Requests for Advice

​Requesting advice from the Wisconsin Ethics Commission

Who may request an advisory opinion.   Any individual, either personally or on behalf of an organization or governmental body, may request of the Ethics Commission an advisory opinion regarding the propriety under the ethics, lobbying or campaign finance laws of any matter to which the person is or may become a party.  Any appointing officer, with the consent of a prospective appointee, may request of the Ethics Commission an advisory opinion regarding the propriety of any matter to which the prospective appointee is or may become a party.

Confidentiality

Written requests for advice and the Commission's replies are confidential unless made public by the requestor.  No member or employee of the Ethics Commission may make public the identity of anyone requesting an advisory opinion or of persons mentioned in an opinion.  Periodically, the Commission publishes summaries of its opinions after making sufficient alterations to prevent the identification of the requestor and persons mentioned in the opinions.

How to request an advisory opinion

A request for an advisory opinion may make a request of the commision in writing or electronically.  The request should state each question upon which an opinion is desired, present all relevant facts, be as specific as possible, identify the names of all parties that are pertinent to the question, and include references to pertinent law known to the requestor. Requests should be submitted to the Commission Administrator or addressed generally to the Commission. Please see the Contact Us page for current contact information.

A request posed by an attorney-at-law on a client's behalf should also set forth: a tentative conclusion upon each question presented, the reasoning upon which that conclusion is based, and all relevant statutory provisions, case law, opinions of the Attorney General, prior opinions of the Ethics Commission, and other authorities, whether or not they support the tentative conclusion concerning the questions presented.

A request requiring the resolution of questions of fact should not be submitted because the Ethics Commission cannot resolve factual issues in an opinion.  A local public official may request an advisory opinion relating to the code of ethics for local government officials, §19.59, Wisconsin Statutes, from the attorney for the official's local unit of government.  A local government attorney may seek advice from the Ethics Commission.

Requesting opinions - County, municipal and other local government attorneys

Pursuant to section 19.59(6), Wisconsin Statutes, a county corporation counsel, an attorney for a local governmental unit, or a state-wide association of local governmental units may ask the Wisconsin Ethics Commission to issue an opinion concerning the interpretation of § 19.59, the Code of Ethics for local government officials, employees and candidates. Written requests for advice are confidential. No member or employee of the Ethics Commission may make public the identity of anyone requesting an advisory opinion or of persons mentioned in an opinion. Periodically, the Commission publishes summaries of its opinions after making sufficient alterations to prevent the identification of the requestor and persons mentioned in the opinions. The Statutes do not authorize the Board to issue an opinion to an official or representative of a local government other than the local government's legal counsel.

A request from a county corporation counsel, an attorney for a local governmental unit, or a state-wide association of local governmental units should:

  • State on whose behalf the opinion is requested.
  • State each question upon which an opinion is desired.
  • State all of the facts giving rise to each question presented.
  • Set forth a tentative conclusion upon each question presented and the reasoning upon which that conclusion is based.
  • Set forth and analyze all relevant statutory provisions, case law, prior opinions of the Ethics Commission, and the authorities whether or not they support the tentative conclusion concerning the questions presented.

A request requiring the resolution of questions of fact should not be submitted because the Ethics Commission has no authority to decide questions of fact.  The Ethics Commission does not issue opinions on whether past conduct has violated the law.  Although the foregoing criteria are subject to exception when the circumstances warrant, a request which does not meet these criteria may be returned and the requestor asked to resubmit the request in an appropriate form.

Informal Advisory Opinions

At its March 7, 2017 meeting the Ethics Commission delegated the authority to issue informal advisory opinions. A copy of the adopted policy and the delegation of authority is available here:  Ethics Commission Policy - Delegation of Authority for Informal Advisory Opinions.pdf. As required by Wisconsin Statutes, the Commission shall review each informal advisory opinion at its next scheduled meeting.

Evidence of intent to comply with law  

It is prima facie evidence of intent to comply with the Ethics Code for State Public Officials (subch. III, ch. 19, Wisconsin Statutes) and the lobbying law (subch. III, ch. 13, Wisconsin Statutes) when a person refers a matter to the Ethics Commission and abides by the Commission's advisory opinion, if the material facts are as stated in the opinion request.  §19.46(2), Wisconsin Statutes.