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Why Us: Letter from the Executive Director

Leslie W. Merritt, CPA, Executive Director

Whether you favor limited government or one that plays a more active role, we can all agree government should be honest, effective and efficient. But in order to achieve this, there must be a sufficient number of independent-minded watchdogs monitoring our public officials.

Despite this vital need, and as government spending is rapidly increasing, oversight agencies have been stretched increasingly thin in recent years. Struggles facing newsrooms across the country to keep pace with fewer resources also threaten to reduce the number of investigative reporters functioning as independent watchdogs. These factors have contributed to a target-rich environment for those few public officials who would abuse the system.

The public trust is at the heart of our government's ability to do the job people rightly expect it to do, and that is why it was so important to establish the Foundation for Ethics in Public Service, Inc. The Foundation is an "action entity" which educates citizens and government leaders about the corrosive impact of ethical lapses on our system of government.

The Foundation's mission is to bring a new level of transparency, accountability and integrity to all levels of American government. One way we do that is by independently investigating allegations of corruption in government. To address potential issues before they become problems, The Foundation also proactively educates government leaders and the general public about the true nature of ethics in government as well as the causes of and remedies for public corruption.

As we work to accomplish our mission, we never lose sight of two guiding principles: first, government will always have a hard time policing itself; and second, more can be accomplished if we don't care who gets the credit.

The Foundation's efforts translate into action on two major fronts: (1) promoting transparency by facilitating the investigation and reporting of alleged public corruption; and (2) providing information and support to help enforcement and oversight agencies do their jobs more effectively, which could lead to indictments or other enforcement actions.

By facilitating investigative reporting, we help ensure that citizens are educated about occurrences of public corruption. Increasing public awareness of the importance of ethics in public service promotes transparency in government, and in turn helps law enforcement and oversight agencies do their jobs more effectively. Altogether these measures encourage public servants at all levels to provide citizens with honest, ethical service.

If we are to be truly successful in accomplishing our mission going forward, much of what we do will not get public recognition. Our goal is to get results, not credit. One of the ways we will facilitate investigative reporting is by receiving and vetting tips, then passing them on to investigative reporters who expose them to the spotlight of media coverage. In other instances, investigative reporters will enlist our help to dig deeper when their instincts tell them there is more to the story, but they simply lack the time or resources to pursue the story. In those cases, we will investigate further and then hand the story back to the reporter who provided us with the tip in the first place.

Transparency is one of the cornerstones of government accountability. The spotlight of public scrutiny goes a long way toward creating honest, open government. In many cases, however, a great deal of information that should be public knowledge is gathered by oversight agencies or law enforcement agencies -- but never sees the light of day due to plea bargains or other similar arrangements. Our goal is to increase government transparency by providing information to the media independently and by providing support to help oversight agencies do their jobs more effectively.

The Foundation's work will evolve over time as we build relationships with other entities. We anticipate that will include an array of media outlets, other foundations, investigative reporters, law enforcement agencies and personnel, forensic accountants, legal experts and others throughout the nation who will enhance our ability to effectively process and investigate allegations of public corruption. Building a strong nationwide network of proven experts will enable us to effectively accomplish our mission while running a lean, efficient organization.

We are building a cutting edge online presence that we believe will become the go-to Web site for individuals who wish to report public corruption or learn more about why ethics and honest service are so important to our system of government. Dr. Frank Perry, our Director of Investigations and Public Affairs, has taught ethics to thousands of individuals, both in the classroom and in seminars. Frank will continue his education effort through the Foundation and will oversee the development of a regionally catalogued online archive containing examples of both ethics successes and shortcomings. We envision our Web site serving as a comprehensive resource for all things related to ethics in public service.

The strategies outlined in this letter are only the tip of the iceberg, we are committed to being a results-oriented "action entity". Please stay tuned to our site as we outline our future plans. There are many individuals and organizations throughout America who share our desire to bring a new level of transparency, accountability and integrity to all levels of government. We look forward to partnering with those individuals and organizations to strengthen the fabric of American society by ensuring that our government is open, honest and accountable and by inspiring public servants to conduct themselves ethically.

