October 22, 2008

Ethical Motivations

Marc Comtois

From the ProJo:

[Rhode Island] Ethics Commission members said yesterday that they suspect that if a Rhode Island official (Governor Carcieri, for example) did what an investigation in Alaska found that [Alaska Governor Sarah] Palin did — used her office to advance a personal, although not financial, cause — it would probably not violate the Rhode Island Code of Ethics.

Nonfinancial conflicts of interest have been a sore point with the commission for some time, and members said yesterday that they want to look into adding a provision like Alaska’s to the Rhode Island rules. Chairwoman Barbara Binder said she’ll ask that the question go on the agenda of a future meeting.

What caught Cheit’s eye was the provision of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act that the legislative investigator cited in his findings. It says that officials hold office as a public trust and that “any effort to benefit a personal or financial interest through official action is a violation of that trust.”

Ethics Commission members have repeatedly expressed frustration that the Rhode Island code isn’t clear enough about conflicts of interest that are not financial. The code says that officials it covers cannot “have any interest, financial or otherwise” in the use of their office, and the commission has stayed away from trying to apply the “otherwise” provision.

Interesting that the commission is finally deciding to address this long time "sore point" only after being, well, inspired by a partisan-influenced investigation into the VP nominee of the Republican Party. Yet, regardless of the merits of the Palin case, it's fascinating how the goings-on in a state thousands of miles away brought them to this tipping point while several local examples just didn't similarly inspire them. Perhaps all that was needed was the proper partisan focus?

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Ethics Commission members have repeatedly expressed frustration that the Rhode Island code isn’t clear enough about conflicts of interest that are not financial.

They seemed pretty clear when the Ethics Commision fined Attorney Joe Larisa for representing(Pro-bono)a Canvassing Authority member in front of the City Council that Joe was a previous member of.

Posted by: bobc at October 22, 2008 12:45 PM

That may be, but they admit, according to the story, that they have "stayed away from trying to apply the 'otherwise' provision." Besides, the point is the weird (to me) proximate cause given for this navel gazing, whether its legit or not.

Posted by: Marc at October 22, 2008 1:43 PM

"The tree that fills the arms draws the ax", a Taoist saying meaning the bigger the situation the more scrutiny it brings. Palin's narrow minded venality is a national issue and deserves more attention than similar doings locally. Both, indeed are reprehensible, but I am compelled to ask you; are you hiding the Palin issue by pointing your finger at the venal locals?

Looks like the old magician's trick of pointing in one direction so as to divert the audience from the goings on in the opposite direction.


Posted by: OldTimeLefty at October 24, 2008 7:22 PM
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