Ethics law questions & answers

August 3, 2010 

Why is this law important? It provides several measures that hold government and its employees more accountable. For example, it will be harder for state and local agencies to hide exorbitant salaries or pay raises, misbehaving employees and other personnel moves that waste public money. The public will have the right to see how an employee's pay has grown over time and when they've been suspended or demoted. And if an employee is fired, the agency will have to release a letter explaining why. A new database will help the public connect government contracts to political contributions, which may help uncover so-called "pay to play" schemes. Political fundraisers who are appointed to major boards such as the UNC Board of Governors will now have to disclose their campaign involvement.

Why is it needed? Nearly every reform in the law stems from a scandal or controversy in government. Lawmakers made it a felony, for example, to give more than $10,000 to a candidate in an election after an investigation earlier this year found that Rusty Carter, a Wilmington businessman and Democratic fundraiser, had used family members and employees to illegally funnel more than $330,000 into the campaigns of several candidates. The crime, to which Carter pleaded guilty, was a misdemeanor.

What happens if I'm denied public information? The law also strengthens the state's public records law by making it easier for people who are denied public records to sue government and win legal fees, an incentive that should make government more likely to provide therecords in the first place.

What wasn't taken up? Lawmakers again declined to give prosecutors the ability to convene grand juries to investigate political corruption. They did not make candidates personally accountable for election law fines, nor did they tackle the issue of legislative leaders using political parties to funnel tens of thousands of dollars into contested House and Senate races. Public financing provisions were turned back, as was an effort to make public letters of recommendation that elected officials made on behalf of candidates for state and local jobs.

Will lawmakers do more next year? There will be a study into the feasibility of preventing government contractors, and those bidding for government work, from making campaign contributions. Some lawmakers have said they may try to expand public employee personnel information. But at the bill signing Monday, no one spoke of a need to adopt more government reforms.

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