Why Us: Honest Public Service

Frank L. Perry, Director of Investigations and Public Affairs

What we value morally, and how we act with respect to those values, is the domain of ethics. Ethics initiatives, whether ethics in medicine, law, business, or public service, must take into account the nature and promotion of right as opposed to wrong action. Ethics is the constant, and the professions are the variable. The motive or reasons for right or wrong action is more the finer point of morality. For example, an act has no moral worth if it is done for a selfish reason, but it can be determined to be ethical or not based on considerations (the values we hold) of whether or not it is the right action to take, or the wrong one. Motives or reasons for actions - the realm of morality, even religion - cannot be legislated, so American law - whether by way of common law or by statute - traditionally has avoided even the appearance of "moral policing".

It is clear that we cannot, that we should not, seek directly or implicitly to "legislate morality", or to hold to a standard of "common law crime of unethical conduct". We can, and this Foundation believes we should, be vigilant in exposing specific acts or schemes to act on the part of public officials that are unethical, either because they violate state or federal ethics statutes; violate a specific law guarding against public corruption or corrupt acts by elected or hired government officials; or, more importantly, violate the letter and constitutional and so philosophical spirit of the citizens' right to have honest services provided them by their elected or hired government officials.

Ethics Commissions are quite limited in their effect on right and wrong action by public officials. Their enabling statutes narrowly are confined to financial or conflict of interest disclosure and gift bans. Therefore, mere disclosure of financial interests, and avoiding gifts from lobbyists or other "interested persons" who may or do have business with the governmental entity, are all that is needed. Ethics proper in public service is far more than this. Higher order ethics in public service consists of understanding and acting on the public servant's duty to provide all citizens - and each citizen equally - the right to honest services. An action by a public servant is ethical in this sense if that public servant acts compatibly with the right to honest services held by the citizens who put their trust in and pay them. This core value marks the wrongness - certainly the illegality - of bribes, self-dealing, cronyism, nepotism, patronage, Hobbs Act, and violations of all other state and federal anti-corruption statutes. Mere compliance with financial disclosure/conflict of interest laws is benign and of no genuine ethical consequence. Violations of ethics laws seldom result in punishment of any significance, except for an occasional fine for non-disclosure. Accordingly, "Ethics" Commissions should be re-named "Conflict of Interest" or "Compliance" Commissions. Citizens demand a higher, different sort of ethics from their public servants, and it is that conception of ethics in public service that requires compliance with right as opposed to wrong action, regardless of mere compliance with disclosure laws.

For example, of the various enabling statutes that frame the jurisdiction of state and federal ethics commissions, many cite failure to disclose a financial interest as a misdemeanor, but exclude bribery of a public official as a violation of the respective "Ethics Act", since other statutes govern the elements of bribery. This is not in itself ill-advised; it simply points to the rather banal nature of "ethics laws". Ethics writ large - and writ completely - seeks to understand, promote, enact, and act upon principles of right as opposed to wrong action, and it is ethics in public service in this sense that this Foundation seeks to explicate and defend. This is not akin to "morality policing" or advocating for a vehicle to enact ethics laws that would prohibit per se unethical personal conduct. Rather, the position taken is that public service requires a higher standard and obligation of honesty since the right to honest services is held by citizens and taxpayers. This higher standard to promote the public or greater good is not a double standard. Public servants, by definition and by their oath, take on new obligations, and they should not accept the position if they do not want to live up to the higher standard paved with new obligations. Having a career in public service - by definition the most entrusting and powerful service for the public good - entails a higher standard of conduct. Citizens must hold public servants more accountable for their actions because they see more, know more, have more visibility, have more power, receive pay from the citizens, and must make ethical decisions for the sake of the people they serve.

There is a more immediate and important ethical link between citizens and those who serve them in the respective local, state, and federal governments, and that is the oath or affirmation public servants render upon taking their office. From "I do solemnly swear (or affirm)..." to "...I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter..." (emphasis added), there is a golden thread, as it were, of implied and profound commitment to maintain a higher ethical standard in the face of conflicts of interest and the temptations and vagaries that position and power afford.

