making local government more ethical

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Robert Wechsler
The Washington state Legislative Ethics Board has been discussing how many meals a state legislator should be able to accept from lobbyists and lobbyist-employers under the "infrequent" meals exception in the state ethics code. The exception allows legislators to accept food and beverage when their attendance is "related to the performance of official duties" on "infrequent occasions." The board has apparently never defined "infrequent."

It's About Perceptions
Robert Wechsler
An individual who was asking me government ethics questions recently became angry when I said that codes of conduct that go beyond conflicts of interest are outside of my field. He said that those who engage in bad conduct will probably also engage in bad ethics. He referred to my exclusive focus on conflicts of interest as "compartmentalization."

This reminded me how important it is to make it clear why government ethics programs deal exclusively with conflicts of interests and...
Robert Wechsler

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, "...
Robert Wechsler
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 ...
Robert Wechsler
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...
Robert Wechsler
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...