Oregon's Ethics War

Last Updated Apr 29, 2008 6:14 PM EDT

Name all of your adult relatives. On the record. Publicly. Would you be willing to do this to keep your job?

If you want to be a public official in Oregon, these are the new requirements. And, so far, at least 150 of the state's 5,000 public officials have balked at this new revision to what is considered the country's toughest conflict-of-interest disclosure laws for government officials, and walked away from their jobs.

Advocates say the new law reflects the public's concern for transparency and accountability in government. That's an idea I can get behind. But this latest revision to the ethics rules - which also requires elected and appointed officials to disclose their sources of income, property holdings and business interests - is too extreme.

The goal of such ethics laws is to ensure officials are acting for the public interest, instead of personal gain. They are important laws. Yet there's a fine line between the public's right-to-know, and outright intrusion. I think Oregon has crossed that line.

Income, property, business interests. These are concrete factors that create palpable ethical dilemmas. But family? What does a person's family tell you about them? A lot. Or nothing. Is there a potential for shadiness? Certainly. But it's not a fact, it's not concrete. Your family does not define you. You define you.

Got an opinion on this? Share in the comments section.

  • William Baker

    William Baker is a freelance writer living in Cambridge, MA. His work has appeared in Popular Science, the Boston Globe Magazine, the New York Daily News, Boston Magazine, The Weekly Dig and a bunch of other places (including Field & Stream, though he doesn't hunt and can't really fish). He is a regular contributor to the Boston Globe, where he writes the weekly column, "Meeting the Minds." He holds a master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and is at work on his first book.