I favor stronger ethics laws; you favor stronger ethics laws; we all favor stronger ethics laws — even Hudson Hallum favors stronger ethics laws. So when I see a news release that explains that the state’s House Democratic Caucus is forming “a special committee tasked with strengthening their push for ethics reform,” I am initially unimpressed.
That’s because, until these legislators are willing to explain what it is they want to do, I am going to draw the reasonable conclusion: namely, that emitting a news release that contains nothing but vague, windy sentiments in favor of stronger ethics laws accomplishes nothing except for the production of public-relations fluff.
My preferences on strengthening ethics laws include establishing transparency in the enforcement process (as opposed to today’s indefensible system of secret ethics hearings) as well as either a complete, exceptionless ban on gifts or a complete, exceptionless, dual-reportage system of gift disclosure.
Note that the above sentence provides an ethics agenda in one sentence; note that this is exactly one sentence more about the substance of ethics reform than the House Democratic Caucus’s release contained; note further that it’s pretty pointless to put out press releases in favor of ethics reform until you actually have an ethics reform agenda to act on.
The greatest television show you’ve never seen, Yes Minister, provides an unforgettable example of how entirely unserious it is for public officials to take a general position in favor of an abstract value while declining to commit to any concrete measures to establish that value. In the “Equal Opportunity” episode of Yes Minister, the nation’s cabal of senior civil servants all agree as a general matter that they want more women employed as senior managers in their government. However, when these civil servants start discussing the practical methods they would need to undertake to reach the goal of expanding opportunities for women — and, indeed, which branch of the civil service might hire more women — for some reason each cabinet member finds that the particularities of the branch of government he oversees would be uniquely unsuited to let women enter their workforce. But, notably, they all agree that increasing the employment of women, in general, is a crucial goal.
We have calls into several members of this “special committee.” If they are willing to take a position on any actual ethics reform issue, we’ll let you know as soon as they tell us.
Hudson Hallum on ethics:
Yes Minister on women’s rights: