making local government more ethical
The arrest of New York state senate majority leader Sheldon Silver points to an ongoing institutional problem that is not limited to New York state:  the law firm as the perfect place to launder money. The reason for this is that lawyer-client confidentiality, at least as it is often practiced, allows a law firm, and the public office holders who are part of or do work for it, to keep its clients, its services, its receipts, and its payments secret.

According to the complaint, dated January 21, Silver has been accused of using his position to give himself millions of dollars in kickbacks and bribes, most of which went through two law firms with which he is affiliated. What were called "attorney referral fees" came from clients with substantial business before the state and, according to the complaint, "not as a result of legitimate outside income Silver earned as a private lawyer." Even legitimate and semi-legitimate outside income earned from those seeking special benefits from the government can be problematic.

I left out one big local ethics/election story from my blog post yesterday:  the approval of an excellent ethics reform initiative in Oakland, with an approval percentage of 72%, according to the KQED News website.

For a description of the referendum, read my July blog post.

Two big local ethics/election stories come from Contra Costa, CA and Tallahassee, FL.

Ethics Reform Package Features a Different Sort of Public Campaign Financing Program
According to an article this morning on the Tallahassee Democrat website, by a 2-1 margin Tallahassee voters approved a charter amendment that will (1) create a seven-member ethics board with the power to investigate ethics complaints and levy civil penalties, (2) lower the campaign contribution limit from $1,000 to $250, and (3) institute one of the few local public campaign financing programs. (I was consulted about the amendment, and made recommendations for improving it.)

This was a project that was helped by Represent.US and supported by citizen groups from right to left.

I worked on the drafting of the referendum language.

Here is today's press release from Represent.US:

An essay of mine has appeared in the new issue of the journal Public Integrity, a special issue entitled "Changing of the Guard: The 75th American Society for Public Administration Anniversary Symposium: Visions and Voices of Ethics in the Profession" (Fall 2014, Vol. 16, No. 4). Since the journal is published commercially, I am not permitted to share my essay with you. So I will do the next best thing:  review it and expand on what I wrote (without all the details and the academy-speak I was required to employ).

The title of the essay is "Missing Out: The Consequences of Academic Noninvolvement in the Reform of Government Conflicts of Interest Programs." The abstract is as follows:
When it comes to the reform of government conflicts of interest programs in the United States, everyone has been missing out due to the noninvolvement of academics. This paper seeks to explain the reasons for this noninvolvement, to consider the consequences, and to suggest what can be done.
This week, California governor Jerry Brown had to go back fifty years to find someone who agreed with his view of government ethics reform. According to an article in the San Diego Mercury-News, in vetoing ethics reforms that "sought to limit the types of gifts politicians can accept and force lawmakers to disclose the names of groups that bankroll their travel junkets," Brown "referred lawmakers to an article written by one of his former law professors [Bayless Manning] that was published by the Federal Bar Journal in 1964: "The Purity Potlatch: An Essay on Conflicts of Interest, American Government and Moral Escalation." According to the article, the essay "argued that there was no evidence that new ethics rules imposed at the time were having any effect on public officials' conduct."

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