The necessary condition for corruption in public service is for a public servant to engage in wrongdoing, or to deprive citizens of the honest services they expect, or not to act compatibly with the promotion of honest services. The sufficient condition (it does take two to Tango) for public corruption to begin and flourish is for the other public servants who are aware of the wrongdoing to do nothing, or for citizens who can take action - by reporting their reasonable suspicions to responsible entities - to themselves do nothing when public servants fail them. It may not be pleasant or comfortable for responsible complainants, oversight agencies, and the media, to have to shine light on corruption, but most citizens would agree we would rather not need a Foundation for Ethics in Public Service, Inc., but rather have ethics in public service. Until that time comes, we will act upon Aristotle's assertion, "the true student of thought to have studied virtue above all things."

Foundation for Ethics in Public Service, Inc. is available to review allegations of fraud or corruption related to the healthcare reform bill

RALEIGH, N.C. – The Foundation for Ethics in Public Service, Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated exposing government corruption and educating the public on ethics-related issues, is available to review allegations of public corruption related to the passage or implementation of the healthcare reform bill President Obama signed into law today. Citizens nationwide can anonymously and securely submit allegations of public corruption online at or by calling 919-832-6886.

"The healthcare reform bill signed into law earlier today is a massive one, and any law of this size presents the potential for fraud and abuse," says former N.C. State Auditor Les Merritt, the Foundation's co-founder and executive director. "Regardless of whether you supported or opposed this law, you can agree that it is imperative that the American people have faith in the way the law was passed and how it is implemented."

The Foundation for Ethics in Public Service, Inc. is a non-profit, non-partisan organization which educates citizens and public officials about the nature, causes and remedies of public corruption and spotlights significant occurrences of public corruption. Specifically, the Foundation facilitates the investigation and reporting of public corruption by receiving tips about alleged acts of corruption, independently investigating those tips to ascertain their credibility, and passing the information along to investigative reporters or enforcement agencies as appropriate. The organization also teaches classes and conducts seminars and other programs to educate public officials on ethics issues. For more information, visit or call 919-832-6886.

The Fruits of Corruption

Frank L. Perry, Ph.D.

The United States is no superpower when it comes to controlling government corruption.

A recent accounting of corruption and its impact on government by the Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI) ranks the United States 18th among industrialized countries "in their ability to control corruption". Finland ranks first, and Greece ranks last at 82nd. The WGI calculated the ranking two years ago, so there can be no claim of partisan fabrication of facts to fit a recent result. In Greece the fruits of public corruption are being laid bare as the country teeters on the brink of insolvency, having recently had its credit rating downgraded to junk status.

A recent study by The Brookings Institution provides insight into the fruits of public corruption. The study is based upon a rather complex set of criteria, one of which shows a "strong relationship between corruption and fiscal deficits." Many citizens believe that corruption, whether "legal" (earmarks) or traditional (bribes), drives government deficits.

Conversely, could it be that lower corruption results in lower fiscal deficits and that, in time, lower deficits tend to shine light on and deter individual instances of corruption, whether "legal" or traditional? Moral gaffes in government, such as the so-called "Louisiana Purchase" and "Cornhusker Compromise" during the recent healthcare reform debate, are a slap in the face to citizens who witness such corruption, many of whom now raise the question: how is an earmark different from a bribe?

The most important fruits of corruption may be more of an ethical nature than a fiscal one. For example, if citizens perceive their governing bodies as corrupt, then a moral malaise sets in. The fruit of this moral malaise may include what The Brookings Institution attempts to quantify when it finds that "corruption affects productivity, competitiveness, and growth."

Private corruption, or illegal acts by individuals (including organized crime), is fueled by public corruption. For example, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has shown that tax evasion and claiming improper tax exemptions increase as a result of public corruption, resulting in a loss of tax revenue. An increase in corrupt practices on the part of public officials may be said to be birthing a "moral malaise index", in that citizens mimic the irresponsibility and indifferent behavior of their elected officials.

The United States need not succumb to the disease of ancient Rome or follow the demise of modern Greece, ironically the birthplace of Western law and democracy, but it can and will if government doesn't decide to cut deficits and put an end to corruption. Resurrecting and practicing the moral adage, "what if everyone did that" would be the ethical and fiscally responsible thing to do.

Frank L. Perry, Ph.D, a retired FBI Special Agent, is Co-founder and Director of Investigations & Public Affairs for the Foundation for Ethics in Public Service, Inc. To contact Dr. Perry, visit

Earmarks and Ethics

Frank L. Perry, Ph.D.

