making local government more ethical
They said it couldn't — or, at least, wouldn't — be done, but you can see it for yourself, in living Internet color:  non-required disclosures made by Chicago officials and employees.

These are not annual disclosures, but mostly disclosures of gift offers, accepted and rejected. There are dozens of them for 2012 and 2013, and 9 already for 2014. It's good that these disclosures are made, and that they're made public. It never hurts to make local officials look good!

Maybe the next Chicago fraud case will involve officials making up gifts that they can say they returned.
The draft of Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout's new essay, "The Forgotten Law of Lobbying," which will appear in Election Law Journal, looks at the history of how American courts have viewed lobbying. This history provides a valuable perspective on lobbying, making it more clear what it is about lobbyists that attracts bad feelings.

After all, when looked at in terms of First Amendment free speech and the redress of grievances, as recent court decisions have, lobbyists should be lionized as elves hard at work to make our democracy work. But, as Teachout shows, lobbyists were not seen in terms of the First Amendment until recently. And they were also seen not as elves, but as people corrupting our democratic system.

This week, the Broward County (FL) inspector general filed a Review of the Existing Ethics Structure (attached; see below) of the countywide ethics program that he oversees, and which came into being via charter amendments overwhelmingly approved by the county's voters in late 2010. The 21-page report focuses on a two-part reform recommendation:  (1) an ethics officer who would uniformly interpret the Code and provide precedential advisory opinions, and (2) a panel to decide on appeals and review the ethics program.

The IG calls for reform in two phases. First, improvement of the program's structure "to ensure consistent and impartial guidance, training, and enforcement." Second, "periodic, independent, and public consideration of the policies themselves and any necessary substantive corrections or revisions to the Code."

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.

Update: January 22, 2014 (see below)

Yesterday, the Broward Bulldog, in Broward County, FL (home of Ft. Lauderdale), published an excellent investigative report on the lack of lobbying laws in Florida's 992 independent special districts, which together spend many billions of dollars of taxpayer money every year. These special districts do everything from water management, mosquito control, and community development to running public hospitals, ports, and airports. They include both local and regional districts. One Florida county has 83 independent special districts.

The larger districts enter into contracts and other transactions for many millions of dollars a year, and deal with lobbyists frequently. And yet the state does not require them to have lobbying laws. The state doesn't require this of any local governments, although many of them do have such laws. But these laws do not apply to independent special districts, only to dependent ones, such as community redevelopment agencies. Of the 38 independent districts with annual budgets in excess of $50 million, only 3 reported having some form of lobbyist regulation; another prohibits lobbying in its bylaws. The other 34, without lobbying regulation, have cumulative annual spending of $7.1 billion. Of the 7 districts that levy the most property taxes each year, only 1 provides for lobbying registration. It does so by voluntarily following the county's lobbying law and asking lobbyists to register there.

It's Not the Dead Bodies, It's the Living Ones
"He knows where the bodies are buried at Metro." According to a local mayor as quoted in an article yesterday in the Surrey North Delta Leader, this is an important qualification for someone going from Metro Vancouver (BC) treasurer to lobbyist for the company that runs the local landfill. It just so happens that the mayor's town is working with the landfill company to extend the landfill into his town. Also last year, the same company hired a provincial legislator to be a lobbyist.

The problem with the revolving door between city/province and a company doing business with and regulated by city and province is not only knowing where bodies are buried, but also having close personal, professional, and political relationships with live individuals in the governments, and knowing and having special access to confidential information that is useful to the company. After a cooling-off period, the information one knows is less likely to give the company an advantage, and many contacts will not be buried, but will be gone from government and not in a position to give the company preferential treatment due to having a former colleague on staff.