This past week another voice calling for ethics reform was heard. The Prudential Business Ethics Center at Rutgers University released its report detailing the costs of corruption in New Jersey and outlined a number of proposals to reduce the level of corruption, and hence, its costs. This report voices concerns from a group, the business community, which is often dismissed as self-interested, but nonetheless has a tremendous impact on health and well-being of the state.
As a Fellow in this initiative, I know that the report is ambitious, and its ultimate aim is to change the political culture of the state. This political culture has long tolerated varying degrees of corruption among its political leaders. Systemic change of this magnitude is daunting and will require broad-based support among elected leaders and a fundamental attitudinal change among the people of New Jersey. This report is a first step in the process.
The report contains four categories of reform and argues that each must be taken together to achieve lasting change. The first calls for comprehensive campaign finance reform that will allow greater participation for ordinary citizens. The second recommends solutions to the ethical issues faced by the state that should be identified by a bipartisan commission. The third call for reforms in how government conducts its business. The fourth recommendation urges further research into the actual costs of corruption and the characteristics of those officials indicted or convicted of public corruption charges in recent years. Finally, when all else fails, the study recognizes the need for aggressive prosecution of law breakers.
Undoubtedly, many will disagree with specific recommendations that are contained in the report. (I'll explore some of the concerns I have in future columns.) However, these individual objections should not distract from the overall effort to address the problems that plague New Jersey.
You can obtain a copy of the report by visiting http://www.pruethics.rutgers.edu/.