Update, Enforce Ethics Statutes

Ohio’s statutes regarding public officials’ ethics have not been updated in 17 years. Clearly, the General Assembly should be taking a new look at ethics laws, if for no other reason that to take technological advances during the past generation into account.

Before he left office at the end of December, former state Senate President Tom Niehaus urged his fellow lawmakers to modernize ethics regulations. “It’s about transparency to the public and certainly for members of the legislature and people in public office,” Niehaus explained.

Indeed it is. Ohioans can have no confidence in legislators they fear may be guiding their votes to please special interests, including some who may be supporting the lawmakers financially. Ensuring laws against what amounts to influence buying are ironclad should be one goal of any updating of ethics rules.

And, as Niehaus points out, transparency is critical. Accurate reports on campaign finance and lobbyists’ activities, filed in a timely manner, are essential. So are public records statutes that take into account technology such as email messaging.

But during the past two years, ethics lapses by some Buckeye State legislators have involved both their official duties and breaking other laws.

Two Ohio lawmakers were arrested for drunken driving during the past two years and one was accused, though not charged, with being involved in a domestic dispute.

For the first time in a century, a legislator was sentenced to prison last summer, after a bribery conviction. State Rep. W. Carlton Weddington is serving a three-year sentence for soliciting and accepting cash, as well as all-expense-paid trips to California and Florida.

Clearly, Weddington, a Columbus Democrat, simply had no regard for the law – or for the trust his constituents placed in him.

So, while it is a good idea for legislators to update ethics laws, Ohioans need to continue insisting the rules be enforced – and those who break them be punished.

Public officials ask for and accept the trust of those they serve. When they thumb their noses at the law and their constituents, the repercussions should be certain, swift and severe.