The point and politics of ethics reform

The point and politics of ethics reform

- in Fitzsimon File

The latest package of ethics reforms announced by Governor Beverly Perdue Monday won't clean up all the problems in Raleigh. And it certainly won't end the skepticism about public officials that was reinforced Monday morning as the counsel to former Governor Mike Easley appeared in federal court to plead not guilty to 57 charges of fraud and corruption.

But Perdue's proposals would make more important changes in the pay-to-play patronage system that has long plagued state government and slow down the revolving door between policymaker and lobbyist and between the regulators and the regulated.

Perdue wants all 4,000 appointees to state boards and commissions to disclose more information about their past and wants governors to have the ability to remove appointees at will, including people appointed by previous administrations.

She would prohibit people doing business with the state from donating to the campaigns of the political officials who oversee their contracts and extend a ban on accepting gifts to more state employees, including the staff of the General Assembly. State officials convicted of a felony related to his or her position would lose their pension.

Perdue can implement some of the changes with an executive order, others need legislative approval. A version of some of the proposals passed the House in the last General Assembly session but never came up in the Senate, a point that was hard to forget Monday as no Senators joined the four members of the House on hand for Perdue's announcement.

New Senate Majority Leader Martin Nesbitt said the Senate wasn't opposed to the reforms last year. It simply ran out of time to consider them. It will have plenty of time this summer.

Far more disturbing and predictable was the reaction of North Carolina Republican Party Chair Tom Fetzer, who called Perdue's reasonable proposals "a smoke and mirrors act to distract the public from the controversy surrounding her own campaign."

It's not clear what controversy Fetzer is referring to, unless it is the self-reported corrections Perdue has made to her campaign filings that include previously unreported campaign flights. Republican candidate Pat McCrory also amended his campaign reports to include unreported flights.

Maybe Fetzer is referring to his grassy knoll allegations about contributions Perdue received from several executives of an out-of-state company, though there many examples of similar out of state bundling by McCrory's campaign. Maybe it's just a matter of time before Fetzer starts referring to the "controversy surrounding the McCrory campaign."

Good government activists applauded Perdue's latest proposals. Jane Pinsky with the Coalition for Government and Lobbying Reform called it a wonderful step forward while adding that there is still more to do.

Damon Circosta, executive director of the North Carolina Center for Voter Education said it really didn't matter if political considerations played some role in Perdue's announcement. And that must be what's driving Fetzer crazy.

Pushing tougher ethics reform is good politics and it is the right thing to do. Good for Perdue