02/21/07 — More to uncover? How much political gamesmanship is going on?

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More to uncover? How much political gamesmanship is going on?

When we talk about the need for ethics legislation, some of us act like we are surprised there are games being played for influence and power in government.

And we seem to think that the recently uncovered incident is the only one out there.

So, when we hear news like the North Carolina speaker of the House is taking money and has given money to get and to keep power, we are appropriately shocked. And there is no question, the mounting charges against Black are shocking, especially in light of his vehement denials in the past.

But if we think we have seen the end of ethics concerns coming out of state and federal government, we would be a little bit naive.

Influence peddling occurs every day — it just is not always tied to direct money payments. When someone lobbies for a specific outcome to an ordinance or calls his or her legislator for help getting a specific agenda through a committee — that is jockeying for power and influence. And there are many lawmakers who preach about ending self-interest votes, but who then push pork projects through for their hometowns. That is manipulating the system for personal gain, too. Just look at the funding that has gone to certain areas of the country because of who their senators are.

Some lobbying is OK. If we don’t ask for a specific outcome, we are unlikely to see it. Democracy is based, in part, on that give and take.

But what seems to happen in some cases is that the well-meaning desire to get a certain agenda or outcome is corrupted by the thirst to earn and keep power. Some legislators and others who have done much for their communities and their constituents become too concerned with staying in power and will bend the rules to stay there.

If we are going to really talk about ethics, we need to think about influence, power and how they both factor into who represents us and how we want our legislators to behave, even when it might affect our own “influence.”

Published in Editorials on February 21, 2007 11:38 AM