making local government more ethical
According to an editorial in the Orange County (CA) Register this week, Orange County citizens will soon vote on an initiative that would make their county the second one to turn its campaign finance program over to the state's Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC). But the initiative's wording calls the FPPC "the ethics commission," which causes confusion, because many in the county, including a recent grand jury (see my blog post on this) as well as past grand juries, have called for a local ethics commission to be formed.

The editorial points out that the initiative's language is misleading, because ethics commissions — and there are many good ones in California — do far more than enforce campaign finance laws.

An article today in the New York Times describes a situation that sheds light on pay to play. It involves the Westchester County (NY) county executive, who is getting special scrutiny because he is running for governor and has, throughout his career, as well as in this election, been openly critical of pay to play. He is being accused of hypocrisy, but it may just be that he does not really understand what pay to play is, why it is problematic, or how to prevent it.

According to critics, donors who have given the Westchester county executive $900,000 in campaign contributions over the last four years have received $709 million worth of county work. The executive's campaign "scoffed at any causality, noting that contracts must be competitively bid and approved by legislators."

According to an article Sunday on the Voice of OC website, the Orange County, CA legislative body has drafted a response to the second grand jury report in a year, which recommended the creation of a county ethics program "to monitor and enforce campaign finance and reporting and lobbyist reporting laws as well as other ethics laws and policies." The county board of supervisors wants to turn campaign finance enforcement over to the state ethics commission, and leave it at that.

The board's draft response asserts, “The effectiveness of the ‘ethics bodies’ is a matter of opinion and difficult to determine. The Grand Jury’s report did not provide any metrics or analysis to explain how ‘effectiveness’ of an ethics body is defined nor did they provide any evidence or examples of said effectiveness.”

In an article in the New York Times this Monday, the Robeson County (NC) district attorney described his predecessor's bullying ways, which are typical of those of an individual who heads a local fiefdom:
“He is a bully, and that’s the way he ran this office. People were afraid of him. Lawyers were afraid of him. They were intimidated by his tactics."
When city and county contractors and their lobbyists don't follow the rules, it's difficult to catch them, because few cities have an oversight office that investigates on its own initiative. Without such a program, communities depend on federal and state criminal enforcers who focus on bribery and kickbacks.

It is the FBI and a federal grand jury that did the job in Dallas County which, unlike the city of Dallas, has no ethics program, just an aspirational code. In fact, it has two aspirational codes, only one of which is linked to on the county website; the one linked to is the National Association of Counties Code of Ethics (attached; see below); there is also a short ethics code in the county Code of Ordinances (Sec. 94-51). But there is no local ethics program.

According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas, a federal grand jury has returned a 109-page indictment charging a long-time Dallas County commissioner (Price), his chief of staff, a corporate lobbyist, (Nealy) and a corporate consultant (Campbell) with a conspiracy that involved nearly $1 million going to the commissioner (in the form of money, land, and cars (one of the four cars, a New 2005 BMW 645Ci, cost $100,000)), while the commissioner supported the bids of the lobbyist's clients and provided them with confidential information that gave them a "strategic advantage" over other bidders.

It's questionable whether a contractor, developer, grantee, or other individual or entity that seeks special benefits from a local government should be permitted to make sizeable campaign contributions to candidates for positions in the local government. But if they are not permitted to make such contributions directly, they should not be permitted to make them indirectly, either.

According to an article today on the KPBS website, development companies and other real estate interests found a way to support the incumbent San Diego county supervisor's campaign without declaring, in the speech that was purchased with their money, that they were providing the support. They did this by contributing $100,000 to the county deputy sheriffs association PAC, which in turn funded flyers for the supervisor candidate. The flyers told citizens that they were paid for by the county deputy sheriffs association, with no mention of the developers.