making local government more ethical
On Monday, Anthony Man of the Sun-Sentinel wrote an excellent analysis of the lobbying elements of Florida Senate bill 846 (a copy of the bill is attached; see below), which was recently passed by the senate unanimously.

The law would prohibit local officials from registering as a lobbyist of state legislators or agencies, except on behalf of their political subdivision. This is a good prohibition, because it is not clear to the state official whether the local official is lobbying on behalf of the city or on behalf of a client. It is a classic situation of wearing two hats. And the local official may be harming the municipality by seeking a favor for a client rather than for the municipality, because such favors are limited.

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?

Here's another story involving the lack of transparency. This time, the lack of transparency involves a company getting government grants.

According to an article from a week ago on floridaytoday.com, Brevard County, FL's commissioners approved a $205,000 grant for Project Magellan, a business development at the Melbourne (FL) airport that is "expected to bring 1,800 jobs paying an average of $100,000 apiece." The grantee's name was not provided.

According to an article yesterday on floridatoday.com, the Joint Legislative Budget Commission approved a $20.8 million grant for the same mysterious project after only three minutes of discussion, which consisted primarily of the minority leader saying that he was “going to trust the professional staff” of the Department of Economic Opportunity “that they’ll do the right thing.”

According to Wikipedia, a Grand Unified Theory (GUT) is "a model in particle physics in which at high energy, the three gauge interactions of the Standard Model which define the electromagnetic, weak, and strong interactions, are merged into one single interaction."

It appears that the case of Michael Quinn Sullivan and his trio of organizations, Empower Texans PAC, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility (a 501(c)4) organization), and Empower Texans Foundation (a 501(c)(3) organization) may provide a Grand Unified Theory in the field of government ethics, bringing together the fields of campaign finance, lobbying, transparency, and conflicts of interest.

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?

Worth reading is an op-ed piece Saturday in the Canberra Times by Jack Waterford, the paper's editor-at-large. With a title you'd never see in an American paper — Weaning Players Off the Public Teat — Waterford takes a very frank approach to the revolving door between government and lobbying.

Waterford starts off by acknowledging that, "For too many politicians, minders, and party organisation figures, a stint in Canberra [Australia's capital] is seen only as a necessary incident to going into the private sector to make a killing from one's 'insider' knowledge."

Waterford goes on to note that an Australian gambling tycoon, like so many industry leaders who hire lobbyists, "is not a man who believes in free markets, operating instead in a world where the 'right' to make a fortune turns on getting discretionary favours, such as gambling licences and public land (and in an earlier life, spectrum and television licences) from governments. As a result, the family empire has long hired many former insiders, Labor and Liberal, to open doors, demand favours, bulldoze obstacles, and punish enemies." You don't see "punish enemies" listed in too many lobbyists' job descriptions.