Tag Archives: public ethics

Indiana Could Learn a Few Things from Oregon

People who live in Indiana are aware that our public officials are somewhat deficient when it comes to recognizing ethical standards. Not to put too fine a point on it, we have far too many people in public office who wouldn’t recognize an ethical issue if they fell over one–and they do have a well-documented tendency to stumble.

The most recent display of ethical chutzpah revolved around Eric Turner, the Senate Republican who knew enough to recuse himself from voting on a bill that would damage his son’s very lucrative business (in which he held a significant interest), but somehow failed to see any problem with strong-arming members of his caucus behind the scenes. Perhaps the most interesting part of that story is that he broke no rules–because Indiana’s legislative code of conduct is for all practical purposes non-existent.

I’ll leave it to others to opine on the ethical propriety of a sitting Governor appointing University Trustees who (what a coincidence!) then hire him to be President of that University. Or the City-County Counselor who cast the deciding vote on a fifty-year contract with a vendor represented by his law firm. Or or or…..the list is long and definitely not pretty.

Indiana might take a lesson from Oregon.

Data from the Justice Department, compiled by political scientists at Indiana University at Bloomington and the City University of Hong Kong, show that, over a period of 32 years, there were fewer corruption convictions in Oregon than in any other state, when controlling for the number of state workers.

The researchers attributed Oregonion honesty to robust transparency laws, tough rules for campaign finance disclosure, and rules forbidding lobbyists and special interest groups from giving gifts worth more than $50 to state employees. It is also significant that Oregon  requires most public-improvement contracts to be awarded based on competitive bidding–they don’t do the no-bid contracts so popular around here.

It’s no surprise that taxpayers foot the bill for corrupt practices, but the number of ways in which corruption costs us did surprise me.

Corruption forces states to spend more on everything from construction and highways to corrections and police. But the authors of the study, John Mikesell and Cheol Liu, also found that states with higher rates of corruption tend to spend less on education, public welfare, health and hospitals. So more corruption costs taxpayers — in terms of money and the social services the government provides.

Hoosiers can and should tighten up our lax ethics laws. But that’s unlikely to happen unless voters make it an issue.

Meanwhile, as we wait for that (thus far undetectable) civic indignation, Indianapolis is proposing to cut a deal with “consultants” and private contractors to build a massive justice center–and being considerably less than forthcoming with the details. The Administration has taken the position that we mere taxpayers (and the City-County Councilors who represent us )have no right to know how these transactions are being structured.

Somehow, knowing that –whatever “extra amounts” that deal ends up costing us, whatever no-bid or “wink wink” arrangements may be involved–none of the deals being cut are likely to violate Indiana’s nonexistent ethics laws doesn’t comfort me.

I hear Portland is a really cool city.