Politicians should step up ethics law

Published 4:30 pm Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Alabama politicians should be commended for stepping up and declaring the need for a tougher state ethics law, but state lawmakers may be standing in the way of ethics reform. Those in favor of more stringent ethics laws include current Alabama Gov. Bob Riley and 2010 Democratic gubernatorial candidate and current U.S. Rep. Artur Davis.

Both are standing up to political lobbyists, one wanting to cut the amount lobbyists can spend on lawmakers and the other wanting to make it illegal for lobbyists to entertain lawmakers. The current law allows for lobbyists to spend up to $250 a day on lawmakers they are trying to persuade.

Riley held a news conference yesterday to urge the legislators to bring up a bill requiring lobbyists to file a report any time they spend more than $250 on a public official.

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Davis on the other hand, is taking an even more proactive approach to his proposal, which is includes banning lobbyists from entertaining state officials, limiting campaign contributions and ending the shuffling of money between political action committees. As part of Davis’ plan, he wants to require public officials to immediately vacate their offices if indicted on state ethics charges or federal corruption charges. Current state law only requires this if convicted.

While, Davis, Riley and others may be working actively toward making the state’s lawmaker-lobbyist relationships more ethical, lawmakers may not be so quick to jump on board. For several years now, some legislators and the governor have proposed bills to help strengthen ethics laws and ban PAC-to-PAC transfers, but those bills have died in the Legislature. With that said, we can only wonder if our lawmakers really have their priorities in order. After all, lawmakers are elected by the people to make the best decisions for their constituents – not to seek the next big prize they can rack up from a lobbyist. And we would think with all the criticism state lawmakers have already faced this session, especially dealing with the pay increase they afforded themselves in a time of economic downtime, they would be looking to do the right thing. (Thankfully, several lawmakers, including Rep. Alan Boothe, D-Troy, chose to turn down this raise).

Lawmakers have to opportunity to do something worthwhile this session, something that could change the face of Alabama politics. After all, who wants to be known as a lawmaker in the state with one of the weakest ethics laws in the country?