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According to an article yesterday in the Rockdale Citizen, Rockdale County, GA's county commission is having a debate on how to select its three-member ethics board and its alternates. Unfortunately, it's a debate that is being waged with no reference to best practices and almost no outside professional input. It's as if a debate about a construction project were to include little input from or reference to the work of engineers or planners. I point this out not because it is atypical, but because it is all too typical.

I left out one big local ethics/election story from my blog post yesterday:  the approval of an excellent ethics reform initiative in Oakland, with an approval percentage of 72%, according to the KQED News website.

For a description of the referendum, read my July blog post.

Two big local ethics/election stories come from Contra Costa, CA and Tallahassee, FL.

Ethics Reform Package Features a Different Sort of Public Campaign Financing Program
According to an article this morning on the Tallahassee Democrat website, by a 2-1 margin Tallahassee voters approved a charter amendment that will (1) create a seven-member ethics board with the power to investigate ethics complaints and levy civil penalties, (2) lower the campaign contribution limit from $1,000 to $250, and (3) institute one of the few local public campaign financing programs. (I was consulted about the amendment, and made recommendations for improving it.)

This was a project that was helped by Represent.US and supported by citizen groups from right to left.

I worked on the drafting of the referendum language.

Here is today's press release from Represent.US:

Former lobbyist, now jailbird, Kevin A. Ring shared some valuable words of wisdom in an op-ed piece in the Washington Post this week.

He says that the gift limit should be zero, because any other limit will be abused (what he doesn't say is that any exception will also be abused). He also notes that "Numerous psychologists and behavioral economists have confirmed the principle of reciprocity: People are hard-wired to repay even small favors or gifts. For officeholders, this benign, evolutionary instinct could come back to hurt them."

There is a front-page article in the New York Times today about the recent increase in lobbying and entertaining state attorneys general (AGs), as well as in campaign contributions from businesses who have a financial interest in decisions that these AGs make, especially with respect to suits they file on behalf of consumers.

Since many state lobbying laws only requiring disclosure of lobbying directed to legislators, much of this lobbying is done in secret and the campaign contributions are permitted. Many contributions are made through partisan AG associations, which were formed in 2000 and 2002, and are funded by big companies that stand to benefit from AG decisions.

In addition, revolving door laws sometimes do not apply to AGs — or former AGs insist they are acting as lawyers and are, therefore, excepted from revolving door laws that apply only to lobbyists — enabling them to immediately do work for companies that are seeking special benefits from the office they just left, as well as their former "clients" in government agencies and the legislature.

The question is, are city and county attorneys being lobbied in the same way by interested parties? These attorneys — most of whom are not elected, but rather are appointed by mayors, councils, and/or managers — not only are responsible for government litigation, but are also highly influential with respect to legislation (which they usually draft) and every other local government matter, upon which they offer their legal and often policy opinions. Especially when there is no strong mayor, the city or county attorney is often the single most influential individual, even if she never gets to vote on legislation.

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