Thatcher Imboden asks some good questions but personally, I think the
answers should be pretty self evident.
In my opinion, there is virtually no difference between a real conflict
of interest and a perceived conflict of interest.
An elected official who accepts campaign contributions from a developer
(or anyone else who is seeking to profit financially from a project or a
contract)and who then votes to support that project or contract has - at
the very least - a perceived conflict of interest.
I know there are elected officials - many of whom I support - who have
found themselves in this position. The only way out of the dilemma I
think is to recuse or abstain from voting on the contract or project and
making it clear up front that one does so because one has accepted
campaign contributions from this vendor or bidder or developer.
Citizens have a right to expect their elected officials to act in the
best interests of their constituents and communities and voting to
support the project or contract for of a campaign contributor - even if
the project or contract is in the public interest - is clearly a
perceived conflict of interest and requires a recusal or abstention.
There is not the same as helping to get a pothole fixed or an alley
plowed or some other assistance to a constituent who may also have
contributed to the one's campaign. The difference I think is that the
developer or vendor or bidder is seeking to profit from the elected
official's vote while the constituent seeking pothole repair or a plowed
alley is not.
Obviously, a developer or bidder or vendor who is seeking the
government's blessing and the elected official's vote can choose to
remain ethically "pure" by not contributing to campaigns for those
officials or their challengers. In fact, I would like to see tough
prohibitions imposed on elected officials at all levels that would
prohibit accepting contributions from persons or entities doing business
with the public body they are elected to.
Since Thatcher specially mentioned real estate developers, it seems to
me that any time a city council or park board member accepts
contributions from real estate developers and then votes to support
their projects, they should expect the public raise questions about
whether their vote was bought. Similarly, a developer who makes
contributions and then secures favorable votes from those council or
park board members to whom they made contributions should and will
always be viewed suspiciously as having bought that support. How could
it be any other way?
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