Earmarks are nothing more than attachments to spending bills placed by representatives or senators for the benefit of special groups in their constituency. There is, however, a difference between well-intentioned earmarks and those that are completely motivated by self-interest. The reality is that things can get out of control quickly. In 1970, there were 12 earmarks to a defense appropriations bill; in 1980 the defense bill had 62; and by 2005, there were 2,671. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush went so far as to challenge their constitutionality and morality with claims that were heard by the U.S. Supreme Court (see Clinton v City of New York), and during at least one State of the Union address by Mr. Bush. All such chief executive pleas to date have failed.

If Senator Smith is advocating for a defense appropriations bill, and finds an occasion to benefit his or her state in the process (money for roads in and out of Ft. Bragg, for example), then such an earmark may be defended as good for the country, good for North Carolina, and good for Cumberland County. If Senator Smith is opposed to the greater bill, and is convinced to vote for its passage if and only if the specific road earmark is added, then a quid pro quo has been realized. Were the money coming only from the North Carolina taxpayers, or those in Cumberland County, then honest services has not been violated, either by the letter or spirit of the 1988 federal statute which articulates it. But since taxpayers in Oregon will be paying for the narrow content of the earmark, their right to honest services has been violated.

In Clinton v. City of New York, the line item veto was sought to place the policing and promotion of the greater good for the country in the hands - literally - of the President. The US Supreme Court ruled that the line-item veto articulated in the Line Item Veto Act of 1996 was unconstitutional, i.e., it gave too much power to the President. All justifications, rationalizations, or even court decisions to the contrary, earmarking per se is not constitutionally envisioned, sanctioned, or permitted.

From the 'Bridge to Nowhere' in Alaska to controlling beavers in North Carolina, earmarks have a tainted depiction. That does not mean that all earmarks should be deemed frivolous, but we must work to bring clarity and light to situations in which a service or project is being "sold" to a legislator for their vote.

Frank L. Perry, Ph.D, a retired FBI Special Agent, is Co-founder and Director of Investigations & Public Affairs for the Foundation for Ethics in Public Service, Inc. To contact Dr. Perry, visit

Ethics Void: Ethics Commissions Lack Teeth

Leslie W. Merritt, Jr., CPA, Executive Director

At least 40 states have established ethics commissions, which are state agencies charged with overseeing the conduct of elected or appointed public servants. The mission of the various ethics commissions is essentially the same nationwide: to investigate alleged violations of ethics law, issue penalties for financial disclosure violations, educate "covered persons" on ethics laws that apply to them, and refer violations of ethics law to the appropriate law enforcement agencies when those violations rise to the level of criminal misconduct.

Unfortunately, while these ethics commissions look good on paper and sound good in a press release, more often than not their bark is louder than their bite. In my view, this is due in large part to the fact that government will never do an effective job of policing itself. Asking government staffers to police the very officials who hire them is very much akin to asking the fox to guard the henhouse.

It is important to note that most state ethics commissions have narrow jurisdictions, often being over-attentive to small or de minimis matters while having no jurisdiction or oversight over matters of greater importance to citizens. Interestingly, even when state ethics commissions appear to be proactive and carry a significant case load, they can rank poorly in national rankings addressing integrity in public service.

Whether intentional or not, many states seem to put a chilling effect on the complaint process itself. For example, when the Missouri Ethics Commission dismisses complaints it finds to be frivolous in nature, or "lacking basis in fact or law", under state law the person who submitted the complaint "shall be liable for actual and compensatory damages to the alleged violator for holding the alleged violator before the public in a false light". Another example can be found in North Carolina, where the State Government Ethics Act of 2006 requires complainants to submit their allegations under oath at the risk of perjury. This means that requests for anonymity are denied by statute. In our view, the majority of state ethics commissions put an undue burden on complainants, which discourages them from submitting complaints at all.

Recent news reports of high-profile public officials allegedly engaging in unethical, if not corrupt, practices in states like North Carolina, Illinois, and New Jersey make it clear that ethics commissions either lack the resources and jurisdiction or the political will to dive deep into the major corruption issues in their respective states.

