The Shadowlands of Conduct

Ethics and State Politics

Beth A. Rosenson

"Rosenson has made a needed contribution to the study of corruption in a well-written, systematic analysis."
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Although the linking of "ethics" and "politics" may seem more like the ingredients for a comedian's monologue, it is a sober issue and one that affects every American—especially when it comes to state politics, where the cynical might say ethics can never survive. To find examples of the latest corruption du jour, all one has to do is turn to the newspaper, or switch on the local newscast (think Illinois and New Jersey).

Scandals have been ubiquitous since the beginning of the Republic, but it wasn't until 1954 that ethical self-regulation began to move legislatively beyond bribery statutes to address deeper issues—those which, in New York Governor Thomas Dewey's words, skulked in the "shadowlands of conduct." Rosenson begins her exploration with that moment when New York became the first state to enact a general ethics law, setting standards and guidelines for behavior. Unforgiving and illuminating, she examines the many laws that have been enacted since and the reasons that many of these law came into being.

It is crucial to the functioning of a democratic government to understand how and why ethics laws vary across legislatures, and it is surprising to discover that many states have become far more stringent than the U.S. Congress in laws and regulations. Using both qualitative historical sources and rigorous statistical analysis, Rosenson examines when and why, from 1954 to the present, legislators have enacted ethics laws that seem to threaten their own well-being. Among the economic, political, and institutional factors considered that have helped or hindered the passage of these laws, the most consistent was pure scandal, abetted by the media. To have good government, one must be able to trust it, and this book can help all citizens understand and find their way out of the shadowlands into the light.

Table of Contents


1. Setting the Stage: Legislative Ethics and the Process of Ethics Reform

2. Three Case Studies: Initial Explanations of Ethics Reform Failure and Success

3. Ethics Laws in the Pre-Watergate Period, 1954-72: Early Innovation in Regulating Legislative Conflicts of Interest

4. Watergate and Beyond: Ethics Reform Moves Forward, 1973-96

5. The Mostly Toothless Tiger: The Authorization of Independent Ethics Commissions, 1973-96 and Beyond

6. Ethical Self-Regulation and Its Limitations


A. Appendix to Chapter 1 and General Appendix for 1996 Ethics Index

B. Models and Data Sources for Chapter 3

C. Regression Tables for Chapter 3

D. Models and Data Sources for Chapter 4

E. Regression Tables for Chaper 4

F. Models and Data Sources for Chapter 5

G. Regression Tables for Chapter 5





"Rosenson has made a needed contribution to the study of corruption in a well-written, systematic analysis."—Political Science Quarterly

"The Shadowlands of Conduct is a landmark study of how, why, and when state legislators enact ethics legislation to regulate their own behavior. They do so primarily when public pressure becomes an irresistible force elected legislators can no longer ignore, thereby underscoring the need for an ever-vigilant citizenry. I recommend it to students, scholars and citizens alike."—Lawrence C. Dodd, Manning J. Dauer Chair in Political Science, University of Florida

"Rosenson's book is more than a contribution to the field of legislative ethics. It is more than a most persuasive work. It is the definitive empirical exploration of the subject."—Alan Rosenthal, professor of public policy, Eagleton Institute of Politics, Rutgers University

"A must read for all who want to know why state politicians pass ethics laws. Rosenson has filled a major void, providing an instant classic that instructs researchers, activists, and reformers how state ethics laws work, unfortunately why they often don't, and what reforms may be needed in the future."—David Schultz, professor, Graduate School of Public Administration and Management, Hamline University; and author of Money, Politics, and Campaign Finance Reform Law in the States


Supplemental Materials


About the Author

Beth A. Rosenson is assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Florida.

272 pp., 6 x 9

Mar 2005

272 pp., 6 x 9

ISBN: 978-1-58901-045-1
Mar 2005

272 pp.

ISBN: 978-1-58901-467-1
Mar 2005

American Governance and Public Policy series
Gerard W. Boychuk, Karen Mossberger, and Mark C. Rom, Series Editors

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