Talk is cheap, especially when it comes from a politician.
On April 13, 2012, a Montgomery Grand Jury released its findings on accountability in select state departments and loopholes in the Fair Campaign Reporting Act (FCRA): Governor Riley’s special session was a colossal failure at reining in the undue influence of political action committees (PACS) and PAC-to-PAC transfers.
Despite the chest-thumping that Mr. Riley and the legislature publicly exhibited while exalting their “new day in Alabama” reform package, the grand jury’s report reveals the truth – they did not empower the Alabama Ethics Commission with the muscle they claimed they did.
Adding insult to injury, the FCRA law weaknesses that were left in place aren’t illegal even though the grand jury seemed to indicate a willingness to issue multiple indictments if the laws had been solid enough.
The report listed specific instances of FCRA violations that would “prohibit successful prosecution…due to a number of problems with the law as written.”
One of the biggest planks in the ALGOP's platform “Handshake with Alabama” was a promise to "end corruption in Montgomery." It's an empty accomplishment judging from their ethics failure and 'business friendly first' legislation, that also scores dismally low on the accountability scale. Still, they get out and crow their ‘promise to the people of Alabama’ frequently in news stories aggrandizing their latest
If you’re going to brag about your party’s political moral high-ground it’s wise not to stand on shifting sands.
Rebuttal to the grand jury report has already begun from legislative mouthpieces who claim it’s much ado about nothing because “we never intended to keep the money and it was returned.” Another excuse being floated is the old standby of “things are going to get by us we just didn’t realize at the time.”
One of Riley’s own policy directors, who's now a state senator, made these remarks to the Birmingham News in December 2010:
Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville, who used to be Riley's policy director, said bills similar to the ones now up for review have been proposed and sometimes debated in the Legislature for years.Which is it? Did some things "get by" the legislators in their zeal to prove their moral superiority or had the reforms, as Senator Taylor said, been "studied thoroughly...for years?"
"These reforms have been studied thoroughly. They've been presented before legislative committees," Taylor said. "There is no rush here at all."
If the voters are foolish enough to accept weak excuses from these republicans after-the-fact and don't believe that getting caught was the only reason the money was ‘returned,’ then they deserve what they voted for – scoundrels.
The 2010 special session was specifically aimed, according to Riley, at “world-class” ethics reform: PAC-to-PAC transfers were a key element of the republican’s efforts. That endeavor cost cash-strapped Alabama hundreds of thousands of dollars, and many criticized the session as unwarranted and premature. Robert Bentley was due to be sworn as the next governor in January. The start of a new legislative session was only three months away. Riley’s purely political maneuver was a last grasp at legacy building from an administration frequently mired in controversy and corruption from its inception.
"Special sessions are designed for emergencies. This is not an emergency," Rep. Richard Lindsey-D said in the run-up to the event.
(One of the most egregious acts Riley was involved in (and owes his gubernatorial election to) was the the Choctaw Indian money scandal that helped bring down the infamous Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Exactly how (and why) Bob Riley escaped investigation and consequences in the scandal, with his direct ties to Michael Scanlon, remains one of the many baffling mysteries in Alabama politics. “I don’t know anything about how the money was used,” was all Riley offered as a defense - it was accepted as Dixie gospel by Bush’s DOJ, former State AG Troy King and Leura Canary, the former US Attorney in the Middle District of Alabama.)
Who comes out of the current ethics brouhaha practically unscathed is Governor Bentley. There’s plenty to criticize regarding his decisions and policy-making since he’s been in office, but ethics reform isn’t on his doorstep - yet. If, however, he ignores the recommendation of the grand jury and does not remedy the FCRA issues before the November 2012 elections it will be his visitor to entertain.
With the 2012 legislative session ending shortly the chances are slim to none anything will be done about it this year. The governor does have the option of calling a special session before November. If he does, Alabama will have to come up with another few hundred thousand to fix a problem that could have been repaired for nothing had Bob Riley’s ego not entered the mix.
The blame for Alabama’s inability to effectively police itself has many sources – politicians, lobbyists, special interests and the sheer weight of money as the enforcer to maintain the status quo. It’s ingrained in the state’s political history to do the wrong thing just because they can.
A handshake is a timeless symbol of a promise to hold up your end of the deal.
The republicans broke that deal when they lied to the citizens of Alabama and failed to deliver comprehensive ethics reform.
Excuses after-the-fact are nothing but cheap talk.
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