A widely unpopular vote or ruling is easy for the public to grasp. But voting to give a government contract to your wife's cousin the questionable nature of that situation can get lost in a chorus of yawns.

But that doesn't mean it wasn't wrong.

That's where the Government Standards and Practices Commission comes in.

Or is supposed to come in.

This branch of government has a handful of responsibilities, including registering lobbyists and investigating complaints of conflict of interest filed against elected officials across Oregon.

If you are an elected official, and your vote could financially benefit you or someone you have ties to, you need to voice your potential or actual conflict and abstain from voting.

The public needs to trust that the people we elect to have their hands on the public purse strings aren't stuffing their own pockets. The GSPC is a reasonable safeguard in state government.

But the agency has had to fight to survive against a different kind of conflict of interest.

The commission's seven members are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. It's budget is part of the broader state budget, which originates in the House.

People in power rarely like to be second-guessed.

By anybody.

And state-level elected officials often have served previously as city councilors, county commissioners or other officials back home or have seen the GSPC go after some of the perks lavished on lawmakers by lobbyists.

In recent years the Oregon Legislature has used budget crises as opportunities to whittle the GSPC's paid staff down to just one investigator, a director and some office staff. An unsuccessful effort during this last legislative session might have doomed the commission altogether.

Maybe that explains why the volunteer seven-member commission has yet to schedule a meeting in 2005 attended by all seven members. It's hard to be a watchdog, especially when the house you're supposed to be guarding is starving you.

At a time when the voters want more accountability in government, not less, the GSPC is a commission worth invigorating, not killing off.

A stable, reasonable funding source independent of the whims of Oregon's lawmakers could help the GSPC provide that accountability.