Reform Needed for Government Legitimacy – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Reform Needed for Government Legitimacy

Hobart and William Smith Colleges Professor of Philosophy Steven Lee listened to Gov. David Paterson’s State of the State address, in which the Governor called for ethical reform in the State’s government. Lee, according to an article in the Finger Lakes Times covering reactions to the address, “said his general feeling is that the state government has, to a certain extent, lost legitimacy in the eyes of the public.”

The article notes Lee “doesn’t know how likely it is that the reforms will be enacted but thinks they would need to address competence and corruption and give people confidence that legislators are turning away from the pay-to- play atmosphere in government.”

It also provides Lee’s perspective on lobbying – saying that “public campaign financing would instead ensure that the people’s votes determine policy rather than lobbyists’ money,” and quotes him, “It’s absolutely crucial for democracy that people believe that their legislators are not on the take.”

The full article follows.


Finger Lakes Times
N.Y. ethics reform necessary, but some skeptical
Some suspect it’s a ‘feel-good’ move

Amanda Folts • January 11, 2010

Part of Gov. David Paterson’s State of the State address Wednesday called for ethical reform in state government with the Reform Albany Act.

The act would create an independent ethics commission with jurisdiction over state government and the power to enforce campaign finance laws and oversee government groups that “hide their donors behind walls of sanctimony,” Paterson said.

Keuka College Political Science Professor John Piczak said there are a number of good government groups calling for reforms in state politics, but he doesn’t know if they’ll get anywhere with reform legislation. If the state Legislature does do anything, Piczak said he thinks it will be minimal.

As for setting term limits, Piczak said it would take a constitutional amendment – and he doesn’t think that would get through.

“I think the Legislature will work at the margins, maybe with some information dealing with reducing the amount of money, but just at the margins. I just don’t think they’re going to listen to any of the proposals that [the governor] has put forth,” he said.

Instead, Piczak expects the Legislature will come up with its own proposals that are “mild at best” and try to portray them as major reforms.

Hobart and William Smith Colleges Professor of Philosophy Steven Lee said his general feeling is that the state government has, to a certain extent, lost legitimacy in the eyes of the public. He doesn’t know how likely it is that the reforms will be enacted but thinks they would need to address competence and corruption and give people confidence that legislators are turning away from the pay-to- play atmosphere in government.

As for lobbyists, Lee said that as politicians – both state and national – fall into their debt, the lobbyists start fashioning the legislation. Public campaign financing would instead ensure that the people’s votes determine policy rather than lobbyists’ money. Although it probably isn’t possible to completely do away with private financing, Lee said it could be severely restricted.

“It’s absolutely crucial for democracy that people believe that their legislators are not on the take,” he said.

Local county party chairs seem split along party lines on the ethics reform proposals.

Yates County Republican Chair Robert Schwarting said “this is not the first time that these ethics panels and blue ribbons have been proposed by incumbents.”

He said they are often proposed to make people feel happy and secure from the real issues.

“Ethical behaviors are ethical behaviors – you don’t need a commission, you just need to be ethical,” he said.

Some of the things the governor talked about, like openness in government, Schwarting called commendable, but he still doesn’t think there needs to be an ethics commission.

Instead, Schwarting believes the governor and others need to quit misbehaving, do more policy creation than pork-barrel spending and deal with critical issues such as finances, the size of government and bringing the health of the state back to what it was.

Gaye Chapman, Wayne County Democratic chair, said when most people decide to get into government, they think something needs to be improved. But once they get into power and have people looking up to and praising them, they think they can do whatever they want, she said.

Chapman said she hopes all of the reforms Paterson’s contemplating are strong enough so legislators feel embarrassed if they don’t follow through and change the rules.

“If he changes the rules on his own without them, that would be great, too, because sometimes just leading, which he’s doing, doesn’t always work and people don’t want to follow because it’s hard,” she said.

Ontario County Democratic Chair Judy Baker said she thinks the proposed reforms are a great start, and she’d like to see them even tougher.

She wants to see the legislators step up and work with the governor, regardless of party, and get things done. Baker said she’d also like to see a “look back provision” for legislators and people in the executive branch that would prohibit them from being employed by anyone they’ve done business with for one to three years after leaving office.

“So it’s not a swinging door,” Baker said.