An office of profit is any executive appointment which has a benefit attached to it. The term appears in several national constitutions, each with a slightly different definition. Governments generally do not allow those who hold an office of profit to be a member of the legislature, which strengthens the government’s separation of powers. Otherwise, a legislator might be unduly influenced by the executive office.
Some of the first laws concerning offices of profit were written in England in the early eighteenth century. The Act of Settlement of 1701 and the Act of Union in 1707 state that no one who has an office of profit or a royal pension may be a member of the House of Commons. No such law exists for the House of Lords. Although England was one of the first countries to prohibit this, they no longer strictly keep the law. A few positions that still disqualify someone from serving on the House of Commons are listed in the House of Commons Disqualification Act.
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The United States Constitution states that no one who holds an office of profit may be a member of Congress until he or she resigns from the office. Similarly, a Congressman cannot accept an office of profit unless he or she resigns from Congress. This law strengthens the checks and balances that the government is based on, where neither the executive, legislative, or judicial branch has more power than the other two branches.
India’s constitution also bans those that hold this type of position from being a member of either house of the Indian Parliament, but it does not define office of profit. In the 1950s, the legislature passed the Prevention of Disqualification Act, a Parliament act specifying particular positions which do not qualify. The financial benefit, the authority and influence of the post, and the supervisors are also taken into consideration. If a position only receives compensation for expenses, then it typically is not considered an office of profit.
Decisions about what qualifies as an office of profit have brought roughly 60 members of the Indian Parliament into question since the year 2000, including the former president of the Indian National Congress, Sonia Gandhi. A joint committee was formed to consider whether various positions should disqualify a person from the legislature. This committee advises the Parliament about those offices, although some decisions are made by the courts.