making local government more ethical
A front-page article in today's New York Times looks on a conflict situation that is usually ignored:  the unpaid adviser who effectively sells her inside, often confidential information to her clients. She is not technically a lobbyist, because her communications with officials are not intended to push for her clients' goals (although it is impossible to know whether her clients' goals affect her advice). Therefore, she does not have to make disclosures and is not limited by lobbying laws, including their post-employment provisions (the focus of the article is a former official). And she is not technically an official or consultant, because she is not paid for her advice. Therefore, she is not an official making use of confidential information to benefit herself or others. Thus, she falls through the cracks of just about any ethics program.

An interesting case in Iowa raises questions about the purposes behind post-employment, or "revolving door," provisions, including whom they are supposed to protect and why.

According to an Associated Press article yesterday, a former chief of staff and general counsel to Iowa's then governor is representing Muscatine, IA citizens in their suit against Grain Processing Corp. (GPC) for long-standing pollution in the town. GPC has filed a motion to disqualify the attorney, and other attorneys he brought into the case, on the grounds that the attorney dealt with GPC's pollution when he was a state official. GPC has also filed a complaint with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board which, according to an article in Monday's Iowa City Press-Citizen, will be considering the matter today.

Last week, I wrote blog posts about how Chicago's ethics program needs more independence and more transparency than the Ethics Reform Task Force recommended. I couldn't have imagined better evidence to support my criticisms than what has been happening recently with the New York state Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE). The goings-on there show how a lack of independence combined with too much secrecy can make an ethics commission open to attacks that undermine its credibility.

Although the Chicago Ethics Reform Task Force, in its first report, came out strongly in favor of more transparency in government, in its second report it came out strongly in favor of what it calls "confidentiality" in the ethics program. I call it what the public calls it: "secrecy."

Yet Another Mayoral Charity Mess, This Time in Toronto
According to an article in the Toronto Star this week and another in the Globe and Mail yesterday, today Toronto's mayor will appear in court "to explain why he participated in a council debate about whether he should return $3,150 in improperly raised donations" to his football foundation. Yes, you read that right:  a mayoral football foundation. It raises funds to buy football equipment for children.

Who were the donations from? Your average football fan? No, several lobbyists, their clients and a company that does business with the city.

The principal topic of the second report of the Chicago Ethics Reform Task Force is the relationship between the Board of Ethics and the city's dual inspectors general, one for the executive branch (the IG) and a new one for the legislative branch (the LIG). Currently, there are communication and jurisdictional problems among these three agencies. The task force's recommendations would bring an end to these problems, but I think there are solutions that are better for an ethics program.