Lessig on Conflict of Interest: Money Poisons Trust

Law prof Lawrence Lessig is one smart dude. I’ve been a fan since his brilliant 1999 book, Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace. These days his work (as a scholar and as an activist) is focused mostly on political corruption.

In this blog entry, Lessig makes a great point about just why Conflict of Interest is a problem: And again: the point: DEFINE: “Good Soul Corruption”

I’m not even accusing anyone of anything unethical. My charge is that by (a) introducing legislation that has no good public policy justification behind it and which (b) does not benefit your own constituents while (c) being disproportionately supported in financial contributions by the single industry that would benefit from the legislation, you invite the charge (as 88% of citizens in my district believe) that “money buys results in Congress.” WHETHER OR NOT “money bought” this result, you have committed this wrong. The wrong is the relationship, and the suggestion the relationship begs. It is not — and again, NOT — that the person accused is “being paid off” by anyone.

In other words, while finding yourself in a conflict of interest (COI) is not unethical, doing something avoidable that put yourself into a COI, and thereby threatens public trust in an important institution, is.

Take 4 minutes to watch the short presentation video embedded in Lessig’s blog entry. It’s a wonderfully effective presentation, and works well to drive home Lessig’s point about COI.

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