The provision of the Ethics Code most pertinent to your inquiry is §19.46
(1) (a), Wisconsin Statutes. That section provides, in relevant part, that a state
government official may take no official action substantially affecting a matter in
which the official or the official’s spouse has a substantial financial interest.1 The
statute pertains regardless of whether an official is party to a marital property
agreement that provides for the separation of the official’s and spouse’s income.
Two reasons cause us to conclude that the provision just cited does not
bar your voting on, or otherwise participating in the consideration of 2007
Assembly Bill 243.
First, the bill’s effect, if any, on your spouse’s finances is remote and
speculative. Public policy supports a public official’s exercise of official duties
when the financial effect of an official decision on the official’s personal interests
is uncertain and speculative.
Second, as we noted in the Ethics Board’s guideline, “Mitigating conflicting
interests: private interest vs. public responsibility” [Ethics Board publication
#232], an official may participate in a legislative action, even though the action
will affect the official or a member of the official's immediate family as long as:
• The official's action affects a whole class of similarly-situated interests;
• Neither the official's interest, the interest of a member of the official's
immediate family, nor the interest of a business or organization with which
the official is associated is significant when compared to all affected
interests in the class;
• The action's effect on the interests of the official or of a member of the official's
immediate family is neither significantly greater nor less than upon
other members of the class.