Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Correcting the 'culture of corruption'

A forum Tuesday sponsored by the N.C. Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform gave the leading candidates for governor an opportunity to talk about ethics in government and what they'd do to restore public trust in Raleigh.
Both candidates had some good ideas on what to do. Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue, for example, would create an endowment that would tap private donations to provide candidates with funds to run for office. She's put state government bids and contracts online so anyone could take a look at how it works and who's getting state business, and put more state meetings online so folks can watch.. She said she'd change the way the state does its budget, and set up an efficiency commission that would make 10 proposals each election cycle that the legislature would have to vote up or down. She'd shut the revolving door between government and business or lobbying, and she'd stop legislators from soliciting money for charities -- a process that allows lobbyists to curry favor with lawmakers.
A good but unasked question was why she had not pressed to put in place these reforms when she was presiding over the state Senate -- or when she was a member herself. She'll have that opportunity in future public appearances.
Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, who has made cleaning up a "culture of corruption" in Raleigh that, he says, includes state officials intimidating local officials who press for improvements in such areas as transportation and criminal justice, had his own list. He wants to require political campaigns to update their financial contribution reports regularly and make them available online, so voters can monitor and know immediately who's getting money from whom. He wants to eliminate all cash contributions because they pose a risk of small contributors putting together a big bundle of little cash contributions to influence candidates. He also wants to stop elected officials from raising money for charities. He wants to beef up financial disclosure by requiring state officials to announce potential conflicts of interests before votes. He would veto budgets that include measures that neither the House nor Senate passed in their original budget bills, and he would eliminate fund-raising by members of major boards such as the Board of Transportation, the UNC Board of Governors and the state ABC Commission.. He'd also list all bids and contracts online, and he'd make all his office e-mails available.
There's more to these lists. Watching them explain their proposals at the forum -- where the candidates made separate appearances rather than a head-to-head debate -- it struck me that Perdue and McCrory both had a pretty firm handle on what they would do. Perdue was more relaxed and a little more effective in explaining hers; McCrory was more passionate -- and also willing to point out that sometimes ethics reforms go too far, such as prohibiting officials from eating a brown bag lunch provided by the sponsors of the forum. Many folks are confused about how far the law goes. But the forum was announced in advance and open to anyone who wished to attend, and the law allows officials and candidates to eat meals in those circumstances. Still, this is a question that keeps coming up.
But he's right about this: our problem was not that a politician might be influenced by eating a turkey sandwich and drinking a Diet Coke at a public meeting. Our problem was bribes, influence-peddling, vote-buying and illegal campaign contributions, among other things.

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