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Sunday, May 30, 2004

Public Disclosure

The Star Tribune reports that ex-Representative Dave Bishop, a Republican from Rochester, failed to disclose that he had an interest in land that was adjacent to a highway that was being upgraded. These highway improvements could add a tidy amount to the value of the land. He said his failure to disclose ownership was an oversight, but as is usually the case in these affairs, to the public it doesn't matter if it was an oversight or plain corruption. It all smells the same. There are more strange quirks to the story, such as whether certain interchanges that give better highway access to this land should have been built in the first place.

Legislators have to disclose far too little of their potential conflicts of interest. Unfortunately, there is a bipartisan majority that wishes to uphold the status quo. I remember a few times in recent years when there were attempts made to tighten up the public disclosure laws, but both sides have legislators who would rather keep things under wraps.

When you are a legislator and you control an annual budget that runs into the billions of dollars, it is fair to expect that the public will have the opportunity to know if you stand to gain anything. Disclosing jobs, salaries, investments, real estate, and other relevant financial information is a small price to pay for transparency. Until there is a change, look for more of these stories to bubble up from time to time, with a corresponding drop in the public's confidence in our legislature.


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