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January 1967

February 1967

Calendar of Events
President's Page (Mary George)
Background Reading for January Units - Ethics
Ethics in Government Conference
State Convention & Local Annual Meeting
Add this to your Bibliography
Local Agenda - The Future of Diamond Head
Roster Changes
Did You Know?
National Agenda - Red China Study

Background Reading for January Units - Ethics

Ethical regulation is needed as a guide for the conscientious public servant, as well as a deterrent to the unscrupulous one. Prohibitions do not imply wrong action in the past, but rather, possible danger in the future. Public officials deserve the protection that ethical regulations can set for them.

Historically, ethical standards in government have progressed steadily upward. Political practice was for too long dominated by the Machiavellian theory that possession of power is the supreme goal of political striving. This theory is unacceptable in present society, which regards public office as a trust for the good of the public, and not for the benefit of an individual or group. Public officials are expected to disassociate themselves from any situation suggesting improper gain, and to make decisions on the merits of the case presented.

If ethical standards are now higher, and the public does demand and expect that they should be, why then should we be concerned about regulations concerning ethical standards? It is certainly NOT that officials are becoming any less moral and therefore require more regulation, but rather, that government has become so complex. The need for guideposts stems from the Increasing complexity of our government; growth in size magnifies otherwise simple problems.

The problem areas are the ones in which private interests interfere with public interests.

Let's look at some of those areas. Attempts to influence an official begins when he runs for office, The sources and amounts of money he receives could affect, consciously or unconsciously, the decisions he makes once elected. Before he takes office, he can become the target of lobbyists or pressure groups seeking legislation or administrative action to their advantage. Coupled with those outside pressures are his own personal interests. It is naive to think that man can disassociate himself completely from his financial or professional background, or from his subconscious bias resulting from associations past or present.

No man is required to seek public office. When he does, he must not use that office for personal gain or advantage that is incompatible with the public interest.

Why is the League of Women Voters involved with this aspect of government? Our aim is to promote political responsibility through active and informed citizen participation in government. This means keeping informed on the issues, knowing the candidate and voting. It is not always possible to vote wisely without knowledge of the candidate's associations and loyalties, both personal and financial. Some advocate the theory of disclosure of interest as sufficient, and that the public can decide on the merit of disclosure. However, there are others that claim that just disclosure is not enough, and that more rigid rules of behavior are needed. Both arguments have merit, and should be evaluated through discussion of the issues.

The purpose of ethical regulations, whatever the type, is three-fold:

  1. Establishes a norm of behavior for public servants.

  2. Presents a tool for control and discipline in cases of nonconformity.

  3. Informs the public of the level of ethical standards, and a guide for evaluating their representatives.

It should be stressed that no matter how well a code of ethics is written, it alone cannot do the job in maintaining high ethical standards and behavior. Public awareness and concern are important in demonstrating to public officials the expectation of conduct. Administration, enforcement and penalty for violation are vital in the proper effectiveness of any code of ethics.

Thoughtful people are aware that there are not simple solutions to the Problems. The obvious wrongs, or the black and white areas, are easily understood and defined. The gray areas, or those in which the issues are not clear cut, present the difficulty.

It is the more difficult areas that we will wrestle with in our discussions at Units.

Our Units this month will be devoted to discussion of ethics and their application at the state level of government. Since this is our initial discussion at this level of government, we will be exploring all aspects of the problem. It is hoped that you will not only have read this thought provoking background, but that you will come to the meetings ready to discuss the issues.

Our Units will be in preparation for the Conference on Ethics about which you heard from Mary George last month in the Aloha Voter. The plans are not nearly complete and are so exciting, you will not want to miss it, so get your reservation in early, Space is limited. Whether or not you get to the Conference, be sure to be at the January Unit meetings.

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