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Winter 2009 Edition
Published February 25, 2009
2009 League of Women Voters of Alabama




Ethics Reform in 2009?   


A review of LWVAL's ethics positions seems timely as the Governor announces his package of bills for a new Alabama Code of Public Ethics.  The specific proposals can be viewed at governor.alabama.gov/issues/ethics.aspx or by clicking on Ethics Reform at the end of the State of the State speech.   Although Ethics reform bills have been filed on some of these topics previously, the Governor's package and the statewide attention to ethics issues may offer the League new opportunities to promote the reforms we favor.

League's decision on any the bills must await analysis of the bill and agreement by the Advocacy Team and the Board.   The progress of the bills and League positions can be easily followed as Jean Johnson, Technical Director, posts them at www.lwval.org.  [Go directly to the LWVAL Legislative Report.] Action alerts, when issued, are sent to Local League spokespersons, posted on the web page, and sometimes sent for members to speak for themselves.

Subpoena power for the Ethics commission has been a League priority since 1973, when that provision was removed from the original bill in the legislative process. A guarantee of stable adequate funding to ensure the Commission's independence has always been in the position.  Both issues appear in the Governor’s package.  The Ethics position, (under Government in the Program) adopted in 1991, has a section on disclosure of economic interests by public officials and candidates in state and local government.

The importance of limiting the power of lobbyists was a major conclusion from the Legislative Study of 2003-2006. (See Legislative Positions, VI).  Confidential interviews of legislators and informed observers, an anonymous survey of all legislators, as well as research—all revealed lobbyists’ roles at every stage of the process, from committee work to Rules Committees’ agendas to final votes.  Asked how to improve the Legislature’s ability to work for the good of the state, a substantial number of responders said to reduce the power of lobbyists.  One experienced observer said, “Discussion at the desks and around the chamber often is not on the merits or content of the legislation, but on the identification of the bill as xxx’s bill.  Once the identification is made with the contract lobbyists, much of the debate and discussion one would hope for stops.”  Page 35, The Alabama Legislature: Facts and Issues, Chapter 7, pages 30-35.  Available on the LWVAL web site.

League supports a major substantial change in disclosure of lobbyists’ spending on legislators.  Now lobbyists may spend $250 every day of the year on each legislator without reporting names, amounts or dates.  This total for undisclosed spending is so large that most quarterly reports only check a box saying that the lobbyist has not exceeded the exempted amount.  League wants not only to change this system by a significant reduction of the $250 per legislator per day but also to improve citizen access to the reports. 

A ban on PAC-to-PAC transfers is a related campaign finance and transparency issue that has always ranked high in LWVAL legislative priorities.  The Campaign Finance position and later more specifically section VI.A. of the Legislative position are the bases for action.  The package the Governor has announced this year does not address campaign finance reform; it is listed, however, in his Vision for 2010.

Watch for developments as the session progresses.
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