Getting the Government America Deserves: How Ethics Reform Can Make a Difference

Richard W. Painter

University of Minnesota Law School

January 29, 2009

Oxford University Press, 2009
Minnesota Legal Studies Research Paper No. 09-14

In order to be effective, federal ethics law must address sources of systematic corruption rather than simply address motives that individual government employees might have to betray the public trust (such as personal financial holdings or family relationships). Getting the Government America Deserves articulates a general approach to combating systemic corruption as well as some specific proposals for doing so.

Federal ethics law is relatively unknown in legal academia and elsewhere outside of Washington, D.C., but it is binding on over one million federal employees. Lobbyists, federal contractors, lawyers and others who interact with the federal government are also deeply interested in federal ethics law and represent a surprisingly large market for a little-studied area of the law.

Getting the Government America Deserves analyzes government ethics law from the perspective of an academic critic and that of a lawyer who was the chief White House ethics lawyer for two and a half years. Richard Painter argues that the existing ethics regime is in need of substantial reform since federal ethics laws fail to curtail conduct that undermines the integrity of government, such as political activity by federal employees and their interaction with lobbyists and interest groups. He also contends that in some other areas, such as personal financial conflicts of interest, there is too much complexity in regulatory and reporting requirements, and rules need to be simplified. Painter's solution includes strengthening the enforcement of ethics rules, reforming the lobbying industry, and changing a system of campaign finance that impedes meaningful government ethics reform.

Professor Painter was the Chief White House ethics lawyer for two and a half years, and has an insider's view of why the existing ethics regime needs reform. The author's specific proposals include stricter regulation of movement of senior officials from the private sector into government, abolition of the White House office of political affairs as it has been constituted during the past few administrations, barring lobbyists from bundling campaign contributions, restrictions on political activity of senior political employees in the Executive Branch and a dramatic increase in public funding of political campaigns to offset money from special interests.

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Date posted: February 2, 2009  

Suggested Citation

Painter, Richard W., Getting the Government America Deserves: How Ethics Reform Can Make a Difference (January 29, 2009). Oxford University Press, 2009; Minnesota Legal Studies Research Paper No. 09-14. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1334872

Contact Information

Richard W. Painter (Contact Author)
University of Minnesota Law School ( email )
229 19th Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States
612-626-9707 (Phone)
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