Over at BlogMacon I gave my frank assessment of this whole silly ethics ordinance business. The AJC has been kind enough to pick up on it. One of the controversial parts of my frank assessment was this bit:
I’m a political consultant by trade. When I run political campaigns, I routinely encourage, at the mere hint of any impropriety, a third party friendly to my candidate’s campaign to file a complaint with the State Ethics Commission.
Shocked, shocked! apparently everyone is by that statement. Every political consultant I know plows through campaign disclosures looking for infractions to put in front of the press. And if they say they don’t, they’re liars.
The media guys shouldn’t be so shocked. If they didn’t cover ethics complaints like they do, i.e. giving more coverage to the filing of the complaint that the resolution of the complaint, there’d really be no incentive here. But because they do cover the filing more than the resolution, it is guaran-damn-teed to garner press coverage negatively toward the ethically challenged candidate.
The great difficulty though, that I should add here, is how hard it is to actually get someone to file one of these complaints. Most people don’t want to do it because they have to follow through. It’s easier in a local race, I think, because politics can be so negative and personal in local races. Total, I would say, I only ever worked on three complaints. Each one, reliably, generated press attention.
And that is why these ethics ordinances are crap to me. You cannot tell me that in this twenty-first century we do not already have enough laws, rules, and regulations on the books to take care of these problems.
By the way, Chris Farris, I’m adopting your suggestion. If this thing gets out of committee I’ll offer an amendment to make sure no blue haired retirees or housewives can sit on this ethics panel — only full time job holders with professional degrees, i.e. people who don’t have time to waste on frivolous complaints.
ONE ADDENDUM: I love how the AJC puts in quotes ‘An ethics panel can be abused. I know. I’ve done it.’ That gets exactly to the issue at hand. I never wrote those words. And in fact, the candidates themselves who wanted to file the complaints never felt like it was abuse to file complaints. And that goes to the heart of the problem of the media providing a perfect incentive for filing ethics complaints and the process giving an incentive for the aggrieved and self righteous.. Joe Blow who gets a ticket from Macon Police Officer X for spitting gum on the sidewalk will feel perfectly justified in filing his ethics complaint when he sees Police Officer X in a squad car speeding. He’ll just view himself holding the police officer to the same standard to which the officer held him. As I did say, using my actual words,
We can talk about good government, ethics, and everything else all day long, but at the end of the day this ethics ordinance would mostly serve as a useful tool of vengeance for the aggrieved and self-righteous.
And I stand by that.