Tag Archives: for-profit schools

Ethics Quiz: Can You Undo A Past Confict of Interest or Appearance of Impropriety?

In November, Ethics Alarms noted that Melanie Sloan, the head of the ethics watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, was involved in exactly the kind of Washington insider conflict of interest that the group typically slams politicians for engaging in:

“Melanie Sloan, long the leader and public face of CREW, announced that she is joining the new firm of lobbyist Lanny Davis, a long-time Democratic ally and famous for being Bill Clinton’s most ubiquitous apologist during the Monica Lewinsky scandal…Over the summer,  CREW aligned itself with the for-profit schools industry.  “Today, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) sent a letter to Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (“HELP”), asking the committee to consider the financial motives of critics of the for-profit education industry,” a July CREW press release began. Later, Sloan again attacked the motives of for-profit school critics in a CREW blog post that linked to an op-ed piece Davis had written defending the for-profit industry. That industry then became a client of Davis’s lobbying firm.

“Got that? Sloan and CREW pushed the interests of Davis’s clients, then Sloan went to work for Davis, where she will, in part, be enriched by the very people whom she assisted in the name of ethics—by attacking the financial motives of for-profit school opponents! This is precisely the kind of D.C. two-step that CREW mercilessly exposes when elected officials do it, and now here is the very same CREW leader who once condemned such corrupt practices, doing it herself.”

Now, for reasons yet undisclosed. Sloan will not be leaving CREW after all.

Does that make everything all right, obliterating the conflict of interest exposed by her decision to take the lobbying job for a firm representing the same interests that CREW had defended? Is the stain of that apparent conflict now erased? Continue reading

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CREW Gets Hoisted: For Ethics Watchdogs, Integrity’s a Bitch

CREW—Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington—is one of the most active and fairest of political watchdog groups. It has a definite liberal bias, for approximately twice as many Republicans as Democrats manage to attract CREW critiques, but that’s all right: plenty of elected officials from both parties have had their shady dealings exposed by the group, which is notable for its lack of sympathy for Washington’s traditional myths and excuses to allow guilt-free corruption.

An ethics watchdog, however, can never engage in the same conduct it criticizes in others. The reason for this is as much practical as ethical. A group that made a strong case that certain behavior shouldn’t be tolerated by the public in its elected champions doesn’t diminish the validity of its arguments by violating its own principles, but it does symbolically consent to accepting the same standard of review for its own actions that it demanded for its targets. This is what Will Shakespeare called being hoisted by your own petard—blowing yourself up with a bomb of your own construction.

As Shakespeare also noted, the previous quarry of the one who is thus hoisted just love to see this happen. It doesn’t really make what they did any less wrong or the ethics watchdog any less right to have condemned it, but when the critic gets caught doing something similar, it can make the conduct seem less wrong. This also will often guarantee that future criticism by the watchdog will be greeted with more suspicion than respect.

Salon has a posted a well-researched account of how CREW hoisted itself recently, and the prospects for the organization maintaining its previous level of respect and credibility are not good. Continue reading

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