making local government more ethical

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Campaign Finance

Robert Wechsler
An article in yesterday's New York Times points to yet another clever end run around ethics laws involving municipal bonds. Bond underwriters are not allowed to make campaign contributions, to prevent a pay-to-play environment. However, financial advisers, the people who hook local governments up with bond underwriters, are allowed to make campaign contributions. And so they do, in large...
Robert Wechsler
Here's a more interesting story out of Massachusetts, this one from the state Senate. Former state senator Dianne Wilkerson admits having accepted up to $70,000 from friends and supporters in what is being called personal fundraising, that is, raising money to pay off personal debts. She says that the gifts were approved by the state ethics commission and by lawyers. She...
Robert Wechsler
In ethics codes, campaign contributions are sacrosanct. Nearly every ethics code excepts them from the definition of "gift," "personal benefit," "anything of value," or whatever they call money and goods given to government officials and employees. Limiting campaign contributions is a matter for campaign finance laws, because there is no conflict of interest involved.

Or is there? It is a conflict of interest to accept (and, not often enough, to give) money when there is an...