More on Ethics: July/August 2011
“Enforcement or Ethical Capacity: Considering the Role of State Ethics Commissions at the Millennium,” by Robert W. Smith. (condensed)
Recommendations for Ethics Commissions for the Balance of the 21st Century
- Insulate the commission from politics.
- Commission need to do a better job of educating public employees and officials.
- An effective commission requires its own investigatory powers and staff devoted to ethics investigations and inquiry.
- The power to impose substantial penalties.
- Assurances of a base level of funding and personnel on a year-to-year basis.
- Multiple commissions, boards or committees for the different branches and levels of government complicate the ethics agenda.
- Sensitivity to the prevailing political culture is important for prioritizing goals and activities of the ethics commission.
- Just because something is legal does not make it ethical. Commissions need to be given much more discretion and flexibility in determining how the law should or should not apply.
- A purely external or internal control mechanism is not enough to ensure ethical government. The individual’s role in preserving ethics in government is important.
- The existence of ethics commissions sends an important symbolic message that ethics matters in government.
What Makes An Ethical Culture?
- Public officials who are honest and have integrity.
- Leaders who believe an ethical legislative institution is important.
- Lawmakers who collectively and as individuals maintain high ethical standards.
- Staff who support and contribute to the core values of the institution.
- Lobbyists who follow ethical principles.
- Training in ethics law and the role of personal values.
- Consistent and fair oversight.
- A public that cares.
Lobbying and Ethics
The Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University undertook a three-year project that included interviewing lobbyists, legislators, staff and journalists about the growth of lobbying. The effort resulted in the publication of a handbook, “The Ethics of Lobbying,” which offers observations and recommendations for creating an ethical culture. The study raised these issues:
- Ethical behavior in the public sector has two sides: the ethics of lawmakers and the ethics of lobbyists.
- Effective lobbying can be ethical.
- Money in financing political campaigns plays a role in influencing public policy.
- Lobbyists should always tell the truth.
- The lobbying profession needs professional standards.
- Conflicts of interest should be acknowledged and avoided.
- Disclosure of lobbying activities should be complete and transparent.
- The revolving door from policymaker to lobbyist creates a problem.
- Regulations on lobbying do not ensure ethical conduct.
- The public needs to get involved in the political system.