Gov. Jerry Brown should re-read his very strong language vetoing ethics bills. And then he should think hard, again, about his rainy day fund, Prop 2.
Applying the wisdom of the ethics bills vetoes – that adding more ethics rules would make the already existing rules too complex – might lead him to reconsider a a measure that is already way too complex. Brown also argued, in his vetoes, that the law already has ethics and disclosure laws – just as the state already has reserve funds in place.
His Prop 2 also puts new constraints on politicians. So did the ethics bills he voted, arguing that while some constraints should be applied to politicians, “some balance and common sense is required.” And the complex formulas of Prop 2 go far beyond common sense. Here’s just a taste, one typical little paragraph in a 4000+ word measure.
Fifty percent of both the amount identified in paragraph (2) of subdivision (a), and the amount resulting from subtracting the value calculated under subparagraph (C) of paragraph (1) of subdivision (b) from the value calculated under clause (ii) of subparagraph (B) of paragraph (1) of subdivision (b), shall be transferred from the General Fund to the Budget Stabilization Account
In his ethics bill vetoes, Brown referenced a wonderful, 50-year-old, still-relevant essay from Bayless Manning, who among other things was dean of Stanford’s law school. The essay warned against the tendency in American politics to pursue specific measures to appeal to a larger sense of morality, as though law were merely an act in a play.
That’s what folks like Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause wanted the governor to do by signing the ethics bills. She told the Sacramento Bee that her organization was disappointed since the bills were important “in terms of restoring public confidence and creating the optics that our state government cares about ethics and takes it seriously.”
The rainy day fund (which isn’t really just a rainy day fund, of course) is the same sort of morality play – it makes us feel better, but it won’t make anything better and could make things worse. Governor Brown, you were right about the ethics bills. So why not have the same courage and abandon the rainy day fund.