Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Legislating Ethics

Governor Phil Bredesen says that he doesn't like the proposal by State Senator Bill Ketron to merge the Tennessee Ethics Commission with the Registry of Election Finance:

Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen has spoken out against combining the two panels,
saying he doesn’t find ethics and campaign finance “a natural partnership.”

It is rare that The World will disagree with both Governor Phil Bredesen and the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, but issue must be taken with the idea that somehow the Ethics Commission and the Registry of Election Finance do not belong together. The ethical impairments which led to Tennessee Waltz (we can certainly call those former members of the Legislature ethically impaired, can we not?) were issues of money, most of it related to whether these people would be able to make more than their allotted salaries and perdiem through corrupt dealings with lobbyists, or whether they would have enough campaign money for re-election through the corrupt lobbying deals that they were making.

Combining these two agencies into one will likely not change the way that a candidate interacts with the Tennessee Ethics Commission. Every candidate for every office in the State will still have to fill out the same ethics form that they do now when they turn in their petition, the form which asks the candidate to disclose all things about their professional and even some of their personal associations which the State or the public may deem a conflict of interest. The all-knowing form even asks the candidate to disclose where his or her children may work, and to list all of one's personal investments and interests in almost anything that impacts their ability to provide for their family. The ethics form has the potential to get so detailed under certain circumstances that I know of people who have been discouraged from running for office not because they weren't qualified, or because they had any skeletons to hide, but they didn't believe that all of their personal affairs should need to be disclosed on a State form because it had nothing to do with their ability to do the job. Nonetheless, nothing about that procedure can change, because to do so would appear as though legislators were trying to run away from the prospect of an ethics watchdog.

Similarly, Bruce Andrphy (or some similar personage) will continue to give his little opening week presentation to each General Assembly about ethics and the Ethics Commission-you know, the public show that the General Assembly authorized in order to appear to be doing more about ethics, but which the vast majority of them laugh off. One legislator told me "that Yankee puts me to sleep."

None of these operations of the Tennessee Ethics Commission are likely to change, so why not merge two agencies dealing with similar subject matter and save the taxpayers a little cash at the same time?

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At Thursday, May 07, 2009 8:07:00 AM, Anonymous Netmom said...

Spot on, David. Nothing would change, except that it might be a little more efficient, and might cost a little less.

At Thursday, May 07, 2009 10:18:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To be honest, I'm not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, it sounds like a "fox guarding the henhouse" type proposal. On the other hand, if you could make the boards truly independent, then it seems like it could be a good thing. I am troubled that there are political appointees in charge and would prefer a very independent group that is beholden to no particular interest or ideology.

Perhaps if you could outline what your vision of this combined group would look like, then perhaps we could engage the powers that be with a proposal that makes sense.

Look forward to hearing about your ideas on this.

At Thursday, May 07, 2009 8:57:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One word:

Check the enforcement record of the Registry.

A time honored way to deal with unfortunate ethical constraints.. de-power the offending agency.


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