Monday, March 19, 2012

Ethics Panel Schooled on Conflicts of Interest

Posted By on Mon, Mar 19, 2012 at 9:12 AM

Six Idaho lawmakers are receiving a primer this morning on conflicts of interest.

The three Republicans and three Democrats, all members of a special Senate Ethics Investigation Committee, have begun a probe into the dealings of New Plymouth Republican Sen. Monty Pearce. Pearce is accused of failing to disclose his private dealings with the oil and gas industry while voting more than 20 times this session on oil and gas industry legislation. Additionally, Pearce serves as chairman of the Senate Resources and Environment Committee.

But before the panel can begin looking into the allegations, they were briefed by Idaho Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane on how Idaho code defines conflicts when it comes to state lawmakers.

"Man or woman can not serve two masters - if one master is your private interest and your other master is the public interest," said Kane. "That's the classic definition of conflict of interest."

Ethics panel chairman Idaho Falls Republican Sen. Dean Mortimer informed the committee that they'll begin looking into the particulars of the complaint against Pearce on Tuesday.

"But our objective today is to understand specifically and clearly what a conflict of interest means," said Mortimer. "I don't think that's a small matter in any way, shape or form."

Kane explained that a citizen-driven legislature will include many instances of possible conflicts.

"As a legislator, you're presumed to have a right to vote," said Kane. "If you have a conflict of interest, and you can't participate, your constituents run the risk of essentially being unrepresented. But the presumption is that you'll be able to recognize those conflicts and, when necessary, disclose those conflicts, but fully participate in the process."

Kane explained that a conflict of interest should be disclosed to a presiding officer [of a committee or the body as a whole]. But in Pearce's case, he's the chair of the Resources and Environment Committee.

"In that case, he should disclose to the vice chair," said Kane, who clarified that a legislator should not only disclose in committee but again "to the entirety of the body" if a measure makes its way to the floor.

"The sunshine of disclosure cleanses your interest," said Kane. "And where that comes home to roost is at the ballot box. When all is said and done, your citizens can see how you voted, how you disclosed, and what your interests are, and that you have appropriately quantified and classified your personal interests."

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