Inching our way toward integrity

Published 11:56 pm Wednesday, December 2, 2015

It’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which a group of elected lawmakers could be paid by organizations with business before that lawmaking body, and advocate or oppose legislation on behalf of that organization, and have that arrangement pass muster with ethics watchdogs.
However, that was one interpretation of the Alabama Ethics Commission’s ruling with regard to one lawmaker’s employment with a gay rights group; the advice appeared to open the door for organizations to hire lawmakers to lobby for them in the statehouse while serving as a voting member of the Legislature.
And Alabama residents wonder how our state managed to find itself among the most corrupt in the nation in a Harvard University ranking.
Perhaps it’s better now. The Ethics Commission revised its opinion, and Attorney General Luther Strange has called it “a significant improvement,” adding that he is emphatic that lawmakers cannot be hired lobbyists.
That’s good news. However, it’s alarming that it’s necessary for the Ethics Commission to go back to the drawing board to revise a ruling and to have the state’s highest law enforcement official underscore the changes in this matter. There are certainly confusing, gray areas. This isn’t one of them.
It’s not insignificant that some of the questions come from the defense of House Speaker Mike Hubbard, who is under indictment on a raft of ethics charges. Hubbard’s lawyers argue that the law is vague and too broad. Incidentally, Hubbard voted for the “vague and too-broad” law in 2010, and talked it up as a positive change.
We agree with AG Strange that the revised Ethics Commission ruling is an improvement, but it’s far from ideal. Allowing lawmakers to be employed by organizations with business before the legislature invites unethical behavior, even in the most seemingly innocuous, not-officially-lobbying ways.
Requiring those lawmakers to recuse themselves from debate and voting on matters related to their employers would be another positive step for Alabama as we inch our way toward integrity.
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