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The Council on Governmental Ethics Laws (COGEL) can trace its origins to a December 1974 conference at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, DC., organized by an ad hoc group of executives of newly-formed federal and state "ethics" agencies.  

The conference brought together 43 representatives of agencies responsible for the administration and enforcement of conflict of interest, campaign finance and lobbying laws. The meeting was made possible by a grant from The George Gund Foundation of Cleveland, Ohio, and the assistance of the Council of State Governments in Lexington, Kentucky. A major purpose of the meeting was to facilitate the exchange of information among the various newly-created governmental ethics agencies.

Shortly thereafter, the National Municipal League, with a three-year grant from The George Gund Foundation, established an Ethics Clearinghouse. An advisory board, consisting initially of staff directors of several agencies and later expanded to include appointed commissioners of some ethics commissions, was created to assist the League during the grant period.

The Clearinghouse provided information to existing agencies, to lawmakers, and to others interested in the broad area of ethics. Another major project was the drafting of two "model laws." One addressed campaign finance issues; the other concerned conflict of interest and personal finance disclosure.

Annual conferences took place during the period 1975-78 as part of the project and typically included a series of panel discussions, lectures, and workshops on topics of current concern to ethics administrators. Of equal value to people attending was the opportunity to discuss issues and problems of common concern with colleagues.

Working to expand communication among the growing number of new governmental ethics agencies and commissions, the League compiled, published and updated annually a collection of data about existing ethics agencies. The Blue Book, as it became known, included information about statutory and regulatory functions, budgets and names of personnel. 

Anticipating the end of the League's role as catalyst and coordinator, representatives of the various governmental ethics agencies explored ways of maintaining communications and exchange of information. They concluded that a loose-knit organization should be created, and The Council on Governmental Ethics Laws (COGEL) was born at the 1978 conference in Minneapolis.

The Council continues the activities begun as part of the League's project, funded by modest annual dues, conference fees, and occasional grants and gifts. Membership, numbering around 200 in recent years, is drawn principally from governmental agencies and interested individuals in the United States and Canada with some European, Australian, and Latin American members also. Recent annual conferences have attracted over 300 participants.