State Ethics Reforms

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Several states are starting to get pressured to strengthen ethics laws after several incidents of corruption.  Major ethics changes are being pursued in New York, Massachusetts, Utah, and New Jersey.

In New York, reform groups want more disclosure regarding state lawmakers personal finances.  Right now lawmakers are part time and are allowed to have outside jobs.  While it is required that they report the source of the outside income, the actual income is presented in ranges not specifics.  Critics say that by not allowing for more scrutiny of where lawmakers are getting their money it can never be determined if they are truly working for the citizens that elect them.  Lawmakers say that more disclosure of personal finances would intrude privacy and could deter people from running for office.

In New Jersey, Gov. Corzine has introduced an ethics reform package, which focus on campaign contributions and local ethics laws.  The package includes measures that will be passed through executive order.  In response a State Sens. Kean, Oroho and Batemen have introduced legislation that they say will fill the loopholes by requiring contribution limits by individuals, as well as, PACs.

Massachusetts has been rocked by a major bribery case involving State Senator Dianne Wilkerson (Who I happened to have interned with when I was in college.)  There is a lot of debate going on as to what the next step to tighten ethics issues in the state legislature should be.  The state’s lobbying laws conflict with each other about the amount a lobbyist can gift to a legislator.  The Secretary of State has no subpeona power to enforce regulations and reporting requiremesnt are narrow.  These loopholes let lobbyists make a lot of money in Massachuestts so the state has a lot of clean up to do.

In Utah, the state legislature is considering broad ethics reforms after several allegations of bribery.  State legislators are trying to get campaign donations to be more transparent, prevent lawmakers from using campaign funds for personal purposes and possibly creating an independent commission to deal with ethics violations.

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