The New York Times has a wonderful article on the case of Maura Keaney, a New York city government official who was fundraising from labor unions for her boss, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a Democrats, at the same time that she was working on legislation that would affect the unions. Says the Times, "around April 2007, the former aide, Maura Keaney, made between six and a dozen phone calls to union representatives to ask them to be on the host committee for a fund-raising event for Ms. Quinn's re-election bid. The ethics board, which fined Ms. Keaney $2,500, noted that serving on the host committee required a campaign contribution." The paper goes on, "At the time that Ms. Keaney was helping to arrange the May 14 fund-raiser at the large union called Unite Here — where she had once been a political director — she was also working on a key piece of legislation with serious advantages for the city's labor unions. She played a major role in drafting a law to overhaul the city's campaign finance system that excluded New York's powerful unions from new strictures on the amount of money that companies and individuals doing business with the city can provide to candidates."
It's interesting that Ms. Keaney was fined and her actions were deemed a violation of the city's laws, but Speaker Quinn herself suffered no consequences. For city employees, fundraising from the people you are regulating is a no-no, but for the elected officials themselves, it's democracy in action.
Not that Ms. Keaney herself seems to have suffered greatly; the Times reports that Mayor Bloomberg, who ran on the Republican line, hired Ms. Keaney as a campaign worker and paid her a $150,000 bonus, and that Ms. Keaney has just been hired by the city's schools chancellor, Joel Klein, for a $143,000 a year job as "executive director of external affairs for the city's Department of Education," where "Ms. Keaney's responsibilities will include overseeing the department's legislative and government affairs and media and community relations."
The whole episode, from the campaign finance strictures in the first place to the ethics board fine, allows New York to maintain the appearance of ethics in government without actually displaying any. It's outrageous. The Times article asks whether Ms. Quinn's campaign will return the money Ms. Keaney raised from the unions, and the answer it got was no. The paper doesn't even bother to ask whether the council will rewrite the campaign finance law so that companies and individuals will enjoy the same free speech rights as the unions that donated money to the speaker.