Judges are paid by the public on the assumption that they are performing a public service. For someone with a vested interest to offer a judge money, a gift or a favour is unacceptable. Judges are expected to maintain a high degree of integrity; any lapse, even a small one, is a serious matter.
Civil servants are also paid by the public on the assumption that they are performing a public service. For someone seeking a building permit or a renewed passport to offer a civil servant money, a gift or a favour is also unacceptable. The civil service might be slow and frustrating to deal with, but at least in most first-world countries still gets some respect for being relatively honest. (In some places, like France, it’s actually considered one of the most respected professions.)
Finally, politicians are paid by the public on the assumption that they are performing a public service. For someone with a vested interest in legislation to offer a politician or his/her party a donation is considered normal. Falling voter turnout levels are symptomatic of the fact that respect for politicians has sunk to the point that many taxpayers no longer feel good about voting, helping a campaign or any other form of participation. (I can’t think of anywhere where it’s considered one of the most respected professions.)
Anyone see what’s wrong with this picture?
It’s time to end the conflict-of-interest. It’s time to prohibit all financing, gifts-in-kind and favours that leave voters with the perception that the people they’re hiring and paying to write and debate laws have had their integrity compromised.
And if elected representatives cannot be brought up to the same ethical minimums faced by judges and civil servants, then perhaps it’s time to bury the idea of politics as a valid form of public service and let it rest in peace.
Three places in North America have already made good starts, though more work remains to be done. Just the other day, Colorado voters passed an amendment barring corporate and union donations to political parties. In Canada, Manitoba and Quebec have also barred such donations and placed limits on third-party advertising.
Good for them. Hopefully other places in the world will make similar reforms.