Matt Tully has begun a series of articles highlighting the numerous conflicts of interest at the Indiana Statehouse. My husband’s reaction was “so what’s new?” And it is depressingly true that here in the Hoosier state we get these revelations every few years. Nothing seems to change.
On the one hand, there is a legitimate dilemma in states like Indiana, where our legislature is part-time and those we elect have “real world” jobs. One of the arguments for such legislative arrangements is that those who serve will have expertise in the private sector that can illuminate the lawmaking process. If a state representative knows a lot about banking or insurance, for example, should we not avail ourselves of that knowledge?
The problem is, the sorts of conflicts Tully describes go far beyond recognition of specialized knowledge. It’s one thing to listen to a legislator-banker’s opinion on a pending bill, and another to put him in a position to advance legislation benefitting bankers–or worse, a position to derail efforts to regulate them.
I’ve talked with members of the City-County Council and legislature who simply cannot see their own conflicts. It’s easy to convince yourself that what’s good for your law firm, or industry, is good for the city or state as a whole–that you are actually adding value because of your specialized knowledge. But human nature being what it is, it is a very rare individual who can shake off the attitudes and interests of their daily experience and look objectively at proposed rules that will affect his own livelihood.
The examples Tully describes are well beyond the pale. Unfortunately, these conflicts are not new to the Indiana landscape. Whatever corrective measures may come from the first article, or others in the promised series of revelations, it would be comforting if we dealt with the problem this time around by thoroughly revising the system that continues to produce these ethical lapses.
It’s long past time to impose a meaningful code of ethics on the Indiana General Assembly. One that might remind our lawmakers that they are supposed to be acting in the public interest–not their self-interest.