Alabama Scene

Riley and the ethics session



Gov. Bob Riley has called lawmakers to Montgomery this week to take up ethics legislation he is proposing. While I think the state’s ethics law needs strengthening, a legitimate question for the governor would be: “Why did you wait until five weeks before leaving office to call a special session on ethics or any other subject that will unnecessarily cost the taxpayers upwards of a halfmillion dollars?”

The governor has had ample time to address ethics enhancements over the past eight years, and incoming governor, Dr. Robert Bentley, had pledged to deal with the issue when the Legislature returns for its regular meeting days next year. But Riley’s called it, so let’s get on with attempting to put more effective restrictions on public officials.

And when I use the term “public officials,” Governor, I mean you and other members of the executive branch, not just the Legislature. Although they are officers in the executive branch, the governor and lieutenant governor have significant input into the legislative process.

The governor must submit budgets and has the power to veto legislation and propose changes to bills in certain circumstances. The lieutenant governor presides over the Senate and has significant influence on that body. Both of these offices and the governor’s cabinet and department heads should be subject to the same restrictions as the Legislature. I would add judges, but they are already subject to ethical rules under the state’s judicial disciplinary process.

Citing Riley’s penchant for awarding state business to firms where his children work, some legislators have told me they plan to offer amendments to the ethics bill that would prohibit a governor or cabinet official from being involved in giving government business to firms where their close relatives are employed.

Indications are that one of the main issues to be focused on during the session is the $25 cap that Riley proposes as the maximum a lobbyist can spend on a lawmaker per occasion and inclusion of an annual cap of $100 for total spending by a lobbyist on a lawmaker.

This would be a significant departure from the current law, which allows a lobbyist to spend up to $250 a day or about $18,000 per year on a public official without having to report the expenditures.

Some legislators say the $25 proposal is too low and should be increased. Riley’s proposed gift limits, however, do not extend to free travel and lodging provided by special interest groups for conferences and meetings. Some question whether any such cap is meaningless if legislators can continue to attend functions anywhere in the country at no cost and which really amount to vacations.

Other proposals by the governor are:

• Giving the Alabama Ethics Commission the power to issue subpoenas with approval from four out of the five commissioners. This, I believe, is the authority the Ethics Commission needs in order to be effective.

• Stopping transfers of money among political action committees, a practice which hides the identity of contributors and should be banned.

• Forbidding a member of the Legislature from holding another government job. This should be expanded to include all elected officials.

An Alabama gridiron moment

The University of Alabama has had a storybook football history, winning 13 national championships and putting Southern Football on the map with its historic Rose Bowl wins in the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s.

Auburn, with its almost unbelievable storybook season this year, can add to the state’s gridiron lore by securing a victory Jan. 10 against the University of Oregon in the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) game in Glendale, Ariz., by winning its second national championship.

If the Tigers can prevail, it will be only the second time that two different schools in the same state have won back-to-back national championships in football.

The first and only to date, according to my research, was in 1938 and 1939 when Texas Christian University (TCU) and Texas A&M, respectively, won back-to-back national titles in football.

Alabama will be playing Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl, hoping to continue the SEC’s dominance against the Big 10.

Roll Tide and War Eagle.

Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The
Montgomery Independent. E-mail him