To avoid conflicts, provide disclosure

From an editorial in the (Raleigh) News & Observer on Sunday:

Voters in his Cabarrus County district must be satisfied with Republican state Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, their representative for over 24 years now.

Like many members of the General Assembly, Hartsell has to make a living. And like 32 of his colleagues in the House and Senate, he’s a lawyer.

As long as North Carolina has a “citizen legislature,” meaning one paying relatively small compensation, there will be questions about whether a lawmaker’s profession conflicts with his or her service on Jones Street.

Hartsell isn’t the first legislator to come under scrutiny about potential conflicts. But his representation, as a lawyer, of a charter school company and his association with a charter management company raise justifiable questions, particularly at a time when GOP lawmakers are pushing charters.

Hartsell also has worked with a company that’s pushing online charter schools. Last year’s budget included a provision mandating pilot projects for two virtual charter schools.

It would be naive of lawmakers to think that some of their legal clients don’t come to them because of interests they might have in the General Assembly. But they must fully disclose all contacts, even beyond the minimum expected, and they should tell prospective clients that’s exactly what they’re going to do.