Eagle Forum is one of many organizations that have voiced the need for ethics reform in Alabama. Recent accusations of government malfeasance and misconduct have underscored the need for reform. Unfortunately for many years that has been a lost cause; but the events on November 2, 2010 gave the concept fresh legs when voters in Alabama elected a Republican majority in both the Alabama House and Senate for the first time since Reconstruction. We now have an opportunity to pass meaningful ethics legislation.
Legislation has been proposed that will:
- Give subpoena power to the State Ethics Commission.
- Ban all PAC to PAC transfers
- Ban “double-dipping” by legislators
- Prevent third party political organizations from using state resources, i.e.–the State Finance Department, to collect political dues.
- Require disclosure of all money spent by lobbyists on legislators.
- Put a $25 limit on gifts to legislators
- Require mandatory ethics training for all legislators, constitutional officers, and some state employees.
- Require the Ethics Commission to broaden the scope of the filing data available online.
- Require individuals lobbying the Executive Branch to register as lobbyists, just as those who lobby the Legislative branch are required to do.
Unfortunately, passing solid ethics reform sounds much less complicated than it actually is. We all share the same goal to clean up Montgomery, and can agree that it’s important to make sure we get strong bills that are enforceable, will hold up in court, and get to the heart of the corruption–without discouraging citizens from lobbying their legislators. The devil, as it is often said, is in the details. The details on one of the bills under consideration became increasingly complicated and unclear. As a matter of fact, of the forty-three pages of the final version of SB 14, forty-one contained numerous changes.
Eagle Forum of Alabama supports the efforts of the Senators who voted yesterday to slow down the process on this bill (SB 14) regarding lobbyist expenditures in order to ensure we get a strong, workable bill. After speaking with legislators including Senator Beason, we have concluded that the Alabama Senate did the right thing in passing the more limited Beason substitute bill. It is extremely important for legislators, lobbyists, and citizens to know and understand what is in every ethics bill. From the reports we have received, that was not the case with SB 14. Many legislators were unclear on what the effects of the legislation would be, and could not get clarification on key issues. As a result, 33 of 35 voted for the clearer substitute bill. The Beason substitute bill prohibits all lobbyist expenditures on public officials. While it does leave corporate expenditures at the current level, it also requires the Ethics Commission to “report to the legislature by the 5th legislative day in the 2011 regular session what other states have done to strengthen their state ethics laws.” We expect this issue to be addressed in the regular session after further research and consideration.
Taking time to vet legislation is not tantamount to refusing to pass it. It can be the better part of wisdom.