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Although citizen participation is not part of government ethics, it's important to keep reminding ourselves that it is central to government ethics, because it is a principal goal of government ethics programs.

Officials' ethical misconduct undermines citizen trust and participation, but there are also other obstacles that get in the way. One of these is the lack of opportunity to express opinions in public forums at a time when input can make a difference. This post will look at this sort of citizen participation and how to overcome obstacles to it, and then look at a consultant's deeper examination of the issue.

In a recent blog post, the background issue was the effect of independent spending on a local public campaign financing program in Santa Fe.

Especially in the shadow of recent Supreme Court decisions, this is currently a serious problem for many local public campaign financing programs, and is a potential problem for all of them. In public testimony to the New York City program today (attached; see below), Michael Malbin of the Campaign Finance Institute has raised a possible solution that is worth examining.

According to an article in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, yesterday former New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin was convicted on 20 of the 21 corruption charges against him, primarily for bribery, honest services fraud, and tax fraud.

This hard-fought battle was actually about one thing only, whether gifts given to the mayor were intended to influence him. From a government ethics perspective, this was unnecessary. The acceptance of gifts from someone seeking benefits is sufficient. Therefore, all the additional discovery and presentation of evidence was unnecessary, except to ensure that he would do time.

Since most local ethics commissions do not have the authority to initiate their own investigations or draft their own complaints (although in many cases this authority is not expressly withheld), there is a special role that former EC members, especially chairs, can play:  filing complaints that no one else will file.

According to a Santa Fe Reporter blog post this week, a former chair of the city's Ethics and Campaign Review Board filed a complaint against a mayoral candidate participating in that city's public campaign financing program, as well as against four PACs which supported the mayor's candidacy but, according to the complaint (attached; see below), were not acting fully independently.

UC at Irvine Law School professor Richard Hasen's essay, "Lobbying, Rent-Seeking, and the Constitution," 64 Stanford Law Review 191 (2011), is a good complement to the Teachout essay I recently wrote about. Besides its valuable look at the idea that lobbying should be regulated because it is harmful to our economy, Hasen's paper looks at two post-Citizens United judicial decisions that struck down regulations that limited lobbyists' campaign finance activities and the cooling-off period between public office and lobbying.

Sometimes Withdrawal and Formal Processes Are Not Enough
It never looks good when a high-level elected official gets a job with the government while in office or soon after leaving office. It looks like he got the job because of his influence and relationships with those who made the decision.

According to an article in the Observer-Reporter, the North Strabane Township (PA) solicitor was shocked that anyone questioned the chair of the board of supervisors being hired as a department head. “He went through the same process as the other candidates. He was completely shielded and excluded like the other candidates. Once he announced he was interested in the position, we excluded him from anything to do with the parks position.”