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The scope of ethics

There is a small agency in Washington state government called the State Executive Ethics Board, with a budget of a little under a half-million dollars a year, a drop in the ocean of the Washington state budget. In light of the state’s financial stress, state Representative Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma, has proposed eliminating it. (She was quoted as saying, a little oddly, “”The rules are known and people are expected to follow the rules.” So of course they always do?) That proposal may or may not win approval.

The critics of this particular cut are mostly – interestingly – Republicans, maybe in part because the slice would come out of the budget of the budget of Attorney General Rob McKenna, who is Republican. On Sound Politics, in rebuttal to Darneille: “There you go! Problem solved!” Another, in comments: “By this Democrat’s logic, let’s just get rid of all law enforcement and courts too.”

So how much of a problem is it? The work volume of the agency seems not to have been enormous: In 2008 it opened 67 cases and imposed penalties on 11 employees, and delivered one advisory opinion (on “May a state employee authorize a wellness organization to sell products during meetings, even in the meetings are held in accordance with the agency’s wellness policy?”) Is that enough for a full-fledged agency? Or is there more work out there that it should be addressing, but isn’t?

No immediate answers here, but there do seem to be a bunch of questions worth exploring. A legislative hearing or two might be a good place to do that.

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