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Ethics in Government
LWV of Honolulu - Board of Directors 1965-66

Ethics in Government

"The very essence of a free government consists in considering offices as public trusts, bestowed for the good of the country, and not for the benefit of an individual or a party."

John C. Calhoun, 1835

Concern by the Honolulu LWV about ethics in government, expressed by the decision to make this subject a primary study item on our local agenda, should not be construed to mean that the League feels there is mass dereliction in this area.

"If ethical regulation is needed in government, it is as much to guide the conscientious public servant as to deter the unscrupulous. Regulations which prohibit certain acts do not necessarily imply wrong acts in the past, but possible danger in the future."

(Minnesota LWV State Study, 1960)

The Local Agenda Committee suggests three possible avenues of approach for establishment of better ethical standards in government:

  1. Legislation. The establishment of minimum acceptable standards of behavior for all officials, elected and appointed, paid and unpaid, legislative and administrative. This might take the form of laws amplifying present Charter provisions, or, if necessary, of Charter amendment. The purpose would be to define the boundaries of ethical behavior, and to set forth penalties for non-compliance. This level of action could be thought of as negative; a series of prohibitions. (It was stressed in meetings of the Local Agenda Committee that we must not give the impression that this sort of action is our final goal; that governmental behavior which barely escapes criminality is therefore desirable.)

  2. Administrative order and voluntary ethical codes. Widely used in other jurisdictions, these would have the advantage of establishment without lengthy processes of legislation or Charter revision. The obvious disadvantages: Such regulations might well change with administrations; penalties might be variable; they depend on people rather than law.

  3. Education. This is the final means of achieving the goal of a desirable high level of ethical performance. Public insistence on high moral standards in government, enforced through the polls, is the ideal toward which points 1 and 2 are steppingstones.

Codes of ethics from other jurisdictions, local, state and national, provide or our consideration points which may be divided into the following main categories:

  1. Conflict of interest. An official must not have a financial or other interest, direct or indirect, which is in conflict with the proper discharge his public duties.

  2. Disclosure of interest. Public servants in all categories are required, in various codes of ethics, to make periodic disclosure of interests, personal, private or financial, which they might have in any matter affecting their official duties. Sometimes these are made annually; sometimes in the case of specific legislation, or specific administrative action. Sometimes the public official making such disclosure is prohibited from action in this matter; sometimes his action or abstinence from action is left to his own discretion. Sometimes the disclosure is automatically made a matter of public record; sometimes it is filed with the governmental body concerned, or with the appointing authority.

  3. Financial disclosure. In some codes, annual financial disclosure is required; sources and amounts of income, reimbursements for expenditures, gifts over $100, etc. This is done on official records and may or may not be available to the public.

  4. Use of influence. NO public official shall use his position to secure special privilege for himself or others.

  5. Source of compensation. There may be no outside source of income in connection with services tendered as a legislator or other official.

  6. Gifts or favors. No valuable service, loan, thing or promise may be accepted from anyone known to be interested, in any way, in matters concerning the official.

  7. Investments. No investments may be held or acquired which would conflict with official duties.

  8. Incompatible employment or professional activity. An Official may not engage in employment or services for private interests when they are incompatible with the proper discharge of public duties.

  9. >Future employment. No public official may solicit, negotiate for, or promise to accept employment by anyone with whom he (or his agency) is engaged on behalf of the government
  10. Confidential information. Confidential information shall not be used to advance the financial or other private interest of the public official or anyone else.

  11. Dual agency. A public official may not represent private interests be- governmental agencies, whether or not he receives a salary for his public service.

  12. Representing private interests before the courts. An official may not represent private interests against the government in any action in which the government, Or one of its agencies, is a party.

  13. Action by former officials. Many codes specify that for a given number of years former officials may not represent private interests before the governmental agencies with which they were connected.

  14. Treatment of information. Governmental agencies holding public hearings should permit the presentation of information on behalf of any party to a question only at the scheduled hearing; not, in private, unofficially, or with other interested parties absent.


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