making local government more ethical
Rarely is a non-politician celebrity the subject of a local government ethics matter. So with David Beckham the subject of a Miami-Dade County ethics commission investigative report last week, and with important issues to boot [pun intended], this is an impossible matter to pass by.

Initiating Contact
The most interesting issues in this matter are whether lobbying is a one-way street, and the underlying issue: whether motive or intent is relevant to lobbying. That is, when there is a meeting between a government official and the officer of a company who may be seeking special benefits from the official's government, does it truly matter who initiated the contact? Is it reasonable that, when the government official initiates the contact, the meeting does not involve lobbying, but when the company officer initiates the contact, the meeting does involve lobbying?

Another mayor has resigned after getting caught by an FBI sting. According to an article in yesterday's Charlotte Observer, Charlotte's mayor, Patrick Cannon, has been alleged to have accepted bribes from undercover agents in return for promises to help them. His alleged crimes occurred when he was a council member and in the five months since he became mayor.

Would it have helped if Charlotte had had a good, independent ethics program, with training, independent advice, and disclosure? Possibly. It certainly would have helped if Cannon and his fellow council members had considered it important to have a good, independent ethics program. If these issues were openly discussed and if gifts, not to mention bribes, were not only prohibited, but frowned on and enforced, it is more likely that Cannon would have resisted temptation.

Can anyone volunteer for a local political campaign without it being considered a contribution? Isn't it everyone's right to do so? Isn't this just about the most important thing a citizen can do, short of running for office herself?

According to the Toronto Metro News website last week, a "political strategist" and lobbyist who was accused of being paid to work on a mayoral campaign responded, “I’m not getting paid a red cent, asshole.” Is there nothing left to say on the issue, other than about civility? Or is it a problem for a political strategist to offer his services for free without declaring them as an in-kind contribution?

Colorado has an extremely dysfunctional ethics program, everyone is complaining about it, but approaches to fixing it are sometimes just as dysfunctional. A year ago, I wrote three blog posts about its problems and people's complaints (total gift ban; lack of independence, including ethics commission members making campaign contributions; and ethics code in a constitution).

According to a guest column in the Colorado Springs Gazette this week, the latest "fix" is a bill that "creates liability for members of the [ethics commission] to the extent that they recklessly, intentionally, or willfully violate 'clearly established' rights existing under federal or state law, a standard largely lifted from federal section 1983 litigation."

Section 1983 is the basic federal civil rights law that protects individuals from mistreatment by government officials, such as the police and prison guards. It is strictly a law that protects citizens from government misconduct.

One Indian tribe wants to build a casino, another tribe already has one in the area and doesn't want competition. You're a council member in the city that can effectively block the casino from being built. Both tribes want your support, and are willing to back up that support with campaign contributions. What do you do?

According to an article in yesterday's Spokesman-Review, this is a question that Spokane's council members have faced. "About two years ago, the council voted 4-3 to oppose the tribe’s proposed casino resort. The council now has a new make-up," and the new council president wants to reconsider the proposal.

While running for his position, the council president accepted $1,600 in contributions from the tribe that wants to build a casino. When accused of supporting the proposal due to the contributions, the council president said that, in 2011, a lobbyist from the tribe that already has a casino told him that he had found four or five people willing to give him maximum campaign contributions (this is an offer to "bundle" contributions, a common thing that lobbyists do, so that their client can take credit not only for contributions, but also for fundraising). When the council president told the lobbyist he would continue to support the new casino, the lobbyist told him, “You probably won’t hear from us.”

According to an article in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, yesterday former New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin was convicted on 20 of the 21 corruption charges against him, primarily for bribery, honest services fraud, and tax fraud.

This hard-fought battle was actually about one thing only, whether gifts given to the mayor were intended to influence him. From a government ethics perspective, this was unnecessary. The acceptance of gifts from someone seeking benefits is sufficient. Therefore, all the additional discovery and presentation of evidence was unnecessary, except to ensure that he would do time.