making local government more ethical
This week, the Pay to Play Law Blog took a snapshot of the status of pay-to-play laws across the country, breaking them down into four categories:  jurisdictions that impose significant restrictions, including debarment; jurisdictions that require disclosure; jurisdictions with limited requirements; and jurisdictions that are considering pay-to-play laws.

I don't intend to summarize these categories; the post is short and clear. What I would like to do is look at arguments made on both sides for the two principal categories, significant restrictions and disclosure only.

Yesterday's Washington Post has a long article on a topic one would expect to find in a law review: the effect of the Constitution's Speech or Debate Clause on the prosecution of members of Congress.

The article starts out with a strong statement: "A constitutional clash over whether House members are immune from many forms of Justice Department scrutiny has helped derail or slow several recent corruption investigations of lawmakers."

Insurance is a big area for abuse in local government. It usually constitutes a sizeable dollar percentage of a town's contracts, and an insurance broker who works in government can use his or her position to get the insurance business of companies that do or want to do business with the town. And insurance is an area few people understand, and which no department, office, or board may be responsible for overseeing.

According to an article in the New Orleans Times-Picayune this week, the discovery of an insurance scheme brought down the Jefferson Parish president and his top administrator (the parish attorney later resigned, as well). Now, the state board of ethics has filed three dozen ethics charges against them. Jefferson Parish (pop. 400,000) is part of New Orleans.

This second blog post on the briefs filed concerning whether the Carrigan case should be accepted by the U.S. Supreme Court glances at arguments in the briefs filed by the two parties and then makes a different argument for why the First Amendment has no place in this sort of government ethics matter. Making this argument gets to the root of how the Constitution, and government ethics, protect the public. If only the courts would let the Constitution and government ethics work together, as they should, instead of placing them at loggerheads.

Note: I made a few important changes to this blog post on January 10, in conjunction with the posting of my analysis of the parties' briefs in this case.

The Nevada Supreme Court's Carrigan decision, which I discussed in detail last month, has been accepted by the U.S. Supreme Court, likely to be argued in April. It is a case involving a council member censured by a state ethics commission for voting with a conflict of interest, as basic a local government ethics matter as there can be. The briefs can be found on the Scotusblog, except that the online Florida amicus brief is corrupted. So I've attached a copy of it below.

It not only takes a number of officials to allow unethical conduct to occur, it also takes a number of officials to undermine the effect of a good ethics program. An ugly example occurred recently in North Providence, Rhode Island, a city where three former council members are awaiting trial for charges of extortion and bribery.