making local government more ethical
If you read the newspapers and blogs, the big issues in the Chicago Chick-fil-A controversy are free speech and government boycotts. But it's really a government ethics issue.

All rational voices acknowledge that a local legislator should not block a store opening just because it has given large sums to help an unpopular political cause. What they aren't saying is that a local legislator shouldn't be able to block a store opening in his district at all. Zoning matters should not be up to council members. They should be up to zoning boards and zoning officials.

Talk about independent expenditures usually refers to such expenditures in support, or more often in opposition to, federal candidates. At the local level, the major independent expenditures tend to come from unions, both public service unions and construction unions. There are also cases where independent expenditures come from contractors and others seeking direct benefits from the candidates they support or oppose. This can look very much like a payoff for favors done and/or for future favors, generally referred to as pay to play.

One such case has arisen in Montebello, CA, a small city of 62,000. According to an article posted yesterday evening on the Whittier Daily News website, a company that had recently obtained a no-bid $150 million, 15-year refuse hauling contract gave "close to $353,000" (or nearly $14 per registered voter) to a 2009 Say No on Recall campaign committee it created. Two of the council members were targeted for recall largely due to approval of the refuse contract. The small refuse companies that had formerly done the work provided most of the funding for the pro-recall committee, according to an article in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.

The situation of Rose Pak, a power broker for San Francisco's Chinese-American community who was featured a week ago in a New York Times article, raises some interesting questions. A paid consultant to the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, she has never held public office. Nor has she ever registered as a lobbyist or been an official member of a campaign, even that of the Chinese-American man who was just elected mayor, Edwin Lee. According to the article, she has mobilized Chinese votes, volunteers, and contributions for a succession of mayors and city supervisors in return for city financing of social programs and building projects in Chinatown. She also helps Chinese-Americans get appointments in the city government, most notably Lee's appointment as interim mayor (he had been the city administrator).

Legal Disciplinary Proceeding as Ethics Enforcement Forum
Occasionally, government ethics enforcement spills out from ethics and criminal proceedings into other types of proceeding. Since Maricopa County's officials have managed to turn ethics and criminal enforcement into a form of internecine warfare, the state's lawyer disciplinary program has gotten into the action.

How you present an ethics provision can make all the difference. Take a pay-to-play ordinance proposed in Fort Wayne, which would limit the amount of contributions and gifts that can be given to city officials by an individual or entity if it wants to have a no-bid contract with the city.

It's fascinating how different issues are important to local government officials in difference places at different times. I couldn't say that officials will always dig in their heels and fight this ethics provision, or that another ethics provision never raises an eyebrow.

Take Broward County, FL, for example. After numerous arrests and convictions of local officials, the county commission passed a new ethics ordinace, and the county's citizens voted to have this ordinance apply to the county's municipalities (see my November 2010 blog post).

Many of the municipalities had problems with the ordinance, so the county commission asked the Broward League of Cities for its recommended changes in adapting the county code to municipalities. The county ordinance and the League's revised version are attached below, so that you can open them side by side, if you'd like. You might also want to look at the Sun-Sentinel's chart comparing the two.