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Effective Ethics Commissions Must Be Well Funded and Independent

Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2012

“A parade of state legislators has marched past the state Ethics Commission on their way to federal and state prisons.”

Thus begins an editorial in the Times-Tribune commenting on the state of government ethics in Pennsylvania. The state, whose motto is "Virtue, Liberty, Independence," was given a “generous” C+ in a recent “report card” on government integrity in the United States.

Two conflicts are in play. First, the governor and other legislative leaders are in charge of selecting members of the Ethics Commission, and these individuals are not confirmed by the legislature at large.

Second, the current budget reflects significant cuts – what the editorial characterizes as  an attempt to keep the commission “on a short leash.” A $197,000 cut under Governor Ed Rendel won approval; Governor Tom Corbett’s effort to reduce the $1.7 million budget by another $88,000 was defeated. The money allocated to ethics is insufficient give the size and political culture of the state.

Pennsylvania has a history of ethical misconduct in government. Numerous senators are facing federal corruption charges, and some have already been convicted. Absent the criminal charges, there have been clear ethical violations.

Reformers have introduced a bill to create an independent Public Integrity Commission, one with greater power. The legislation would create a 15-member committee with ethics law experts, a district attorney, and “good-government advocates.” That bill is “languishing” in the legislature.

An ethics commission is only effective if it is truly independent. I agree with the paper: “Such a watchdog agency would be a far more effective deterrent than the current agency. It should be an obvious reform with the state government bedeviled by corruption.”

Tags: ethics commissions, Pennsylvania

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