making local government more ethical
According to an editorial in the Press Democrat, the city council in Santa Rosa (CA), a city of about 150,000 north of San Francisco, has postponed consideration of an ordinance requiring city lobbyists to register, supposedly due to complaints from nonprofits who do not want to pay the $120 fee. (San Jose is currently considering an amendment to its lobbying ordinance, which would exempt nonprofits from paying the registration fee.)

The proposed lobbying ordinance makes an exception for attorneys. Considering that most lobbyists are attorneys, such an exception would seriously undermines the ordinance.

Update: April 29, 2010 (see below)

The idea of a possible conflict of interest should not be an excuse for a fishing expedition to find relationships between local government legislators and people or contracts they vote on. This appears to be what is happening in Crossville, a town of 9,000 in east-central Tennessee.

Pennsylvanians have, for some time, been entertained with a scandal called Bonusgate, which involves state legislative staff not only being used for campaigns, but getting bonuses, which makes a common practice appear even uglier. The ugliness has recently increased in intensity:  defense counsel for two of the legislators is accusing the attorney general (who instituted the criminal actions) of doing the very same thing, without the bonuses. And the attorney general, of a different political party than the great majority of the accused legislators, is running for governor. Could a screenwriter come up with a better plot to undermine citizens' trust in those who represent them?

The elephant in the room is the fact that most elected officials use their staff in their campaigns, and often loan them out to others', as well. The way to deal with conduct this common is not to prosecute it (especially when it is politically convenient). The best way, I think, is to recognize that this conduct is here to stay, and then regulate it.

When is a gift a campaign contribution? This issue has been raised in the trial of a Manhattan surrogate court judge, according to an article in yesterday's New York Times.

Update: March 29, 2010 (see below)

It is a common problem in government ethics to confuse law and ethics. It is a more unusual problem to confuse law and facts. But this appears to be a problem in La Crosse (WI; pop. 51,000), according to an article in yesterday's La Crosse Tribune. But it's not the only problem.

Have you ever wondered how a local government department head can afford to live like a king on a $100,000 salary?

This is what people are wondering in South Africa, where union leaders are calling for "lifestyle audits" of all senior government officials in order to find out who is on the take, according to an article in today's New York Times. According to an article in The Mercury this week, the nation's Public Service Commission wants to perform these audits, because government departments have ignored its complaints about senior officials who have failed for many years to file financial disclosure statements.