The Code of Political Conduct

Executive Summary

A trusted nonprofit nonpartisan organization, such as Common Cause or the League of Women Voters, should create a "Political Code of Conduct" which lists 20 "rules" that someone running for elected office agrees to abide by if elected. People who donate money to candidates should first ask, "Have you made the pledge to support the Political Code of Conduct?" This will put pressure on candidates to agree to the principles. 

We will send out the Code of Conduct to every major donor in every state, and encourage them to ask the question before they write a check. We will encourage newspapers to ask candidates the question as to whether they support the Code. We will encourage industry organizations to require it for any candidates that seek their endorsement.

In this way, we can reduce the corruption in politics today, at very low cost.

Public financing of elections will also help (as is now working in several states). This is complementary to that. 

With public financing of elections and a good "Code of Conduct," we can greatly improve the system.


Elected officials are supposed to represent their constituents and vote in a way that benefits their constituents, and takes into account long term impacts and the impact on others outside their region. So, for example, a Congressman from Detroit may vote in favor of higher fuel standards even if it might mean loss of auto jobs, because the Congressman reasons that Detroit will only do well if the US economy is doing well and that the economy is "at risk" due to our dependence on foreign oil and the unknown changes due to global warming.

Unfortunately, it doesn't work this way in practice. For example, see this excellent SF Chronicle editorial: Do-nothing politics - When the going gets tough, more and more lawmakers are taking a walk.

In my own case, California State Senator Bowen had a bill that would protect Californians against junk faxes by reaffirming existing federal law. It passed in the Senate without a single "no" vote. It is strongly endorsed by business, consumer, and the California Attorney General. And 100% of constituents in any district in America. Everyone hates junk faxes. In fact, the only people we could find in opposition to Bowen's bill was the company that sends the junk faxes and their clients. These are virtually all "fly by night" businesses. No legitimate business uses junk faxes to advertise because it is illegal under federal law. 

Yet, when it came to a vote in the Assembly B&P committee, the vote was 4 to 2 in favor of the bill, but enough people abstained so that the bill was killed (you must have 6 votes to make it out of committee). See Panel balks at ban on junk faxes. And none of the Assemblymembers who abstained would return my calls before or after the vote, despite the fact that I'm one of the most knowledgeable people on junk faxes in the country (I created the website which is the definitive resource on the Internet about junk faxes). Why did they abstain on this issue? They are supposed to be voting in a way consistent with protecting their constituents. By voting against this bill, they were, in effect, denying their constituents of the protection of federal law. Why?

I couldn't find out. Nobody was talking about why they abstained. Not even their fellow committee members would speculate. 

I'm fed up. This has got to stop.

The solution

See the Executive Summary above

Here are some of my ideas for inclusion in the political code of conduct

  • I support the creation of laws that provide a level political playing field and remove special interest money from corrupting the system. In particular, I will vote in favor of any legitimate public financing bill such as the "clean money" law already proven to work in several states. I will publicly speak out in favor of public financing of elections.
  • I will always vote in a manner consistent with supporting the best interests of the people in my district that I represent. 
  • In the event of a conflict, where some people in my district will benefit and others will be hurt, I will endeavor to hear both sides of the argument and try my best to make the right decision using the facts presented and my own experience and judgment.
  • On issues where more than 10 constituents have expressed an interest, I will actively seek out and speak with experts on both sides of the issue so that I can make an informed decision. I will accept calls from informed experts on the issue, and if I am not available to return the call personally, I will see that the appropriate staff member with an open mind is available to listen to the input.
  • I will decide all issues with an open mind.
  • I will  vote whenever possible, and only abstain if I am either physically unable to vote or when I am honestly so torn between opposing arguments, that I cannot make a decision.
  • After the vote, I will post in a public place (such as my website) the rationale behind each of my votes. If I abstained, I will clearly communicate why I abstained.
  • I will not make "courtesy votes." I will always vote in the best interests of the people I represent.
  • I will endeavor to make my decisions taking into account both short and long term impact, with a preference toward long term benefit.
  • I will give first preference to achieving and upholding state laws and standards. So for example, if our state does not comply with state and federal clean air guidelines, I will support legislation that moves my district into compliance, even if it may mean a slight increase in the cost of car. In general, the health, safety, and well being of my constituents and their children are my #1 priority.
  • I will not vote in favor of illegal legislation (e.g., a state junk fax bill that illegal seeks to override federal law)
  • If I vote on a measure that would reduce the protection my constituents now enjoy, I will not make that decision without a clear and compelling reason to do so.
  • I will not make any decision based on whether they contributed to my campaign
  • When formulating legislation, I will seek input from the appropriate sources to that issues. I will not, as Cheney did in his energy policy, only seek input and suggestions from people who donated to my campaign.
  • I do not expect my constituents to always agree with the way I vote, but I will always have their best interests at heart. My rationale will be clear so that, even if they don't agree with me, my expectation is that a majority of my constituents will say, "Yes, while I don't agree with his decision, his reasoning is sound and is based on accurate information." 
  • I will make judgments based on sound facts and science. For example, if virtually all leading scientists agree that global warming is real, I will not make a judgment on the premise that "I don't believe them."
  • If I inadvertently violate these rules, I will admit it publicly and try to repair the damage.
  • I will hold myself accountable to adhering to these principles.

Steve Kirsch Political Home Page