IVN News

ETC Conference: Healthy Democracy Depends on Ethics in Government

Leaders from the public, private, nonprofit, and university sectors gathered on Thursday, October 16, for a conference on Ethics, Transparency, and Civility, hosted by UC San Diego.

The ETC Conference began with a panel discussion about the state of ethics in American politics. Panelists included U.S. Representative Susan Davis (D-Calif), Assemblymember and Republican Minority Leader Kristen Olson, dean and professor of law Stephen C. Ferruolo, Independent Voter Project Co-Chair Dan Howle, U.S. Rep. Scott Peters, executive director of UCSD’s Student Organized Voter Access Committee (SOVAC), Avril Prakesh, and business leader Robert Price.

In the first half of the discussion, panelists focused on the current state of American politics and the need for ethical behavior from not just politicians, but from organizations and individuals who run and fund political campaigns.

When asked if ethics in public life are better or worse now than in California’s history, the panelists had mixed responses.

Dan Howle, who is now entering his 41st year in California politics, voiced his confidence in today’s legislature, stating it is a better body from an ethical and moral perspective than it was even just four years ago.

“The fact of the matter is the vast majority of public officials are hard working people who dedicate their lives to public service…It is unfortunate they get lumped in with the bad apples.” – Dan Howle, IVP Co-Chair

Kristen Olson, who represents the 12th Assembly District, agreed, attributing an increase in ethics to social media and its power as a tool for accountability.

“You do something, it’s on Twitter in a matter of seconds, so there is much more exposure,” she said.

Not only can the immediacy of social media be used to encourage accountability among politicians, but it can and should be used to engage millennials. Student panelist Avril Prakesh added that students care about what happens on Twitter, Facebook, even Buzzfeed.

“If it trends, it does resonate with students and young people,” she commented.

While there was a general consensus that ethics among politicians has come a long way, panelists still voiced concern for the ethical behavior of those involved with political campaigns.

Political consultants are partially to blame, Howle argues, as they are the ones writing the political ads.

“If there was anything that you could do to make the system better, it would be to figure out some way to make political consultants accountable for the ads they throw at you every day,” he remarked.

Similarly, the role of independent expenditures and the power of money in elections leads to unethical advertisements and campaigns.

“One of the things I’ve been reflecting on is the role of money in politics,” said Scott Peters, who is running for Congress in a highly competitive race.

Olson echoed these concerns, citing that the vast amount of money in campaigns comes from independent expenditures.

As the discussion progressed, panelists began exploring possible solutions to unethical behavior in the political realm.

Coming from an academic standpoint, University of San Diego Dean Ferruolo spoke to the power of education in restoring democracy:

“We on the education side have a real responsibility for whats going on. There is so much emphasis in universities on outcomes, getting people jobs…we need better educated people. They are critical to a democracy and we are failing there.” – Dean Ferruolo, USD Law

Similarly situated in the educational realm, Prakesh cited the importance of civic education in universities. This is not limited to political science majors, rather extends to all students in the university setting. It means “creating a community that goes beyond your campus boundaries to make sure you are engaged with the community.”

For panelists involved in the realm of politics, increased transparency was the agreed upon remedy for restoring ethics in the public eye, further encouraging participation and strengthening the American political system.

You can view more coverage on the ETC Conference here.

Photo: Avril Prakesh (left), Congresswoman Susan Davis (middle), Dan Howle (right) Credit: Alex Gauthier, IVN