Public Employees and Elections: A Conflict of Interest?


None of my family and friends is allowed to appear on Wheel of Fortune. Same goes for my kids’ teachers or the guys who rotate my tires. If there’s not a real conflict of interest, there is, at least, the appearance of one. On another level, Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan has recused herself from nearly half the cases this session due to her time as solicitor general. In nearly all private and public endeavors, there are occasions in which it’s only fair and correct that a person or group be barred from participating because that party could directly and unevenly benefit from decisions made and policies adopted. So should state workers be able to vote in state elections on matters that would benefit them directly? The same question goes for federal workers in federal elections.

I’m not suggesting that public employees should be denied the right to vote, but that there are certain cases in which their stake in the matter may be too great. Of course we all have a stake in one way or another in most elections, and many of us tend to vote in favor of our own interests. However, if, for example, a ballot initiative appears that might cap the benefits of a certain group of state workers, should those workers be able to vote on the matter? Plainly, their interests as direct recipients of the benefits are far greater than the interests of others whose taxes support such benefits. I realize this opens a Pandora’s box in terms of figuring out what constitutes a true conflict of interest, but, after all, isn’t opening those boxes Ricochet’s raison d’être?

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  1. Profile Photo Member

    And how about this?

    “Congressional Staffers Gain from Trading Stocks”

    Surprise, surprise: Congress is immune from insider-trading laws.

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  2. Profile Photo Member

    None of your friends can appear on Wheel of Fortune?

    You know, I’ve always hated you, Sajak.

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  3. Profile Photo Contributor
    Kenneth: None of your friends can appear on Wheel of Fortune?

    You know, I’ve always hated you, Sajak. · Oct 12 at 8:14am

    Too late, my dear friend.

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  4. Profile Photo Contributor

    The real Pandora’s box was this creation of governance by ballot initiatives. We live in a Representative Democracy, not a Direct Democracy. At least when our legislators had to vote on these issues the special interest lobbyists had to spend all their money on alcohol and hookers to get these laws past. That’s a lot more expensive than getting some union captain with an email list to notify all his members, “get out and vote or else you will be as poor as someone in the private sector.”

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  5. Profile Photo Member

    I can attest first hand that the insider trading issue in DC is a very big and barring this small start in WSJ, an unreported story. The extensive rulemaking process being conducted by the Obama administration across all the cabinet department creates big economic dislocations that weigh on stocks. Those in the know have privileged information which they share with friends some of whom, I’m convinced, are hedge funds.

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  6. Profile Photo Member

    This wouldn’t be such a big problem if public servants were actually, you know, servants and not professionals. Politicians and administrators should all have term limits.

    This is like my point about District of Columbia residents and their voting rights. Why are there residents? Wasn’t D.C. supposed to be a place to visit but never stay?

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  7. Profile Photo Contributor

    On the San Francisco ballot this year there’s a proposition — prop B — that would require city employees to make small contributions to their pensions and health care. If passed, the proposition would save the city an estimated $120 million per year. But the city employees have mounted an all-out assault calling it unfair and excessively severe.

    I don’t know that I’d go so far as to say that the city employees that are affected by this proposition shouldn’t be able to vote on it, but I wish there were some way to limit the noise they make about certain measures so that they wouldn’t disproportionately affect the outcome of the election. I think Professor Yoo’s solution to this problem was our best hope for change: We’ve got to outlaw the public employee unions.

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  8. Profile Photo Member

    I find this idea of disallowing public sector workers from voting because they are in a conflict of interest both seductive and troubling.

    Using the same logic, should politicians be allowed to vote? They clearly benefit personally from the outcome of an election.

    How about political employees and even political volunteers and interns? They also clearly benefit personally from the outcome of an election.

    How about government contractors and suppliers? Do they not benefit personally from the outcome of an election?

    How about potential contractors and suppliers, who could potentially benefit personally from the outcome of an election?

    How about the employees and shareholders of government-regulated industries (ie, every industry and every employed person)? They too benefit personally from the outcome of an election.

    How about people who receive benefits from the government (ie, everybody else)? They benefit personally from the outcome of an election.

    The list of people who could benefit personally from the outcome of an election is simply too long. At the end of the day the only people who would be allowed to vote would be unemployed persons who receive zero taxpayer-funded benefits. You could then fit the entire voting public inside a Prius.

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  9. Profile Photo Inactive

    Public employees already have, in most cases, lifetime job security. They also get paid more than their private sector counterparts, have Cadillac benefits plans and pensions as far as the eye can see. Allowing them to vote seems like, as John Derbyshire once said, “Guilding the Lily”. Allowing them to unionize is pure insanity!

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  10. Profile Photo Member

    There is a huge conflict of interest. Frank Meyer wrote: “The state is [the bureaucrat’s] hope for the future. Without it their very function would disappear, and they would cease to be bureaucrats engineering their segment of the grand design to reconstruct mankind.” In Defense of Freedom, 119.

    I don’t think we can make a good legal case for denying public employees the vote, but we can certainly deny them the right to collective bargaining (and we should).

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  11. Profile Photo Member

    If there is one immutable truth of modern democratic life, it is that civil servants should never be allowed to organize into unions. Period.

    Otto von Bismarck would have the Prussian Army on the streets if he could see how the civil service has turned out.

    And I actually, officially, am a civil servant in my day and night job (no pension, though.)

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  12. Profile Photo Inactive

    Pat, Speaking for Pandora (who is unavailable) you are absolutely right. But this nut is probably absolutely uncrackable. It’s like term limits. Those whose ox is gored will move heaven and earth to prevent it.

    BTW, I was just thinking about Wheel of Fortune participants. In your vast experience, do you you think that success on WoF is an IQ test? On average do the winners seem smarter than the losers? The alternative hypothesis is that it is a memory-pattern matching test, like recognizing faces or tunes.

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  13. Profile Photo Contributor

    outstripp, it’s so hard to gauge these things because of the element of luck. One reason we don’t have a Jeopardy-style tournament of champions is because the best player doesn’t necessarily win due to all the chancy variables. I do think that there’s a knack to playing our game well rather than a correlation between intelligence and success.

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  14. Profile Photo Member

    So, government workers voting is like someone saying, “I’d like to buy a vowel, but someone else has to pay for it.”

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