person."
 
3 Section 2-30.2(c). Restricted activities.
 
4 Section 2-30.1. Definitions. "Gift." 5 Section 2-30.2(a) and (g).