making local government more ethical

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Complicity and Knowledge

Robert Wechsler
What is the worst local campaign finance violation? According to an article yesterday from the Los Angeles Daily News, it appears to be political money laundering. Mark Abrams, a former Beverly Hills developer, was fined $108,000 yesterday, and $270,000 for similar violations back in 2005.

Robert Wechsler
I chose to specialize in local government ethics because this is where it all starts. This is where the individuals who become our representatives experience their first unethical environment, become team players, learn the rules of the game, and begin to feel a special entitlement.

One good thing about election time is that we sometimes get the back stories of individuals running for higher office. We get to see how they started. One such individual is Carl Paladino, a candidate...
Robert Wechsler
Using government employees for private purposes is one of the most common ethics code violations.

This violation is especially bad because it involves coercion of individuals, in this case subordinates who are not in a position to say no. Coercion and intimidation rarely occur outside of a poor ethical environment.

This violation also shows a serious failure to recognize the boundary between public and private, which is the heart of government ethics.

Robert Wechsler
One of the problems in talking about conflicts of interest is that we tend to assume that people with conflicts analyze their situations before acting. We think that, for example, they balance acting in their personal interest, or in the interest of a family member or business associate, against the consequences of getting caught. Or we think that the principal ethical considerations they bring to bear on their situation arise from their local code of ethics or their spiritual or philosophical...
Robert Wechsler
Updates: August 4 and 9, 2010 (see below)
I was just saying to someone the other day that the worst offenses in local government ethics do not involve money. The worst offenses in local government ethics involve intimidation, which causes people to lose their peace of mind, their reputations, and the feeling that they may participate in their local government, things no amount of money can buy. And yet it is the rare ethics complaint or arrest that primarily involves intimidation...
Robert Wechsler
When it comes to government ethics, too often lawyers are nowhere to be seen, unless they are the ones saying that unethical conduct is legal. Far too often, lawyers do not use their knowledge, their strong, independent personalities, and their professional obligations to stand up to, or at least question, those acting unethically.

A horrible example of this, a cautionary tale that every law student should read in the first year, occurred when all the lawyers in the system (and...