Ohman’s Blog: Finally, a proposal for ethics reform that would work
04/13/2014 12:00 AM
04/11/2014 10:30 PM
Ethics, schmethics. Politically, we’ve operated in a ethical free-fire zone in California since they found gold at Sutter’s Mill. Periodically, someone will lightly adjust the rules, but the essential problem is always there:
Money. See also: vast amounts of same.
Whether it’s the now comparatively tame Sen. Ron Calderon indictment, in which a couple of guys made the usual chump change deals, or Sen. Rod Wright, who is not really sure where he lives (nor is Sen. Mimi Walters, who aspires to the 45th Congressional District seat in Orange County, but hasn’t been charged with perjury, voter fraud or any other unpleasantness), or the alleged gun-running-for-hire operation of Sen. Leland Yee, it’s always about how the bucks get passed out to the proper outstretched hands.
We’ve lost 9 percent of the California Senate in the last few months. Or, expressed another way, 11 percent of the Senate Democratic caucus.
It’s gotten so, um, ironic, that state Sen. Richard Roth, the chairman of the Legisative Ethics Committee, has suggested an ethics ombudsman.
You know, to make sure these people are ethical.
I have an idea, actually.
It would keep all the elected officials ethical and also allow lobbyists to freely exercise their First Amendment right to speak on behalf of their interests.
The idea would also free up legislators to not be unduly influenced by big money. It would also allow them to use money and campaign as they normally would.
This ethical reform is so radical that no major national group has suggested it, and no legislator has introduced a bill to make it a law.
In fact, it’s really easy.
I call it “doing the right thing.”
“Doing the right thing” is something most Californians do. It’s like having your own personal ethics ombudsman. For example, if you see a person hurt on the sidewalk, you would help them tend to their wound.
You wouldn’t kick them in the teeth and take their wallet, right? Right. I mean, almost no one would do that, right?
Unless of course you had a campaign debt of $70,000 you needed to retire before you became the chief elections official in California. You know, to make sure all the elections were on the up-and-up.
Maybe some Californians would do the wrong thing. But most wouldn’t.
“Doing the right thing” would allow legislators to make an independent judgment about each and every bill. They could be provided a box seat at AT&T Park, eat all the great food and drink all the booze, get the swag bag afterward, be flown to Vegas to catch a show, and then they could vote against the stupid, fraudulent thing that the lobbyist proposed.
Or, if they needed to raise money, they could just ask lobbyists for it directly, in a paper sack. In cash. It would have to have the words, “In Order To Influence You,” written on the outside in black Magic Marker. At least it would be intellectually honest. Why route the money all over the place with these confusing, boring committees with generic-sounding names? And, there should also be another law that makes the committees have names completely descriptive of what they do.
For example, “The Oil Company Scam Committee.” Or, “The Environmental Rape Committee.” Maybe the “Special Loophole That Excuses a Tiny Group From a Law Committee.” Something.
Apparently, “doing the right thing” is a very abstract concept for some people. It would have to be very carefully explained to many of the senators, although many are doing the right thing and for the right reasons.
Wouldn’t it be great if “doing the right thing” caught on to all levels of government?
This “doing the right thing” idea is radical, I know. But I propose it in the sincerest possible manner. Because nothing else has worked.
About This BlogJack Ohman joined The Sacramento Bee in 2013. He previously worked at the Oregonian, the Detroit Free Press and the Columbus Dispatch. His work is syndicated to more than 200 newspapers by Tribune Media Services. Jack has won the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, the Scripps Foundation Award and the national SPJ Award, and he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2012 and the Herblock Prize in 2013. Contact Jack at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @JACKOHMAN.
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