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Old soft money was associated with access, like a wad of cash that you’d slip to a nightclub bouncer to get in the door. The new soft money is more like a bulge in one’s jacket pocket, an implied threat against those who refuse to comply.


—Dan Tokaji and Renata Strause in an Election Law Blog post yesterday that summarizes their new report, "The New Soft Money." This shows how important it is for mayoral candidates to agree to a People's Pledge in order to prevent this sort of threat from those engaged in independent spending (see my blog post on this)

The portrayal of lobbying state and, hopefully, a few local officials will soon be in the hands of Lawrence Wright, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 and, most recently, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief.

But the portrayal will not be in the form of a book. According to an article yesterday in the Austin Chronicle, Wright will be scripting an HBO series called God Save Texas, based loosely on his 2004 play, Sonny's Last Shot. The story is about "a down-home, honest kind of Texas lawmaker who finds himself embroiled in all the corruption, pressure, gladhanding, and flawed morality that Texas politics can allow."

In 2012, Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown signed a People's Pledge in their U.S. senatorial race in Massachusetts. The candidates agreed to donate to a charity of the other candidate's choice a sum equal to 50% of any advertisement run by any outside group or PAC. The goal was to let the candidates control their own race and to prevent outside groups from changing the nature of the race, especially by running negative ads, as they tend to do. The pledge was successful because, as the candidates wrote in a letter to third-party groups, "Your spending will damage the candidate you intend to help." There were only two minor breaches, leading to charitable contributions of $1,000 and $35,000.

The success of the People's Pledge has led good government organizations and candidates to put pressure on federal and gubernatorial candidates nationwide to enter into People's Pledges of their own. This post will look at the role of the People's Pledge in mayoral races.

Thinking in terms of risk is a great way not to take responsibility for your actions, including your inactions. As soon as you start thinking about the chances that, overall, you might win or lose from a transaction, you have begun thinking in terms of your personal interest. This makes it very difficult to think in terms of the public interest.

You have also begun thinking in terms of consequences rather than in terms of rules. And it is rules, not consequences, that underlie the philosophy of a government ethics program. The reason government ethics is rules-based is that the obligations of government officials derive from their fiduciary duty to the community. Duties are not about consequences, but about following rules.

According to an article this week in Governing magazine, a report in Public Administration Review found that "more corrupt states tended to spend money on construction, highways, and police protection programs, which provide more opportunity for corrupt officials to use public money for their own gain. These states spend less on health, education, and welfare, which provide less opportunity for officials to collect bribes, according to Indiana University's John Mikesell, who co-authored the report with Cheol Liu of the University of Hong Kong." The report is entitled "The Impact of Public Officials’ Corruption on the Size and Allocation of U.S. State Spending."

Many people believe that conflicts of interest are limited to situations where money is involved. When these people write ethics laws, as they often do, the law effectively says that where money isn't involved, any conduct is acceptable.

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