Santa Clara University

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Her Honor

Judy Nadler, senior fellow in government ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, looks at ethical dilemmas, scandals, and best practices in government.

The following postings have been filtered by tag financial disclosure. clear filter
  •  Taxpayers Get The Bill For Some Questionable Expenses

    Tuesday, Sep. 11, 2012

    Elected officials are likely to tell you that their jobs are 24/7, and that they must be available at any time to interact with the voters. I disagree.

    While the oath of office commits an individual to serve the public, it does not anticipate round-the-clock access, especially for directors elected to special districts, often a part-time responsibility.

    A recent investigative report showed elected officials from the Santa Clara Valley Water District in California, were reimbursed for things ranging from installation of in-home Internet access to attendance at social events. The NBC Bay Area reporters found not only were board members being paid for “official” board meetings, they were also charging for events where water district matters were not discussed. (They are also paid $286 when they meet with the district CEO.)

    The district allows a “per-diem fee for attendance at events, as each member determines will best enable them to serve the District.” This broad definition has led to board members charging the public for membership fees in a Rotary Club, professional engineering societies, attendance at banquets and picnics, and the like. Directors  justify such expenses as a way of "interacting" with their constituents.

    Two directors “maxed out” on the amount they could charge to the public for meeting fees alone: $34,323.60.   Director Patrick Kwok received $57,462 last year for meetings plus benefits and travel.

     Public scrutiny will lead to changes in some of these expenses, as many are unjustified.  A new practice will require posting on the Web this type of  spending by directors each quarter. Much more can and should be done to decrease spending and increase transparency.

  •  Tweet This

    Monday, Dec. 12, 2011

    Are there any rules requiring an elected official to disclose board membership on a non-profit organization? Is it ethical for a councilmember to fundraise for a favorite charity? For the purposes of getting free tickets to a concert or sporting event, what is the definition of “ceremonial role” or “in an official capacity?” These were some of the questions discussed at the recent meeting of the Council on Governmental Ethics Laws (COGEL).

    Nearly 300 individuals from the United States, Canada, Australia, and Brazil traveled to Nashville to share best practices, get updates on ethics laws, and learn the latest on lobbying, campaigns, freedom of information requests, and many more issues.

    The use of social media was a hot topic, and tech-savvy participants were busy tweeting during the panel discussions. Enforcement of ethics violations, including fine structures prompted spirited debate, as did the Citizens United decision.

    Look to this blog and my tweets in the coming weeks for more on the conference. I invite all who attended to comment at the end of this blog on what was the your most significant “take away” from the meeting.

  •  Public Deserves Complete Transparency

    Monday, Nov. 28, 2011

    Transparency in government is not limited to those who hold office. Many states require detailed reporting of economic interests, not only of the candidate or office holder, but also of their family members, including their spouses and children.

    In a ruling just published by the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), Claudia Chandler, the chief deputy director of the California Energy Commission was fined $6,000 for participating in two governmental matters where she had a financial interest.

    Unlike many cases where the conflict was direct – where one has a financial tie to the agency awarded the contracts – in this case, she had a personal financial interest through her community property interest in her husband’s business.

    Another stumbling block can occur when the value of stock or property has increased since the last filing, and requires disclosure of that new value.

    Record keeping for public servants is like filing your taxes. You must save your receipts, be prepared to back up your claims, and declare the required financial interests –completely and honestly.

  •  Responsibility, Accountability Needed For Special Districts

    Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011

     

    “Under the radar” is a term I often use for those public agencies that are not well known to the public or the press.
     
    You may have heard about a local water board, or a board making decisions about transit, utilities, and sanitation. But some communities have "special district" boards or commissions that are responsible for mosquito abatement, cemeteries, levee maintenance, transit, fire, harbor, geologic hazard abatement, and the like.  
     
    Some members are appointed, others are elected, but all are subject to strict reporting requirements enforced  by the California Fair Political Practices Commission. The commission investigating complaints publishes a regular summary of actions, and this month one item caught my eye.
     
    Arturo Chacon, who won a seat on the Central Basin Municipal Water District Board of Directors was just fined $30,000 for a host of violations. His election committee not only failed to file at least five separate required statements on time, it also violated several key provisions of the ethics laws, including accepting cash contributions of $100 or more and making cash expenditures of $100 or more.
     
    The decisions made by special district board members and their administrative directors have significant impact on the day-to-day running of some of our most basic services. These individuals approve budgets, allocate funds, and set policies that our children will inherit. They should not escape the spotlight.

     

  •  No One Is Above The Law, Including A Supreme Court Justice

    Monday, Jan. 24, 2011

    When I read that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas  amended his financial disclosure forms I was surprised that he had overlooked some items. When I read that he amended forms dating back 13 years I was shocked.

    Surely a man of his qualifications and with his staff would realize that disclosing financial information is fundamental to virtually every judge and officeholder. Yet he failed to disclose income from his spouse--in fact he marked the box indicating no income from her.

    This hides the fact that the Heritage Foundation disclosed payments of some $690,000 to his wife between 2003 and 2007. More puzzling is the fact that until 1996, he included her income on his forms.

    No one is above the law. Disclosure is both a legal and ethical issue, and should not be taken lightly. A discovery such as this for a local or state officeholder would likely bring a substantial fine.

    What do you think the appropriate enforcement action should be for a Supreme Court Justice?

 
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