making local government more ethical
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.

Since most local ethics commissions do not have the authority to initiate their own investigations or draft their own complaints (although in many cases this authority is not expressly withheld), there is a special role that former EC members, especially chairs, can play:  filing complaints that no one else will file.

According to a Santa Fe Reporter blog post this week, a former chair of the city's Ethics and Campaign Review Board filed a complaint against a mayoral candidate participating in that city's public campaign financing program, as well as against four PACs which supported the mayor's candidacy but, according to the complaint (attached; see below), were not acting fully independently.

Mike DeBonis's article in the Washington Post last week describes an operatic ethics matter, with several twists and complications, with dramatic cries of innocence mixed with scathing accusations of guilt. The article is certainly more exciting than this blog post, which focuses on issues raised by the the Notice of Violation, dated February 6, (attached; see below). I hope the post will, at least, be enlightening.

Here are the basic facts, as stated in the Notice of Violation. In 2006, D.C.'s chief administrative law judge entered into a business relationship with a woman to purchase investment properties in the D.C. area. Both principals put money into the enterprise over a period of years. In 2010, the judge hired her business partner as the general counsel of her government office, "without posting/advertising the position or interviewing anyone else for the position."

This is the last of four blog posts on Florida Senate Bill 606 (attached; see below), one of the worst ethics reform bills I have ever read.

The Florida League of Cities was deeply involved in drafting these supposed ethics reforms, which I criticize in my last three blog posts. The question needs to be asked:  Was the League acting for its members as officials representing the public interest or as individuals with personal interests that might conflict with their obligations to their constituents?

Florida Senate Bill 606 (attached; see below) is one of the worst ethics reform bills I have ever read. But it is far worse than the words it consists of. What makes it worse is that, with respect to laws that affect local officials, it is largely the work of the Florida League of Cities (this was confirmed to me by representatives of both the League and state senator Jeff Clemens, the bill's sponsor). It is work like this that leads me to question whether local government associations should be permitted to lobby on matters involving government ethics. This issue will be dealt with in the last of the blog posts related to the bill.

Penalties on the Complainant
It's hard to know where to start. So I'll start with the most insidious proposal — an additional penalty on complainants — because here the League of Cities has shown a level of cleverness that I have not seen elsewhere. Unfortunately, the League's cleverness has been employed to get around a 1988 decision striking down the very same penalty on complainants, based on First Amendment free speech rights.

Who should be allowed to file an ethics complaint? Certainly any citizen of the jurisdiction. But what about multiple citizens of the jurisdiction? Should an ethics commission exclude a complaint from them?

This is what happened recently in Brookfield, CT, according to an article in the News-Times. A petition signed by a few hundred people in town was sent to the city's ethics board, but the ethics board rejected it, insisting that complaints have to be filed on an official form signed by a particular individual. This makes no sense. A complaint signed by multiple individuals is a good way to protect individuals from retaliation and, therefore, make it more likely that ethics complaints will be filed. And a complaint signed by multiple individuals should be given more, rather than less respect. It shows that the community is very concerned about the matter.