I’ve already written about how the proposed ethics initiative is a poor substitute for citizen action on ethics issues. It seems, though, that backers are intent on pushing through the proposal anyway and voters just may well sign off on it. In the interest of putting the best law forward, I’d like to suggest some changes to both calm fears and gauge its effectiveness.
First off, the method of picking the members of the commission needs an overhaul. Requiring the leadership of both parties to agree twenty times on who will be randomly selected from is already a bit of a stretch, but allowing the sponsors of the initiative to pick the names should they deadlock is unheard of. Instead, why not allow private citizens to submit their names and names of other qualified candidates for consideration? It would provide a much bigger pool to choose from and, once filtered for any potential conflicts, would not be subject to any kind of partisan manipulation to throw selection to the petition sponsors.
Second, there needs to be a sunset provision. I honestly wish that all laws had such provisions so that they could be re-evaluated from time to time for effectiveness and relevance. If the ethics commission has done its job well 10 years from now, it has nothing to fear from the voters. If, however, it turns into a nightmarish bureaucracy the way legislators have feared, we have the chance to turn it out on its head and consider something new.
Third, there must be clearly defined goals of the initiative. While the specific rules seem like good ethical guidelines, voters need to know what it is that would be accomplished by implementation. This also provides a way to measure progress when it sunsets.
Fourth, shift the burden of proof more heavily onto the accusers. I know you guys have a big pitcher of Haterade for legislators, but you cannot simply ignore the presumption of innocence.
Even with these changes, I would still oppose the initiative as presently constituted since I do not believe it to be the best solution to the problem. I would hope, however, that such changes would make it more effective, accountable, and equitable should it be passed.