|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 ConfidentialSubscribe in a reader