If it's not OK on the national level (politics and business mingling)
November 7, 2017 3:57 PM   Subscribe

In my local election today we have someone running for a District position who also appears to be part owner of a business that specializes in business strategies for that district class.

For instance, if they were running for a position for District Wheelbarrow Builder and they also are part owner in a business that helps wheelbarrow builders and others in that general group, er, synergize their strategies or something. I assume they are paid in their private job position. If it's not OK for the President to profit from a position in politics, why would this local person also not be forbidden from working as a commissioner and also having a business that operates in the same milieu? I want to note that I'm going to wait for answers to this but I also don't know whether this person will be stepping down from their business while serving or if this is even a thing in local politics. I'm not even sure they get paid for the political position, or whether that would matter. But all the talk about the train wreck in Washington DC had me wondering. Thanks!
posted by Rufous-headed Towhee heehee to Law & Government (2 answers total)
Do you mean legally ok or morally?

The thing that you hear about most often in regards to the current administration is the "Emoluments Clause" which a) only applies to people in the federal government and b) where it applies at all (it's a little vague), it only applies to taking money from foreign countries (or agents of foreign countries). It's totally legal for politicians to, say, pass bills that drastically cut their own taxes or help their own family businesses.

Which is to say that in general, this is totally legal. There may be some specific state/county/town law, for which you'd need to supply location info but I don't believe there are many or any laws like that on the books - it's possible that any laws to that effect would be challenged on first amendment grounds.
posted by brainmouse at 4:16 PM on November 7, 2017

"why would this local person also not be forbidden from working as a commissioner and also having a business that operates in the same milieu?"

He would definitely* be forbidden from bidding on contracts and partially forbidden from his company receiving payments from the government entity -- depending on what the company is and how it's organized. In most states he will be required to file a report with the state about all his investments, work, sources of income, contracts, etc., that meet certain criteria (such that they could potentially present conflicts or opportunities for self-enrichment). In smaller cities it's often impossible for people to avoid entanglement completely, so they may recuse themselves from specific votes. For example, when I was on school board, it didn't seem like the kind of thing that would ever come up for me, since I was an at-home parent at the time and my husband worked in state historic preservation ... and then we had to get state historic preservation sign-off on a grant proposal relating to renovating windows in a historic school building, and it turned out the official signing off on the grants submitted to the program was my husband! So I had to recuse myself from all the routine votes on that set of renovations. SMALL WORLD! But I probably voted on 80 motions a month, for five years, and I was recused from like four. One of my colleagues was the chief of medicine at a local hospital, and he had to routinely recuse himself from certain kinds of tax discussions and votes, because the hospital's posture w/r/t taxation and the school district's could be at odds, and he couldn't have both private business knowledge and private government knowledge. Another of my colleagues came from a family of 10, and she had like 30 nieces and nephews living in town, two of whom worked for our school district, so she had to recuse herself whenever their stuff came up. But it was such a small city that there was nobody who went fully un-recused ... either their business did business with the district, or they had family members working for the district, or whatever.

Generally by law you can't work for the entity that oversees you, so cops can't serve on city council and teachers can't serve on school boards. In practice this means that in a big city like Chicago where aldermen earn a salary, a cop can run and resign if he wins and earn an alderman salary; school districts, however, are unpaid by law in Illinois, so teachers only run after they retire.

But lawyers run for prosecutor and judge, cops and firemen run for city council, lobbyists run for state legislatures, teachers run for school board. People with subject matter knowledge in a particular area of government, usually from their professional work, are quite often motivated to run. So this happens a lot.

*Almost definitely, I'm sure there's some weird place in the US where graft is great!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:15 PM on November 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

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