making local government more ethical
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.

It's been four months since my latest update on San Bernardino County's failure to follow grand jury ethics reform recommendations with any action. An op-ed piece by Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies, in this week's San Bernardino Sun calls for campaign contribution limits (there are currently none at all), a prohibition on off-year fundraising, disclosure requirements, and an ethics commission to enforce the law.

In my previous blog post, the issue arose of voiding a planning and zoning commission's approval of a permit because one of the commission members had a conflict of interest. Connecticut law automatically invalidates the commission action, without any individual or body having to act. But this is unusual. In fact, most jurisdictions do not expressly provide for the avoidance of permits, contracts, or other transactions.