Something is very wrong in the Land of Cotton



Dr. Robert Bullard
Environmental Justice Movement Founder

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Press-Register Claims Alabama Ethics Laws "Among Strongest in the Country"

Illustration: Thomas Nast
Saying it is doesn't always make it so.

The Mobile Press-Register ran an editorial on May 30th entitled "Ethics reform marches on" that was more symbolism than fact about our 'new' get tough (but not too tough) ethics laws. A lot of good opinion pieces have come out of their editorial board--this isn't one that goes in the 'good' pile.

But it might belong in some kind of pile.

For years Alabama has had the weakest ethics laws in the country, so any movement on strengthening them is a modicum of improvement. The Ethics Commission was granted the power to subpoena. Good. There was some tightening on the amount of money lobbyists were allowed to spend on wining and dining our legislators that should have gone farther, but at least something was done to end the steak and lobster lunches.

Well, sort of.

They left some huge loopholes in these new laws that the ever-crafty money boys in suits could drive their Hummers through, and it didn't take them long to figure out how to step on the gas. Some of them were so impatient they started making loops around the senate floor as the bills were being written.

"No, that's not going to pass legal muster, here replace it with this...oh sorry, got a little butter on it didn't I? I can't eat my lobster without butter Jimmy boy." Reference to Representative Jim McClendon-R who was having his ear bent by one of these Slick Willies on the House floor during the crafting of these slightly better than nothing reforms.

The Press-Register has to answer to Ricky Matthews the publisher of the paper. Matthews is a big fan of republican everything and we wouldn't expect him to present too much to the public that isn't republican friendly. If he can help it. Ethics reform passage was a big deal  to the "new day" republicans that swept the statehouse in 2010--- they campaigned on it and included it in their "Handshake with Alabama" propaganda.

But this editorial is really stretching the tarp a little tight.

What these ethics laws don't do is hold lobbyists accountable to provide records of what they spend on the legislators. No effort was made to put an end to the corporate sponsored fabulous coastal resort getaways or good ol' boy runs through the woods at private hunting retreats.

"Now don't y'all talk about any b'ness to do with legislation y' hear? Okay you promise? That's good enough then, we don't need any law on this thing here do we boys? 'Course not."

These corporate retreats are frequently used for anything but 'down time' and it's a well-known wide open secret that bills are at the ready for these legislators to take back to Goat Hill and set in motion. Most of the trips arranged for Alabama lawmakers come from a few select corporate law firms and Alabama Power. APCOs hunting trips have become the stuff of legend in Alabama and an invitation to 'come play' is highly prized. And rarely refused. APCO expects a good return on the sizable campaign donations they generously hand out and they make sure they get it--one way or the other.

For any legislator to overlook adding a lobbyist/corporate reporting requirement to the ethics laws lets us all know that our lawmakers did not go far enough and the definition of strength is clearly in the eye of the beholder.

Or in this case, the publisher.

Alabama cannot count herself as "having the strongest ethics laws in the nation" until she actually does.

And saying it's so doesn't make it any more true than it actually is.

So Say We The Opinion Board Of The Vincent Alabama Confidential
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  1. They can paint all the lipstick on the pig they want to. Won't make a bit of difference. Still a pig.

  2. If they were really serious they might have considered replacing the gatekeepers in the EC. Sumners and gang are corrupt,inc. That whole commission is one big joke!

  3. Big waste of state money giving this no ethics commission more money. If all the stories on public corruption in Alabama were put on a dartboard every throw would be a bulls-eye!
    What a joke!

  4. Tripping public officials

    Birmingham News Editorial June 24, 2005

    THE ISSUE Public Service Commission President Jim Sullivan and other public officials know perfectly well why they are being treated to swell trips and outings.

    As president of the Alabama Public Service Commission, Jim Sullivan regulates utilities such as Alabama Power and is prohibited by law from receiving anything at all from those companies.

    But Sullivan sees nothing wrong with taking expensive quail-hunting trips on the dime of a law firm that represents Alabama Power. Sullivan was treated to 10 days at the Five Star Plantation as a guest of Balch & Bingham early this year and in 2003. Cost to the law firm: $5,197. ''My main interest was the hunting,'' Sullivan said, denying a conflict of interest. But can the same be said of Balch & Bingham and one of its biggest clients?

    Sullivan also traveled in 2003 to see mining operations in Colombia, courtesy of Drummond Co., which supplies coal to Alabama Power. The cost: $3,159.

    Of course, Sullivan wasn't the only public official to take trips or other cool outings from groups, businesses and institutions that seek government favor.

    The Talladega Superspeedway, which has wanted the state to install a new interstate exit for the race course, gave suite passes or grandstand tickets worth $17,850 to Gov. Bob Riley, his transportation director and a couple of state senators in recent years.

