Politicians and professors meeting at UC San Diego Thursday held out hope for ethics in government, but expressed concerns about attack ads, instant media and professional political consultants.
“The legislature today is a better body from an ethical and moral perspective than it was 40 years ago, or 50 years ago, or 60 years ago,” said Dan Howle, co-founder of Independent Voter Project.
But he sharply criticized the role of professional political consultants and said America must “figure out some way of making political consultants accountable for their lies and deceptions.”
The initiative “Ethics, Transparency and Civility” — or ETC — is being led by the university’s political science department. Rudy Murillo, the university’s director of state government relations, noted that “ETC” usually ends a sentence, but the university is trying to make it a focus for all students.
“For this campus, we’re trying to move it to the beginning of the sentence,” Murillo said. “It’s meant as a challenge to our students.”
Rep. Susan Davis said the last thing any member of Congress wants is an ethics scandal that engulfs career and family.
“My sense is that people are really quite focused on this,” she said. “What we don’t really know is how many examples there are of members in politics…who aren’t doing the right thing and nobody knows about it.”
Rep. Scott Peters said that from his experience members of Congress are hard working, ethical and trying to make a difference, but pointed to attack advertising as a systemic problem.
“The ethics I think about aren’t person-to-person,” said Peters, who faces a close election. “I’m concerned about the systemic ethics.”
Student Avril Prakash, a senior who is president of the Student Organized Voter Access Committee, said most students don’t see attack ads because they seldom watch TV. Their perspective is from online and social media, she said.
“If it trends (online), it does resonate with students,” she said, but “these ads don’t really have an effect.”
Assembly member Kristen Olsen, who represents a district in California’s Central Valley, said she believes “the vast majority of lawmakers are in it for the right reason” but today’s instant, online media can distort the public’s understanding.
“A lot of it has to do with our instantaneous forms of communications these days,” she said.
Several speakers expressed concern about the impact of great wealth, especially when funneled through political action committees. “Money is a necessary evil in politcs,” Olsen said. “The important thing is not to treat individuals differently based on the money you receive.”
Prakash, who grew up in India and Singapore and became a naturalized citizen, said that from her foreign experience, “You have to have a great appreciation for the American political system.”
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