Here at last may be the answer to the riddle of why state ethics commissions have so little effect on the persistent problem of unethical government.
The people who make up the membership of such commissions may not know the first thing about ethics. Take Nevada, for instance:
To celebrate the 35th anniversary of the Nevada Ethics Commission, its executive director, Caren Jenkins, organized a party at a Carson City restaurant. She invited current and former commissioners and staff, and also the state’s top elected officials, whose conduct is reviewed by the commission, which can fine them substantially or even seek their removal from office and prosecution for violating state ethics laws.
The invitation included a request for $33 to pay for the event.
“It never even crossed my mind that this would be seen as questionable,” said Jenkins. Never crossed her mind. eh? The event has elected officials whom the commission has to objectively oversee socializing with their state-appointed watchdogs. The Ethics Commission chair solicited money from officials who must depend on the commission for discretionary ethics calls. Jenkins has apparently never heard of appearance of impropriety, conflicts of interest, or interference with independent judgment. The Chair of the Nevada Ethics Commission has ethics alarms about as well-maintained as those of Charlie Rangel or Marion Barry. And since none of her fellow members bothered to raise any objections over her plan, their ethics alarms are in similar disrepair.
Or all too believable, come to think of it.