    Auburn University, which is always battling for a better budget, spent more

    than $7,000 hosting state Finance Director Jim Main, five state legislators and their wives for the Sugar Bowl. Among the group were Lowell Barron, the Senate's president pro tem, and the chairs of the House and Senate education budget committees.

    And what of the Community Bankers Association, which took seven state senators and six of their wives to its annual convention in the Bahamas last year? Cost: $17,627.

    Keep in mind, these are just some of the outings we know about because the cost exceeded $250 a day. Under Alabama's ethics laws, interest groups can spend $249.99 a day on public officials without even having to report it.

    Yet, elected officials say these trips don't influence their votes. Either they're the most ungrateful people in the world, or they're deceiving themselves. Most of us don't accept such hospitality and not feel beholden to the people paying our way. More to the point, most of us aren't offered such niceties, because we aren't in positions to do any interest group a favor.

    Public officials know they aren't getting these invitations because they're such swell guys and gals. They should know, too, that they are paying a huge price - in credibility - for taking freebies and junkets.

    Let's hope they at least had a great time.

  5. Yes, Noise! Don't forget the football trip for former AG King courtesy of AP. Move along nothing to see here...riiiiight.
    The legislators changed the definition of lobbyist to exclude anyone who works for a state agency and guess where the salary comes from? Taxpayers!
    EC refuses to investigate Senator Pittman despite the fact that he would never have gotten $638,000.99 of BP money if he hadn't been put in the position to bid for it, by Bob Riley no less. Sumner is the poster boy for taking care of business as instructed.

  6. That editorial reads like a reprint of a PR piece from some lobbyist. If it wasn't and the editorial board is silly enough to put their collective names on that fluff piece, then they aren't as smart as I hoped they were.
    Score on the credibility scale-zero.
    Score on the yes man scale-ten.

  7. I see they moved the comics section.

  8. Bentley virtually guaranteed nothing but throwing more money down the black hole of wasted tax dollars. This commission wouldn't know ethics if it bit them on their backsides.

  9. This editorial is much better!
    Good Max!

  10. And to think that actually ran as a news editorial. Bet you there was some real interesting conversations behind the hedge on that one.

  11. No Quarry in VincentMay 31, 2011 at 1:58 PM

    I was recently surprised to learn that lobbyists are not required to sign in when the visit the state house in Montgomery. All other visitors are required to sign in. The reason given to me was that the lobbyists are "already registered" with the Ethics Commission.

    I, for one, would like to see the record of lobbyists who visit the state house. So, when I'm following a certain bill, and I see that lobbyists who have an interest in the bill are making frequent visits to the state house during a pending vote, I can gauge the influence the lobbyists have on the legislature. I would like to know which senator or representative they are visiting.

    That is valuable information that is easily obtained and it should be public record.

  12. Throwing more money at anything is no indicator of how good or efficient it is. Look no further than our public education system. I know there's the tendency of the media to believe the folks aren't all that sharp, but the newspaper editorial leads me to believe they are completely convinced of it.
    It's not all that difficult to discern between true editorials and public relations releases.
    You pick which one you think it is.

  13. COMMENT VIA EMAIL Baldwin Watchdog--

    "This is obviously a press release, not an editorial. It's designed to get us mad about what the right hand is doing while we ignore the left hand stealing from our state.

    Yet, incredibly, one of the commenters on al.com defends the situation...!

    The comments on this blog should be replicated on al.com to let them know that we are watching and that decent folk do not like what they see."

  14. Sorry Press Register but that isn't an editorial, it's false advertising!
    And the sad part is everyone on the editorial board knows it, yet, you put your names to it anyway.

  15. How to throw journalistic credibility out the window in one easy step.
    Good job MPR EB.

  16. Crooked PoliticianJune 1, 2011 at 11:20 AM

    Ethics reform! That's my prayer. Will my prayer ever be answered in Alabama? That is largely up to the reporters and editors of all our newspapers and TV stations. The power of the press has the power to make it happen. The huge question is does the press have principled leadership and the guts to do so? The Press-Register missed a good chance to expose the failure of Alabama’s “new” ethic movement in their editorial on May 30. Yet they struck out. Freedom of the press as we all know is not really free because they have to depend on advertisers. But they do not have to depend on the politicians -- but most do. During my time on this earth, I have witnessed the strong power of the press to make things better. But they seldom use this power mainly because they become a part of the political process. Newspapers should not be pro-Republican or pro-Democrat but most are. Rather than reporting the news, they promote the publishers agenda. So we citizens are really at the mercy of the press on such issues as "ethics reform". As I attended Memorial Day ceremonies on May 30th, I wondered what the military men and women who died in service for our country would have thought of the ethical situation in our state? Would they have fought for the sorry situation associated with our Ethic Commission? Would they have given their lives for the restraints we now witness on most of our press? I think not. As a military veteran, I am ashamed of many of our elected officials and much of the news media.


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