Creating a culture of deception and disregard for the law:
About 1,200 state government workers, elected officials and political appointees failed to file their required financial disclosure form by the April 15 deadline – three times as many as last year, the State Ethics Commission learned Friday. Many of those who haven’t filed aren’t happy that they must disclose their financial interests.
“There are a lot of upset people this year,” said Teresa Pell, a commission attorney. “We’ve been cussed out and on the other end thanked profusely for our assistance.” In one case, Pell said an official flat refused to file his disclosure, saying he’d pay the fine. All those who didn’t file on time are subject to a $250 fine, with the amount escalating if they continue to avoid compliance.
We're going to use this story for an exercise in extrapolation; an attempt to discover deeper truths utilizing a logical analysis of a limited amount of information. Professional journalists rarely engage in this, because the proper verification may take weeks or months, if it's even possible. That's where we come in:
The volume of those who failed to comply, and the apparent outrage that many feel at being asked for this information, tell us a few things about their nature. First, most of them likely have zero experience working in government. Record-keeping with its associated paperwork demands are the hallmark of any bureaucracy. It may be distasteful, but you get used to it.
Now, lack of government experience is not necessarily a drawback, especially for those sitting on boards and commissions. Forming a bridge between government and the public it serves, and making sure that negative unintended (or intended) consequences are limited, are very often the goals of these entities. But the lack of understanding of basic ethical principles is a drawback. If they can't grasp the concept of the need for disclosure of potential economic conflicts of interest, that means they don't understand what corruption is, much less how it can be stopped. And they could soon find themselves engaging in behavior that has led to incarceration for others. Which leads me to the second thing.
Some of them do have experience in government, and/or they do have a solid understanding of the need for financial disclosure. But they still don't want to do it. This may be a product of hubris; that the individual in question believes he or she is above the law, that nobody else is qualified or "pure enough" to question their integrity. Such a person would only be satisfied as a commission of one. And then there are those who know they have an economic conflict of interest. They're counting on it. For them, paying a $250 fine in order to continue concealing such interests may be peanuts. Million-dollar real estate development deals or cushy government contracts are how they got where they are today, and they're not going to stop anytime soon.
Maintaining the integrity of government is everybody's responsibility. It's important that we make this a bi-partisan issue, and support the efforts of mainstream media in their attempts to secure information from an often intransigent government. If that means that Democrats, some of whom we worked hard to get elected, end up on the wrong side of the equation? So be it. They put themselves there, and made our efforts much more difficult in the process. Just remember: the only way to stop the scourge of unethical behavior is to expose it to the light.