Tightening Ethics Requires Vigilance
Initial public reaction thus far has been positive, undoubtedly because any action toward correction of past misdeeds is welcome. Now we must wait for lobbyists and other politicians to zero in on the loopholes.
One bill bans what is described as incomplete checks. The ban applies to the writing and acceptance of checks written payable to -- well, payable to no one in particular. Such checks leave it up to a middle man to fill in the blank.
Before this latest legislative action, North Carolina law did not address this issue, either because it had not occurred to anyone or because the public was not aware of the practice. Now everyone knows that House Speaker Jim Black did just that. Black accepted campaign contributions from fellow optometrists, who left the payee line blank, giving Black freedom to turn the checks over to fellow legislators likely to vote in favor of a pet bill.
The pet bill, as it turned out, required an eye examination for children entering school. The law, which did not ante up state funds to pay for eye exams, stirred up controversy. The rumpus called attention to all the business tossed at optometrists.
Schoolchildren could benefit from such exams, but one wonders if the optometry profession is that hard up for patients. The attendant uproar persuaded the 2006 General Assembly to dispose of the eye exam law.
This blank check controversy is just one example of opportunities to mishandle campaign contributions. Black, a Mecklenburg County Democrat, has done a reasonably good job of legislative leadership and he is respected as a man who works well with fellow lawmakers.
To clear eyes, the blank check caper appears very wrong indeed -- whether it was just an example of appalling judgment or a heinous breach of ethics. The Pilot supports any tightening of ethics laws and lobbying reform but is too realistic to expect total absence of loopholes. Experience teaches the wisdom of vigilance.
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