SIM punts on ethics

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In response to the recent state Ethics Board Declaratory Ruling the SIM steering committee took up ethics at their meeting last week. The Ethics Board found that because SIM committee members are appointed by the Lieutenant Governor, SIM was not covered by the state Code of Ethics for Public Officials that applies to similar policymaking committees in state government.

Unfortunately, rather than adopt the state Code of Ethics, staff proposed an extremely weak policy that would do little or nothing to prevent conflicted interests from driving health reform and SIM’s $45 million in grants. Problems have already arisen about the application for a grant from a SIM steering committee member’s employer. This issue was first raised with SIM’s Consumer Advisory Board in November, with no action taken, and in a February sign on letter from advocates to the Lieutenant Governor, with no response. At their meeting, the SIM steering committee heard from four public commenters on the importance of integrity, building trust, offering alternatives to engage key stakeholders without compromising ethics, and urging adoption of the state Code of Ethics. Commenters noted that municipal boards, not covered by state law, have nevertheless adopted the state Code of Ethics to build public trust.
Unfortunately the Committee was misinformed about several areas of policy. It was reported that the Code of Ethics includes revolving door and employment barriers to members. However those provisions only apply to state employees. For example, former state employees are prohibited from disclosing confidential information they gained during their state employment for financial gain. The Code imposes no barriers to employment on non-state employees. Thankfully a SIM committee member dispelled the misinformation that if SIM adopts the Code, members would necessarily have to file financial disclosure forms. Only 3.9% of CT’s 65,000 public officials are required to file financial disclosure forms. Members also seemed to believe that the financial forms are extensive. Disclosure includes only naming sources of income, large assets and investments, not amounts; members do not have to release their tax forms. Contrary to assertions from the Lieutenant Governor’s staff, SIM committees are not purely advisory – as confirmed by the Ethics Board Ruling.

Unfortunately, the committee decided to adopt the weak policy but plans to study the Code further. To ensure the committee has accurate information, they should ask for a presentation by the Office of State Ethics. Some members did emphasize the importance of following up on the issue in a timely way to ensure the public’s trust.