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No Reason To Compromise On Conflict Of Interest

Wednesday, Jun. 15, 2011

The patchwork of conflict-of-interest laws is a major stumbling block for public officials at all levels of government. From lax to stringent, the ethical interpretation of a “conflict” has largely been relegated to the affected jurisdiction. Until now.

The Supreme Court has just made it very clear – to legislators and city councilmembers—that they cannot vote on matters where there is a conflict of interest, and they cannot claim “governmental votes cast by elected officials are free speech protected by the First Amendment.”

Writing that conflict-of-interest rules “have been commonplace for over 200 years,” Justice Antonin Scalia argued the right to vote in a legislative body “is not personal to the legislator but belongs to the people. The legislator has no personal right to it.”

The unanimous decision overturned an earlier ruling by the Nevada Supreme Court, stemming from a censure of a Nevada councilman by the Nevada Commission on Ethics. Councilman Michael Carrigan cast a vote in favor of a hotel and casino project that was backed by his campaign manager.

It is encouraging is to see an Ethics Commission willing to tackle these types of violations. Far too many commissions lack the authority or will to move on ethics charges.

You can read more about conflicts of interest, including case studies, by visiting


Tags: conflicts of interests, first amendment, Nevada, United States Supreme Court

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