What does it mean to be “ethical” in local government?
: the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation. - The Merriam-Webster Dictionary (2005)
You might have heard or read about ethics in the news recently since the Philadelphia City Council has been discussing bills designed to make the local government more ethical.
One issue that has been in the spotlight since last fall is “pay-to-play” thanks to the federal government’s investigation in Philadelphia. “Pay-to-play”
“Pay-to-play” involves elected officials giving city contracts to people or companies who donated money to their campaign funds. According to Mayor John Street and other city leaders, this has been how government contracts have been given out in Philadelphia for many years. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, former Mayor Frank Rizzo used to say, “I have to give them (contracts) to somebody. You don't expect me to give them to my enemies, do you?"
But giving contracts to campaign donors is not illegal unless politicians cross the line and explicitly agree to hand out contracts in exchange for money. This is often called “quid pro quo,” which is Latin for "what for what" or "something for something." So an elected official or his staff can’t say, “You give us the money, and we’ll do something for you” or “it’s time for you to donate money or we’ll take your city contract away.”
Right now in Philadelphia, federal officials are trying to prove whether city employees, business leaders and campaign fundraisers crossed that line. The City Council is trying to make it harder for “pay-to-play” to occur with a bill that would force campaign donors to reveal themselves when they seek certain city contracts. If council members approve the bill, voters would then decide whether to change the rules in a public referendum on the May primary ballot. City Council bill
Council members are scheduled to vote Thursday, March 17, on a bill that would make it harder for city contracts to go to big campaign donors and try to curb “pay-to-play.”
Some of the things the bill would do include:
• Require people or firms seeking no-bid contracts to disclose campaign contributions to any public official in Pennsylvania going back four years.
• Firms would have to name any consultants they used to get the contract. The consultants would also have to say who they donated money to during the past four years.
• The city would have to post all this information and it would have to be attached to a no-bid contract before it is awarded. Then the city would have to publicize on its website the name of the firm receiving the work, the basis for the award, and whether the firm was the lowest bidder and, if not, why.What does ethical government mean to you?
Council members have also been discussing whether it should be legal for elected officials and other city employees to accept gifts from companies doing business with the city. They have also been talking about banning nepotism, which is favoritism for family members of elected officials and other city employees when it comes to hiring for jobs.
Do you think people related to elected officials and other city employees should be blocked from getting city jobs?
Do you think that without the law, relatives would be unfairly hired?
What about pay-to-play? Do you think campaign donors and business owners should be favored when it comes to getting city contracts because they helped get someone elected or treated someone to a fancy dinner or Super Bowl tickets?
What is unethical behavior for an elected official? Join the discussion
and let us know! Related links:Proposed donation limits are doubledCouncil awaiting ethics votes 'Pay to play' entrenched in the city