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"Free Lunch" Ethics Standard is Bogus

If you want to influence a public official, contribute to his campaign, or, better yet, offer him the support of a bloc of voters. What will not do the job is a "feee lunch", yet Pecksniffian reformers--and officials who want to appear like reformers--keep passing laws that supposedly set a high standard for elected representatives' behavior, but actually serve as traps for the innocent.

For example, a new "ethics code" for Broward County, Florida (remember Fort Lauderdale from that swell 2000 presidential vote-count?) makes it illegal for city or county officials to accept a free meal, even at a function where their attendance is arguably part of their job as a local public official. If a local business or an economic development group, or a charity or community association would like to see their representatives up close and personal there is suddenly a rush to the city attorney's office to get permission. If the invitation is from a lobbyist (say, the Chamber of Commerce?) or a group that has contracts with the city or county (the "Opera Guild" is an example cited), then the answer probably will be "no". No even for a drink. We have to keep that city attorney busy!

Laws against bribery have long existed. Good, enforce them. But don't pretend you bribe an official with a complementary invitation to the Opera Guild's annual dinner. The county commissioner or whoever goesto these things because he or she wants to show support. Yes, they also hope to make a good impression, but so what? However, if they have to pay business or community, and do so, there will be an endless line at their door. You paid to go to the Opera Guild dinner? How about our Children's Theater, our dance company, our Visiting Firemen's Quartet?

So what politicians do is turn down some events that are not very advantageous to them politically, which is a shame for the sponsoring group, and deny themselves the honest companionship--over drinks or a meal!--with a lobbyist. For the rest, they pay their own way--but using political campaign funds!

Now you have the pol hitting up the same lobbyists and others for even bigger gifts (every year!) so that they can riase cash to pay for all these official and semi-official functions. Instead of curbing political influence, they are extending it and even hiding it with these silly, over-reaching codes.

Can you, dear reader, be bribed with a meal? If so, you should turn down the next dinner invitation from your in-laws or neighbors. After all, they are all just after your influence.

Trivializing corruption only disguises the real thing, while providing grist for truly unethical political opponents in the next election--the foes of the poor creature who carelessly accepted an invitation from the Opera Guild.

You can email brucechapman@discovery.org

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