Magazine article State Legislatures

Yes, No, Maybe So: Is It a Conflict of Interest to Maintain outside Sources of Income While Serving in the Legislature?

Magazine article State Legislatures

Yes, No, Maybe So: Is It a Conflict of Interest to Maintain outside Sources of Income While Serving in the Legislature?

Article excerpt

Conflicts of interest are, and always will be, an issue for elected officials. This month we'll explore a specific type of conflict: outside income and the potential issues and problems it presents to legislators across the nation.

Most legislators pursue professional careers before becoming public officials. They are businessmen and -women, medical professionals, lawyers, teachers, insurance agents, bankers, farmers and small-business owners, to name a few. Their success is, in part, why we elect them. We want qualified, experienced individuals representing us when creating, debating and passing laws.

This raises the question, however, about how involved legislators should be in their professions while serving in the legislature. Whether it be in their constitutions, statutes or rules, all states address potential conflicts for legislators. Definitions usually specify that a legislator may not vote on an issue in which he or she has a pecuniary interest of any kind. States differ in how they handle perceived conflicts, however.

Outside sources of income are generally acceptable and not considered a conflict, per se. In fact, it may be seen as not only OK but even desirable that legislators lead professional lives outside the capitol. Because legislators aim to be frugal with taxpayers' money, they keep salaries and other expenses low. Full divestiture from previous jobs, business interests and other sources of income is, by and large, unrealistic and unnecessary. …

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