In 1976, the Rhode Island General Assembly enacted the state's first Code of Ethics and created the Conflict of Interest Commission. That Code governed the activities of state and municipal elected and appointed officials and required all such officials to meet newly imposed financial disclosure requirements. The Conflict of Interest Commission enforced the statute.
In November, 1986, Rhode Island voters adopted a constitutional amendment mandating that the General Assembly "establish an independent, non-partisan ethics commission" R.I. Const. art. III, sec. 8. In 1987, the General Assembly replaced the Conflict of Interest Commission with a 15-member Ethics Commission. In 1992, the General Assembly reduced the size of the Ethics Commission to the current nine members.
The Rhode Island Constitution empowers the Ethics Commission to adopt and enforce a Code of Ethics, to investigate violations and to impose penalties, including removal from office. R.I. Const. art. III, sec. 8. Legislation enacted by the General Assembly grants the Ethics Commission additional powers to issue advisory opinions to public officials and employees and to offer educational programs. The statute also governs the process by which Commissioners are appointed, sets quorum requirements and defines the administrative powers of the Commission. R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-1 et seq.
The Rhode Island Constitution requires that public officials and employees "adhere to the highest standards of ethical conduct, respect the public trust and the rights of all persons, be open, accountable and responsive, avoid the appearance of impropriety and not use their position for private gain or advantage." R.I. Const. art. III, sec. 7. The Constitution provides that all Rhode Island elected and appointed public officials and public employees are subject to the Code of Ethics at both the state and local levels of government.