The Effects of Political Control and Institutional Structure on State Ethics Commissions

William Jonathan Rauh, University of South Carolina - Columbia


State ethics commissions serve as both oversight and enforcement bodies. However they are also quasi-judicial institutions whose members are appointed by elected officials. At best this presents problems of oversight, and at worst it implies that commissions can be actively influenced by the very individuals they are tasked with overseeing. Previous studies of ethics commissions have examined the covariates of creating ethics commissions, or have examined the internal functioning of these commissions in the pursuit of their envisioned goals. A largely ignored area of study with regard to these commissions is the degree to which elected officials can exercise influence over members they appoint and what this says for the effectiveness of these commissions. In this dissertation I examine how elected officials use their appointment authority over commissions as a means of political influence. In turn I examine how this influence manifests itself in terms of a commission’s effectiveness. My findings indicate that elected officials do in deed use appointment authority as a means of influence, but this influence manifests itself in very different ways.