Additionally, The Washington Post recently reported that a number of federal officials are under the scrutiny of the United States House of Representatives Ethics Committee. Unfortunately, the story had to be leaked – with the sad disclosure that committee members are sworn to secrecy regarding the subject and nature of the allegations being investigated.

These and countless other examples of unabated corruption and ethical violations make it clear that government officials, both at the federal and state level, either cannot or will not police themselves with credibility, completeness and transparency. There is an ethics void throughout government, and only independent oversight and action by non-partisan media and law enforcement can restore the credibility of our public institutions and the confidence of our citizens.

Leslie W. Merritt, Jr. is executive director of the Foundation for Ethics in Public Service, Inc. For more information, visit

Filling the Void in Ethics Laws

Frank L. Perry, Ph.D.

Ethics commissions provide oversight regarding financial disclosure and conflicts of interest for public servants. State and federal ethics laws have proven to be benign and of little consequence. The resulting "ethics void", as written about previously by Foundation staff, can be filled only by enacting clear, effective statutory components that will reduce corruption in public service.

Ethics commissions must accept and act upon credible anonymous complaints. Many states require that complainants identify themselves, and swear under oath that they are providing truthful information about alleged public corruption. Putting such a chilling effect on the complaint process is not conducive to ethics in public service.

Gift ban exceptions need to be removed from ethics laws. Because of them, ethics commission staff are required to spend most of their time rendering advisory opinions on the exceptions rather than working cases. States should have an absolute gift ban, or a reasonable threshold (de minimus exception), without the need to qualify complex exceptions.

Ethics commissions should have jurisdiction over all branches of government. A serious conflict of interest occurs when complaints about members of the legislative branch of the respective governments are sent back to the same body for consideration and action by the subject's colleagues. The reason given for such referral is to respect separation of powers. Peer review works in some professions, but historically not in preventing corruption in government. Accordingly, independent oversight should be required of the commissions themselves by, for example, having retired judges oversee the respective commissions.

The probable cause standard that is often required by ethics statutes to justify inquiries based on incoming complaints should be replaced. Most internal affairs and compliance entities may initiate inquiries based on a preponderance of evidence standard (roughly 51%) as opposed to a probable cause standard (60-90%). Knowingly filing a false complaint with an ethics commission should be a crime, perhaps a misdemeanor, much like filing a false report to law enforcement. Reviews and their results must be public, without sacrificing fairness and due process.

Statements of Economic Interest (SEIs) should include an oath that attests to the affirmative obligation by public servants to report all information which lends even the appearance of impropriety. SEIs then will be taken seriously and will fully inform the citizens who elect and pay the public servants.

Ethics legislation should have the impact of an ethical admonishment from one's parent or grandparent, but it is doubtful it will. "Ethics" commissions are in reality only "compliance" commissions. Citizens demand a higher, different sort of ethics from their public servants, namely acting for the moral good of those they represent, no matter what a "compliance" law mandates. Citizens are the adults in this relationship, and it is surely for the greater good that public officials report to them as the subordinates they constitutionally and ethically are.

Frank L. Perry, Ph.D, a retired FBI Special Agent, is Co-founder and Director of Investigations & Public Affairs for the Foundation for Ethics in Public Service, Inc. To contact Dr. Perry, visit

Mere Compliance vs Ethics Reform

Leslie W. Merritt, Jr., CPA, Executive Director

While the Foundation for Ethics in Public Service provides a service to the public nationwide, we are based in Raleigh, North Carolina. It is no secret that in the recent past North Carolina has had its fair share of public officials with ethics problems, and some continue to be under the scrutiny of prosecutors, law enforcement, and federal grand juries. When the North Carolina State Government Ethics Act was signed into law in 2006, many hoped that unethical conduct on the part of public officials in the state would at best decrease and at worst be exposed and investigated. Unfortunately, neither has been realized.

