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States and Municipal Ethics

Robert Wechsler
An investigative article in Sunday's Albany Times-Union looks at the local government ethics programs in 78 local governments in four New York counties. What it found is sadly typical in most states.

What it found was that at least 30 of the governments had not updated their ethics laws since the early 1970s, when government ethics was in its infancy. Almost...
Robert Wechsler
Yesterday's blog post discussed the law giving California's Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) authority over §1090 of the state code, which deals with contract-related conflicts of interest and applies to both local and state officials. Knowing little about this section, which stands outside the state's ethics code (known as the Political Reform Act), I did a...
Robert Wechsler
Some good news from California, which takes an odd, hybrid approach to local government ethics. It has a state ethics commission (the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC)) that has limited authority over local officials in the areas of conflicts of interest and campaign finance. And the state has many local government ethics programs, which are all over the place in terms of quality and areas over which they have authority.

The first piece of good news is that the FPPC has...
Robert Wechsler
Sendhil Mullainathan's new book Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much (Times Books) has been getting a lot of attention lately. Although I haven't read it yet, I was intrigued by Cass Sunstein's review of the book in the September 26 issue of the New York Review of Books...
Robert Wechsler
This is the third blog post on the West Palm Beach Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) matter. This post considers the matter in the context of a wide range of problems affecting CRAs throughout southern Forida, which can be seen in reports in the area's newspapers and blogs. Several CRAs have also been investigated by various offices and commissions.

A CRA is, as...
Robert Wechsler
One of the most frequent mistakes in the drafting of a government ethics code is prohibiting officials from having conflicts of interest. There is nothing wrong with an official having a conflict of interest. There is only something wrong with an official creating a conflict or failing to deal responsibly with a pre-existing conflict. As can be seen in Massachusetts, where such a prohibition has made big waves, the prohibition of having a conflict can cause serious...