Legislative ethics: NH way works better than most
New Hampshire's Legislature is a peculiar institution. It is one of the largest deliberative bodies in the world, its 400-member House balanced, constitutionally, by a Senate of just 24 members. Outside of mileage reimbursements, their pay is largely ceremonial. They must stand for election every two years.
And yet, it works. The Legislature, or General Court, was put together this way purposely to keep it close to the people it represents. It is said that if you aren't in the Legislature yourself, your neighbor probably is.
That closeness keeps the representatives more in touch with constituents than they would otherwise be; and the lack of any sort of salary discourages people from making the position a fulltime job.
Which is why legislators, unless they are retirees or college students, are otherwise gainfully employed, most in the private sector. That is also another good thing about the system. People working for a living tend to know the problems that businesses face and are thus more informed and aware when legislation is proposed that affects businesses.
Which is why the public and legislators should guard against making ethics rules so overly broad and sweeping that they prevent legislators from working or prevent working men and women from serving in Concord.
As a former attorney general noted to us recently, we can either have a citizen Legislature, where transparency usually takes care of the occasional and inevitable conflict of interest, or we can chuck a system that works in favor of "professional politicians" who would command big salaries and bigger staffs, but still not be immune to conflicts.
We will take the New Hampshire way, thank you.