The high profile cases of former Speaker of the House Jim Black, former Legislator Mike Decker, former NC Lottery Commissioner Kevin Geddings, former US Congressman Frank Balance, former Commissioner of Agriculture Meg Scott Phipps, and others led to the establishment of a more formal ethics entity for the state of North Carolina. There was hope that establishing a structured and proactive Ethics Commission would thwart unethical behavior on the part of public officials in our state. This sentiment if not expectation was framed by the Commission's Executive Director when he wrote, "On August 4th, 2006, Governor Easley signed the 'State Government Ethics Act' into law. It is the most comprehensive and sweeping ethics law in the history of the State and was the result of a tremendous bipartisan effort in both the House and Senate". The same publication quotes then Governor Easley to the effect "North Carolina citizens have the right to know that the power they entrust to public officials is not abused for private gain or personal interest." (attributed to Governor Michael F. Easley, 8/4/06, upon signing HB1843 [State Government Ethics Act], NC Board of Ethics Newsletter, Vol. 9, Issue 8).

However, in nearly three years of existence, the Commission has done little to tackle real ethics issues in our state. Not a single resolution of note has come as a result of any Ethics Commission investigation, even though several dozen complaints have been submitted or referred. For example, the media has reported that former Governor Mike Easley allegedly failed to disclose a seemingly inappropriate relationship on his Statement of Economic Interest, but this went undetected, or perhaps unchallenged, by the Ethics Commission. Meanwhile, a Board of Elections investigation continues into alleged campaign finance violations by former Governor Mike Easley, as well as a federal grand jury investigation of how his wife, Mary, obtained her position (and subsequent 80% raise) at North Carolina State University. These are only a few of the many aspects of possible violations of honest services law apparently before a federal grand jury. None of these issues appears to have been surfaced or investigated by the Ethics Commission. Earlier in the year, Ethics Commission staff said publicly on several occasions that a testament to the ethics and high moral quality of the public servants and legislators of North Carolina is the fact that there have been no substantiated cases resulting from allegations submitted to the Ethics Commission to date.

One has to wonder what exactly is the point of having an Ethics Commission if it is not going to take its role as an investigative or enforcement entity seriously. Do we really need to have ten salaried employees to file financial paperwork and offer advisory opinions? Also, the eight Commissioners who are expected to serve the public as an effective regulatory and watchdog entity have been silent in the face of the State's continuing ethics crisis. The Commission has entirely too much discretion to ignore or dismiss complaints that come through its office. There is little to prevent management at the Commission from failing to aggressively investigate complaints against those who show political favor or exercise financial and administrative control over the Commission's operations and budget. Since the General Assembly controls the purse strings of the Ethics Commission, how can the Commission effectively police the same agency that makes its existence possible? By the admission of its own Executive Director, the Ethics Commission is actually more of a compliance or conflict of interest entity than an "ethics" agency. The Ethics Commission must act with accountability and independence, and certainly needs oversight by the citizens who pay them. Since it is difficult to legislate "doing the right thing" as state government is currently structured (e.g. with an Ethics Commission whose members are appointed by political leaders and whose funding is controlled by those on whom it may receive an allegation of wrongdoing), the media becomes not only more relevant, but essential to counter public corruption. It also is essential that non-governmental, independent organizations such as the Foundation for Ethics in Public Service assist the media with investigating and exposing cases of corruption. We are a non-partisan, non-profit organization that does not rely upon the potential or actual subjects of complaints for financial support. Since we do not accept any government money, we are able to freely, fairly, and forthrightly examine all complaints that are received by our office without the fear of being retaliated against by those with political influence, before passing credible allegations on to our colleagues in the media. It is clear that such independent oversight must be as non-partisan, objective, careful, and absent of any zealotry, as all local, state, and federal oversight agencies are expected to be. But one difference is clear: conflict of interest and political influence are much less likely - hopefully absent - when the investigative, referral, and reporting process are in the hands of a non-governmental, non-partisan entity like the Foundation for Ethics in Public Service. Our donors, complainants, witnesses, and the greater public expect, and will receive, nothing less than unconditional objectivity.

Leslie W. Merritt, Jr. is executive director of the Foundation for Ethics in Public Service, Inc. For more information, visit

Honest Services Law and the Supreme Court

Frank L. Perry, Ph.D.

The U.S. Supreme Court soon will hear arguments regarding the alleged vagueness and unnecessary scope of what is known in federal law as ‘honest services fraud.' The FBI and federal prosecutors need the letter and spirit of this violation left intact. Honest services is described in federal law in three lines, contrasted with state ethics laws which are lengthy and essentially of no use in fighting public corruption. More people are sent to prison each year for honest services fraud than ethical violations, bribery, and extortion combined. The reason is that honest services fraud speaks in common sense terms with the clarity of an ethical admonishment from one's grandparents: citizens have a right to have fair and honest representation by the public servants they elect.

