Ethics Panel Ponders Lawmaker’s Alleged Conflict Of Interest

The ethics investigation of Sen. Monty Pearce (R-New Plymouth) began Monday.  Pearce is accused of a potential conflict of interest over his personal oil and gas holdings.

The first day of this ethics investigation was really about definitions.  Idaho Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane guided three Republicans and three Democrats on the panel through this legal thicket.  "If your one master is your business or private interest and your other master is the public interest, you can’t serve both of those masters," Kane says.  "That is kind of the classic definition of conflict of interest." 

Kane also gave concrete examples from real court cases.  One involved a zoning board member that votes in favor of an employer.  "They vote on the application, their employer gets the zoning variance to construct whatever they’re constructing.  This person gets more work, that’s a direct benefit,"  says Kane. 

He says there must be direct links between the personal benefit and the legislation to prove a conflict.  But exceptions to this rule, complicate things.  When Kane asked whether his explanation made sense, panel member Sen. Elliot Werk (D-Boise) replied, "so far, clear as mud."

Senate Democrats allege Sen. Monty Pearce failed to disclose lease holdings before he voted on oil and gas bills.  After listening to Kane, the ethics panel wanted specifics from Democrats on how Pearce directly benefited from his votes.  Those examples and a response from Pearce’s lawyer are due Tuesday morning.

Copyright 2012 Boise State Public Radio.