Inside the Capitol

Thursday, February 12, 2009

2-13 Will Friday, the 13th, Be Good Luck?

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- Will Friday, the 13th, mean good luck for a major ethics bill scheduled to be heard today in the Senate Rules Committee? Or will it be the usual bad luck that Friday, the 13 is said to bring?
Experience has shown us that anything to strengthen and improve the ethics of our public officials usually has bad luck on any day of the year. So why not try a Friday, the 13. Maybe our luck will change.
Today's ethics bill is being hailed by a group of senators as a milestone. It is a combination of most of the good ideas for ethics improvement that have been floating around the Legislature for decades.
Putting them all together will only make them stronger. Right? Well no, that's what usually kills bills. And it's hard to believe that a bunch of state senators who have spelled the death of myriad ethics proposals over the years, have good intentions on their minds as they give this big bill a pat on the back.
But that's what they say. Do you suppose these Senate leaders are chuckling under their breath right now, thinking they've put one over on all the good government lobby groups? In past years, these guys have been able to pick off one-by-one the many ethics bills introduced every session.
No one has ever tried putting them all together. Will that actually make them stronger? Or will it just be easier to wipe out a whole mess of them in one blow?
Sure, there's a lot more to like in a big bunch of bills, if you happen to like the idea of ethics reform. But if you don't happen to like ethics bills, then there is a lot more to dislike about a big bundle of them.
For years, political observers have been telling the good government folks that if they would decide on one ethics reform they'd like to push each year, they could make a big deal out of putting all their efforts behind it. In 10 years, you could have yourselves 10 good ethics reforms.
That's the way Think New Mexico, a statewide think tank operates. Since its beginning it has taken on one issue at a time. Over the years, it has eliminated the tax on food, created a strategic river reserve, established individual development accounts to help alleviate New Mexico's poverty, and reformed the state lottery.
The organization did it all by focusing 100 percent of its effort on one item, one year at a time.
Imagine what could have been done with ethics legislation using the same strategy. So why hasn't it happened?
The problem is that the notion of ethics encompasses too large a field.. Essentially ethics means honesty in government. There are so many ways to be honest, or dishonest, in government.
There are numerous groups wanting to get the money out of political campaigning. There are many ways to attack that subject. Contributions to candidates and political parties can be limited. Spending can be limited. Campaigns could be financed with public money. Unfortunately all these solutions get introduced every year.
Other groups want transparency in government. They want reports of campaign receipts and expenditures to be more often, more complete and easier to access. They want meetings of conference committees to be open. And they want sessions of both houses and their committees to be broadcast. Unfortunately they all get introduced every year.
Other groups want to eliminate undue political influence by special interests. They want to know who is doing business with the government, for how much and whose campaigns they contributed to and in what amounts. They also want to prohibit government officials from leaving office and quickly becoming lobbyists. Unfortunately they all get introduced every year.
So how do you pick one issue from the above three paragraphs? You don't. You can't. So each group does its own thing every year.
FRI, 2-13-09

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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