Adventures in Ethics


It’s nearly always entertaining to watch members of the D.C. cocktail circuit try to talk about — try to pretend to suggest that they practice — ethics.  The current saga has to do with the lobbying firm Bonner & Associates, and a political ethicist at American University.

See, Bonner & Associates did some lobbying for the coal industry.  Part of this lobbying consisted of sending members of congress forged letters from various grassroots environmental groups.  In these letters, these grassroots organizations opposed some new coal regulations.  Counter-intuitive, no?  Yes.  But also very effective, because, honestly, who checks into these things?

Well, somebody did this time, and Bonner & Associates got covered up in stink.  They’re currently under investigation.

To try to control the damage, head honcho Jack Bonner ballyhooed that he had retained a pro bono independent ethics advisor, who would train his people and be something of a watchdog until things were straightened out.  That advisor was Dr. James Thurber, a professor of political science and director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University, where he teaches classes on ethics and lobbying.

Thurber explicitly confirmed this, adding that he was doing it because he “believes in doing the right thing.”  Admirable, no?  Ay, a very treasure-trove of ethicky goodness, sez I.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the ethics theater.  Shortly after Bonner’s announcement, Dr. Thurber took out an ad in Roll Call (a Capitol Hill insiders’ newspaper) praising Bonner for all the great teaching he had done over the past 15 years for Thurber’s CCPS program, and for . . . um, you know, hiring so many of the program’s graduates to do . . . wait for it . . . grassroots lobbying.


This raised some questions about just how effective a watchdog Dr. Thurber would be.  So Thurber backed out, and now can’t seem to put enough distance between himself and his old buddy: he now claims, contrary to his own previous statement, that he never agreed to work with Bonner in the first place.  Bonner insists he did.

Oh!, what a tangled web we weave when we practice to make people think we give a hoot about doing the right thing while actually continuing to be utterly hootless on the matter.

My favorite part of this whole thing?  The good doctor’s reaction to the stink his Roll Call ad created.

Thurber said he’d learned his lesson.  Something about conflict of interest, you say?  Something an ethics professor should have learned in ethics grammar school, perhaps?  No, no; you’ve run off with the wrong idea.

No, the lesson he learned was if nobody knows about it, it’s ethical:

I never am going to do [ads] like this again, thanking people. I’ll do it through personal correspondence.

Them’s crackerjack ethics, Professor Thurber.  Crackerjack.

Tags: , ,

2 Responses to “Adventures in Ethics”

  1. jazzbumpa Says:

    Ah – he learned SOMETHING. I guess that’s why it’s not a DEEP STUPID?!?!

    JzB the Deep trombonist

  2. urbino Says:

    More because it was too long, really. Deep Stupidness should be obvious in a few sentences.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: