Tuesday, March 20, 2012

There's more to conflict of interest than financial gain

Yesterday, Democrats released a plan to cap the state's wholesale gas tax. Leading off for the Dems was House Speaker Chris Donovan and, around the fringes of the event folks (at least many of those not associated with Donovan and the Democrats) were whispering "campaign tactic."
Well, maybe ... maybe not.
If so, Andrew Roraback, Goshen's state senator and Donovan rival may be guilty, as well. Some saw his attempt to link risk reduction credits to the death penalty debate as a way to vote with his party and not against his conscience.
Well, maybe ... maybe not.
Neither stance is technically a conflict of interest, although sitting legislators seeking higher office certainly can use their positions to garner more votes, a fact that, even if it's more consequential than intentional, they are well aware of.
Way back when redistricting was in full swing, 5th district candidate Mark Greenberg's campaign was making a hobby of calling foul on House Speaker Chris Donovan for being both a candidate and a member of the commission tasked with redrawing the district for which he was running. They even put together a website.
As it turned out, Donovan's potentially conflicting interests were mitigated when he dropped out of the commission before the congressional lines were drawn (although he still helped draw the House district he's hoping to leave).
There are other apparent conflicts of interest that are not so obvious to the opposition. State ethics rules define a conflict of interest as one that would result in either a gain or loss of revenue. But aren't there idealist conflicts as well?
Take, for example, West Hartford's State Rep. Joe Verrengia, a 22-year veteran of the police, who weighed in as a member of the Judiciary Committee during a public hearing on a bill to allow the public the right to videotape cops as they go about their duty.
He's a cop, voting on a bill to allow people the right to videotape cops. Conflict? Maybe. It probably doesn't affect him monetarily, so it's not against the rules.
And then there's raised bill 5509, which would amend the state's rules on child support and alimony, also before the Judiciary Committee. Of that committee's 45 members, how many do you think are lawyers? And of those lawyers, how many practice divorce law? Should they be voting on a bill that could, theoretically, affect their clients?
Well, maybe ... maybe not.
This is not an easy question, and I don't have an answer. To weed out all those legislators with idealistic, prejudicial or professional conflicts of interest would be a huge undertaking, as would trying to get candidates for higher office to bow out of votes that might affect their chances of victory.

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Anonymous David Conway said...

When we created Raised Bill 5509, we used much of the recently passed law in Massachusetts. A law that was overwhelmingly supported by the Mass Bar and Legislature. Seems like a good place to start. Join Us and make this bill work in Connecticut http://ctalimonyreform.com

March 26, 2012 at 9:31 PM 

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