making local government more ethical
It's been a year since I last wrote about placement agents, so it's time for an update, based on an article put up yesterday on the Forbes Magazine site, designated for the May 23 issue.

Placement agents are intermediaries between pension boards and companies that invest pension boards' funds. They are paid by the investment companies to win pension boards over. They are especially useful to investment companies that are new, lack sales staff, or do not want to deal directly with pension boards due to disclosure and conflict rules.

Without giving it any thought, it would be hard to think of a better fit than a city politician running the local chamber of commerce. After all, the goals of a chamber of commerce and of a city government are pretty much the same:  security, good government, good services, low taxes.

But when you think about it more, you realize that a chamber of commerce is not just a cheerleader for the city, but also a powerful organization that lobbies city politicians on a variety of issues, representing the interests of local businesses. A local chamber of commerce is also an organization in which certain companies from certain industries predominate, especially those that contract with local government and those that seek permits and approvals from local government.

Update: March 19, 2011 (see below)

Last December I wrote a long blog post about the pay-to-play culture of Prince George's County, Maryland. The new county executive and the county's state representatives appear to have been working hard to make changes to end this pay-to-play culture, although you wouldn't know it from the new county executive's transition report, which came out last week. The report focuses on development, and makes no mention of the county's pay-to-play culture.

On February 11, three bills (HB 1076, HB 993, HB 1103) were introduced to the Maryland House that would make extensive ethics changes. The bills would deal with the moribund ethics program by providing the county ethics board with an executive director, and also providing an ethics advisor. They would require the ethics board to meet twice a year, which is insufficient if it is going to be a force in the county and if there is going to be a true ethics program.

You know you're doing a pretty poor job with government ethics when a grand jury recommends that you be all but abolished. This is the case with the Broward County School Board, according to a report published on Frday. It concludes, on p. 48:
    Unfortunately based on the history of this Board as an institution, we have no confIdence in their ability to make meaningful changes and to adhere to them. The solutions we see, at least short term, are to remove as much power and influence from the Board as possible and to have an independent outside authority monitor their dealings closely.
More Costs of Not Having an Ethics Program
Local officials are always complaining about the cost of an ethics program, but not having an ethics program can be expensive and extremely disruptive, and seem downright unfair.

Update: February 10, 2011 (see below)

Trenton's city attorney and mayor have been going through an elaborate dance in the last week, since the city attorney decided to void a contract between the city and a law firm that made a large contribution to a PAC that supported the new mayor's candidacy. The city attorney's decision was made pursuant to a 2006 Trenton pay-to-play ordinance (a searchable copy is attached; see below). The Pay to Pay Law Blog reported on this matter yesterday.

What makes the pay-to-play law so interesting with respect to this matter is the division of responsibility among the city, the contractor, and the candidate or political committee. The prospective professional contractor is required to disclose any contribution in violation of the pay-to-play law, but the contractor is allowed to cure the violation by obtaining the return of any excess contribution within 30 days after the election. Seeking the return is not enough. The money has to be received within the 30-day period. Hence the committee's role in the matter. The committee, which may be out of funds by the time the request is made, might be in the position of determining whether a contractor can cure its violation and get or keep a contract.