This core value marks the wrongness - certainly the illegality – of bribes, self-dealing, cronyism, nepotism, patronage, Hobbs Act, and violations of all other state and federal anti-corruption statutes. Mere compliance with ‘ethical' financial disclosure/conflict of interest laws accomplishes little. Citizens demand a higher, different sort of ethics from their public servants, and this sense of ethics in public service is captured by the honest services law now before the Supreme Court.

Public servants, by definition and by their oath, take on new obligations, and they should not accept their respective positions if they do not want to live up to the higher standard paved with new obligations. The moral concepts framed by honest services law hold public servants more accountable for their actions because they see more, know more, have more power, receive pay from the citizens, and must make ethical decisions for the sake of the people they serve. The oath or affirmation public servants render upon taking their office – from "I do solemnly swear (or affirm)…" to "…I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter…" – contains a golden thread of practical but profound commitment to the higher ethical standard presupposed in honest services law, especially useful when public servants face conflicts of interest and the temptations and vagaries that position and power afford. If the court retreats from the moral position honest services law affords, the arsenal to fight public corruption will be greatly depleted.

Frank L. Perry, Ph.D, a retired FBI Special Agent, is Co-founder and Director of Investigations & Public Affairs for the Foundation for Ethics in Public Service, Inc. To contact Dr. Perry, visit

Unethical Trends of Local Governments

Leslie W. Merritt, Jr., CPA, Executive Director

Since the Foundation for Ethics in Public Service opened its doors to the public and began receiving complaints of public corruption, some troubling trends have been noticed by our staff. While alleged acts of corruption have been reported at all levels of government from across the nation, it is interesting to analyze the types of complaints we receive the most often. Sherriff's Departments, local economic development boards, and court system personnel are three of the most common subjects of tips received by the Foundation.

The Foundation for Ethics in Public Service has received tips from complainants that hail from every corner of this nation. One thing is for certain: from allegations of extortion to cover-ups, there have been harsh claims from complaints about sheriff departments in the southeast and Midwest. Obviously the concern is that law enforcement should be chartered and situated to protect citizens of the states and their respective counties, and not to take advantage of them or break law against them. This Foundation, it should be noted, fully is aware that aggressive and effective sheriff's departments may be the subject of frequent complaints, even though their personnel embrace due process and act rightly in the pursuit of crime control. However, the reporting trend is noteworthy and troubling.

Another entity we receive complaints about are local economic development boards. Apparently, according to our complainants, there are concerns of cronyism, conflict of interest, and self-dealing among friends and political allies that often are entrenched in local governments and their culture. Many of these complaints began years prior to the existence of this Foundation, and complainants are hoping that we can sink our teeth into the issues that have plagued their communities for so long. We will need the help of community members who can retrieve "insider" information to assist us in making prima facie cases when justified.

The local and state court systems are probably the most complex and entrenched type of entity that we receive complaints about here at the Foundation. These "local legal cultures" as they are referred to in legal and political science literature consist of defense attorneys, district attorneys and their assistants, circuit judges, and state supreme court justices. We often receive credible reports of corruption within these ranks, but unfortunately, these separate jurisdictions may be extremely entrenched in practices that can be hard to change. Hopefully, we can help on a case by case basis, but it will take public reform to really change the way our courts operate. Citizens should realize, as we try to at this Foundation, that reform usually is preceded by caring and credible citizens who inform oversight entities either in the media of law enforcement. The Foundation for Ethics in Public Service in a unique and effective conduit for putting this information in the right hands.

Leslie W. Merritt, Jr. is executive director of the Foundation for Ethics in Public Service, Inc. For more information, visit

"Democracy is the only system that persists in asking the powers that be whether they are the powers that ought to be." - Sydney J. Harris

Report Public Corruption can immediately accept tips

  • 1) Telephone: Call anonymously to: 919-832-6886
  • 2) Fax anonymously to: 919-832-6530
  • 3) U.S. Mail anonymously to: 333 Fayetteville St., Suite 506, Raleigh NC 27601