Brenda Konkel, ethics watchdog extraordinaire, recently highlighted a possible ethics violation by the mayor's office.
An RTA member, an Edgewater lobbyist, Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, County Executive Kathleen Falk and other developers/lobbyists go on a bike ride in Europe . . . . sponsored by several groups and a private company. And of course, elected officials say, nothing to see here.
Here's the story she's referring to:
After flying to Europe, Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk and 19 other civic and business leaders this week are touring bicycle-friendly cities in Germany and the Netherlands solely by foot, bike and mass transit to learn how to improve the region's transportation systems.
The tour, organized by Chris Fortune, president of Madison-based Saris Cycling Group, includes meetings with bicycle planning, engineering and design experts in Muenster, Germany, and Amsterdam and four other cities in the Netherlands.
There is a big difference between a non-profit advocacy group funding a trip and a for-profit corporation or lobbyist do the same. A business or lobbyists for businesses that seek contracts from the city would be a somewhat different animal. But Brenda may have a point in interpreting the ethics statutes :
3.35(5)(a)2. Influence and Reward. No person or entity may offer or give to an incumbent or member of an incumbent's immediate family, directly or indirectly, and no incumbent may solicit or accept from any person or entity, directly or indirectly, anything of value if it could reasonably be expected to influence the incumbent's vote, official actions or judgment, or could reasonably be considered as a reward for any official action or inaction on her or his part.
A foundation is an entity, and it has a clearly defined interest in the political process. Non-profits have agendas, and they are willing to grease the wheels of the political process to advance them. I find the idea of rewards particularly intriguing. "Build a couple bike paths and we'll set you up with a sick trip to Germany." To my knowledge, that is not even plausible in this case.
Ultimately, what I believe matters is if there is a financial interest for the non-profit. The foundation in this case has argued that the trip is simply out of interest in the nation-wide cause. If, as Brenda points out below (in the comments), a foundation receives funding from city government, then its interest is the same as that of a business, and it should not be allowed to fund trips for government officials.
Ah...the inconvenience of ethics in government. Usually the only way to ensure compliance is to ask the taxpayer to pay.