Do Ethics Laws Work?

As legislatures continue to strengthen their ethics laws, policymakers and the public wonder about the results.

An article from the July 2003 edition of State Legislatures magazine by Peggy Kerns and Ginger Sampson

Since New York passed the country’s first major ethics law in 1954, an extensive patchwork of such statutes has unfolded across the nation. Today, all 50 states regulate the conduct of public officials. States, coupled with the federal government, have arguably constructed the most detailed set of ethics laws that exists anywhere in the world.

“What has emerged, however, is not a clear system of rules, but an inconsistent and confusing patchwork,” says Elder Witt in Essentials of Government Ethics. The result is a Byzantine array of public integrity rules and regulations that vary tremendously from state to state and even between the two houses of Congress. government. In fact, if based on conclusions of opinion polls, it appears that public skepticism increases as government enacts more ethics laws. When trust in government was at its highest in the early 1960s, there were no major ethics laws in the states.

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Questions can be directed to the Ethics Center.