Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Unethical "Ethics" Reform

The current session of the Texas Legislature is considering more than 100 bills on ethics reform. A brief survey of these bills reveals one interesting fact--many are unethical.

For example, one bill would limit individual campaign donations to $100,000 per election cycle. Any restriction on campaign donations is a violation of an individual's right to use his money as he chooses.

Bills such as this appeal to many voters, who see campaign contributions as a means for purchasing favorable legislation. And when government has expanded far beyond its legitimate functions, this is a valid concern.

But the fault does not lie with those who seek to influence the legislative process. The fault lies with those who believe that the government should have the power to regulate businesses and individuals. If the government did not have the power to dispense political favors, punish political enemies, and dispose of the lives and property of the citizenry, such influence would not be necessary. If government could not initiate force against private citizens, influence peddling would not and could not occur. And the entire issue of campaign financing would be moot.

The Texas Ethics Commission's web site has a training program available online. The program states that:

As a public servant you commit the offense of bribery if you solicit, offer, or accept a "benefit" in exchange for a decision, opinion, recommendation, vote or other exercise of official discretion.

There are of course, exceptions to this rule. Campaign contributions are the most notable. Which means, if I give a legislator $1,000 it is viewed as a bribe; if I contribute $1,000 to his campaign it isn't. Apparently, if I give the money directly to the legislator I might influence his vote, but if the money goes to his campaign he will somehow be unmoved. Anyone who truly believes this is either naive, not paying attention, or both.

But this is hardly the only example of unethical "ethics":

A member of the legislature may not vote on a measure or a bill, other than a measure that will affect an entire class of business entities, that will directly benefit a specific business transaction of a business entity in which the member has a controlling interest.

Which means, a legislator cannot vote on a bill that will benefit his business, unless it will also benefit other businesses. It is fine to vote himself political favors, so long as he shares the loot.

While these rules, and others like them, are an attempt to prohibit any impropriety on the part of legislators, the fact is they don't address the real issue--the power and scope of government today.

The proper function of government is the protection of individual rights. Rights are a sanction to act without interference from others, so long as an individual respects the mutual rights of others. An individual--or a group of individuals, including government--cannot use force to compel an individual to act against his own judgment. The initiation of force is always morally wrong.

But when government can use compulsion to prohibit or dictate the actions that individuals can legally take, government is no longer a protector of rights. It becomes a violator of the very rights it was instituted to protect, and its actions are immoral.

True ethics reform is only possible by first identifying the proper function of government. And then government must limit itself to that function. Until that occurs, any attempt at ethics reform will invariably lead to further breaches of morality.

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