Sunday, February 27, 2011

What and Which Conflict of Interest Is It?

After reading Mike Kaszuba's piece in the Star Tribune on the possible conflict of interest on the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council I did several things.  First, I went to the Council website to see if there is information on the members that could help me understand if there is a conflict of interest.

Secondly, I went to the web to help define for me what conflict of interest is.  I read four of them.

Wikipedia-conflict of interest occurs when an individual or organization is involved in multiple interests, one of which could possibly corrupt the motivation for an act of the other.

Business Ethics-a situation in which a person has a private or personal interest sufficient to appear to influence the objective exercise of his or her official duties as, say, a public official, an employee, or a professional.

Legal Dictionary-a term used to describe the situation in which a public official or fiduciary who, contrary to the obligation, and absolute duty to act for the benefit of the public or a designated individual, exploits the relationship for personal benefit, typically pecuniary.

Business Dictionary-situation that has the potential to undermine the impartiality of a person because of the possibility of a clash between the person's self interest and professional interest or the public interest.

The review of the members background page, generally gave me information on their interests, involvement in organizations, and a personal note on their personal activities or their families.  The legislative members have very limited information.  It linked me to their legislative pages.  What are their interests and involvement in organizations?

When I review the various definitions of conflict of interests, some are understandable, one is in legalese, what it boils down to many people is they know it when they see it.  To quote Potter Stewart, former Justice of the Supreme Court, trying to explain what obscenity is in 1964, "I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material,---but I know it when I see it,"

Conflict of interest can be hidden, opaque, or upfront, it can be questioned publicly or privately.  In the world of politics, there has been and will always be conflict of interests.  At the Legislature, the City Hall, and throughout government it is there.

When I lobby at the Capitol I know lobbyists represent various interests.  I have talked directly to some of them about their possible conflict of interests on legislation, particularly when I lobby on something they oppose for one client, but I know one of their other clients would be in favor of the legislation I am in support of.  Legislators can also have conflict of interests.

In the case of the Legacy monies and the Outdoor Heritage Council is there conflict of interest?  Pick your definition?

For me, there can be more information about the individual members.  It can be standardized somewhat particularly with their backgrounds as it relates to the Council.  I like the contact information that citizen members have provided.  There is a definition of conflict of interest for the Council.  Is it the right definition?  How can the members outline their potential conflicts of interests and then publicly state them?

It is important to address the possibility of conflict of interest with the Lessard-Sams Council and other aspects of the Legacy Amendment implementation, but there other parts of government that need just as much attention.

Conflict of interest is tough to define.  It is important for organizations to have clear and concise policies as to what a conflict of interest is, there should be public discussion of it, and transparency and accountability of the policies.  If it is not done, there can be false impressions from the public, loss of trust, and lost respectability to the individual or institution.

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