Black Hole: Ethics Reform MIA

Missing from Friday’s Ledger and Record stories about the failure by the Joint Legislative Committee on Ethical Standards to reopen an investigation into Sen. Joseph Coniglio was any mention of earlier promises by leadership to independently review the Legislative Code of Ethics.

BTW, recommendations were promised by June . . . that’s June 2007.

Hey, it’s tough to meet deadlines when constantly being distracted by subpoenas and agents rifling through your files.

The examination has seemingly disappeared into a news Black Hole.

Here’s a quick refresher. There’s the Asbury Park Press’ editorial which characterized the legislature’s newly reconfigured Joint Legislative Committee on Ethical Standards as a “sham of a committee” which should be disbanded and its duties transferred to the State Ethics Committee which oversees the executive branch (12/5/06).

Plenty of reminders also captured the front pages this year. There were the federal subpoenas and related conflict of interest complaints filed with the Joint Committee – only to be dismissed. There were also multiple-count indictments of state senators as well as charges that two more assemblymen were taking bribes. One of those members, who also chaired a committee critics charged was used to scuttle ethics reforms, just admitted to the allegations levied against him. If Hollywood wrote this script, no one would believe it.

Not to mention the weekly flurry of campaign generated letters to the Joint Committee alleging ethical violations. No wonder The Daily Journal’s editorial staff issued this call: “Remove lawmakers from the Joint Legislative Committee on Ethical Standards, which has been embroiled in partisan bickering, or not meeting at all, and finding virtually no wrongdoing by lawmakers in a state some consider one of the most corrupt in the nation” (10/9/07).

So how have these recent events erased the memory of most reporters about the promise by legislative leadership back in February to initiate an independent review of the current Legislative Code of Ethics?

Credit goes to Gregory Volpe at the Gannet State Bureau for reminding all of us that an independent review of legislative ethics versus the current version of the “fox watching the henhouse” rules has seemingly slipped off everyone’s radar screen. In its October 3rd story, Gannet reported that Dr. Alan Rosenthal — an expert on legislatures and professor of Public Policy and Political Science at Rutgers University — who was tapped to head the assessment, was still "waiting to be mobilized."

Black Hole:  Ethics Reform MIA