Tester sets good example

Montana Standard

by Editorial

Retired Montana District Court Judge Gordon Bennett took on an interesting summer reading project. He volunteered to review the office policies and records of U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., to see if the senator and his staff were walking the walk — conducting all business in accordance with the ethics policy Tester instituted on the same day he took office in January 2007.

Overall, the judge was pleased with what he found, but it’s also reassuring to know he proffered some constructive criticism as well. A rubber-stamp report would have raised red flags. Nothing’s perfect.

Early on in his four-page report, dated Aug. 12, Bennett pointed out how impossible it would be for any government employee to command a grasp of the many-thousand pages of Senate ethics rules and regulations. Then he commended the senator for solving the information-overload problem by creating an office manual with “simple and usable guidelines for ethical conduct by his staff.”

The judge doesn’t like the list of exceptions to the policy on accepting gifts. Nor does he think relatives of congressional members or their staffers should ever work as lobbyists, as is allowed under Tester’s policy.

But overall, he commended the senator for demonstrating “exceptional leadership and dedication in establishing a new and more effective system of ethics development and control for his offices.”

The Standard commends Tester, too, for implementing this more stringent ethics policy right off the bat and for continuing to arrange for regular independent reviews as his term continues.

The first such review was conducted in early 2008 by Hon. John C. Sheehy, retired justice of the Montana Supreme Court. He looked at the policies themselves and how they were to be implemented and concluded they would achieve the goal of ethical behavior.

Tester press secretary Aaron Murphy said that to his knowledge, no other members of Congress have voluntarily requested regular ethics reviews of themselves and their staff. And he also noted that Judge Bennett, whom he had never met before this process started, was quite thorough in his review, requesting numerous documents and then following up with yet more requests for documents.

There’s no time like the present for other members of Congress to follow Tester’s lead and invite such scrutiny. We’d say this is an excellent idea not only for the remainder of the Montana delegation, but for senators and representatives in other states as well.

We also like Bennett’s suggestion to post the following sign in a prominent place in every congressional office: “A public office is a public trust. In carrying out the functions of this office, NEVER use your position to sell out our constituents, your fellow citizens, for personal gain of any kind and, above all, avoid the APPEARANCE of doing so.”

Ethics review online

Find retired Montana District Court Judge Gordon Bennett’s recent review of ethics performance in Sen. Jon Tester’s office at http://tester.senate.gov/ethics.