Friday, April 03, 2009

Legislative EthicsL Guys Who Write the Bills Also Write the Loopholes!

A guest column from Little Rock's Todd Sharp
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There have been several references to SB867 in the papers recently but after reading Michael Wickline’s article titled “Bill targets lobbyists who pay and run” I felt compelled to address the issue within the issue.

After reading on several occasions how Attorney General Dustin McDaniel and SB867’s sponsor Senator steve faris described the “ethics” bill I was convinced that our legislators were doing something right. Both of these politicians touted this bill as an “ethics” bill that would stop lobbyist from paying for a legislator’s meals and other activities if the lobbyist was not present. My only thought was why has this practice not been eliminated before?

Finally my curiosity and skepticism got the best of me and I went to www.arkleg.state.ar.us (where anyone can go and read legislation for themselves) to see what SB867 was really all about. What I discovered when I read this bill infuriated me.

Deep in the back of the bill were two provisions, the first would allow legislators to double the amount of campaign funds that they had previously been allowed to keep and the second allowed legislators to start using campaign funds for meals, travel, and lodging.

Why were these provision’s that line the pockets of legislators stuck in the back of an “ethics” bill that was touted as targeting lobbyist and why had Mr. McDaniel and Mr. faris failed to mention these provisions when pontificating the honorable merits of the bill when addressing the media? Were they camouflaging the meat of the bill by calling it an ethics bill that limited lobbyists?

Could the real motive behind this bill have been to generate more campaign contributions by lobbyists and their employers to legislators while allowing them to keep and use a larger amount of such campaign funds?

Ethics? Does anyone wonder why politicians are not listed very high on the list of “most honorable professions” anymore?

Before I continue, I’d like to point out that after people started questioning the legitimacy of these provisions being stuck in the bill and after Senator David Johnson did the honorable thing by removing his name as a co sponsor of the bill because of the out of place provisions – the provisions were eventually removed. But the point remains why did they try to slip them in the back of the bill to begin with?

(continued on the jump)

7 Comments:

Blogger Mark Moore (Moderator) said...

If our legislators wanted to pass some ethical legislation concerning lobbyist, then why wasn’t SB883 passed? SB883 was a bill that would require legislators to wait at least a year after leaving office before they could become a salaried lobbyist? I mean common sense would tell us that the best way for a “special interest” to reward a legislator for helping pass a piece of favorable legislation would be to offer him a future position as a paid lobbyist. But that would not happen; it would not be “ethical”.

How did our legislators respond to SB883 which offered real ethics reform? They shut it down in committee and the Speaker of the House Robbie Wills called it “A solution looking for a problem”. Maybe Speaker Wills is just “too close” to the problem?

The problem is that when lobbyists and legislators get together far too often citizens get fleeced! It’s a case of the fox (legislators) guarding the hen house while the lobbyists are feeding the chickens. Both have a vested interest that doesn’t always have the best interest of the chickens at heart!

If our politicians were really interested in ethics reform concerning lobbyists and their employers – maybe someone would sponsor legislation that would limit lobbyist or companies that hired lobbyist from giving campaign contributions to legislators that pass the bills that affect them. But that would be implying that money influences politicians – and that’s not possible; it would not be “ethical”.

If we as citizens and voters want to see a real effort to instill ethics and reform in our government we must educate ourselves, read the legislation that is being passed for us to live under, pay attention to how our legislators vote, and hold them to a new standard of accountability. Our legislators thrive off of hard working people that make our communities thrive and are just too busy to pay attention to what our politicians are doing.

Our politicians should not tell us what “ethics” reform they are going to pass. We should tell them what we expect, demand that they do it, and hold them accountable when they don’t by electing someone who will.

9:03 PM, April 03, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Our politicians are corrupt?

I'm shocked!

4:06 PM, April 04, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the heads up, amazing and sad. We expect/want more from our elected officials. Ethics? We've forgotten what that is. Like you we need to be more active and let them know we are watching. Good wake-up call for me! We worry about our national issues, got to watch out on our local level, first.

5:58 AM, April 07, 2009  
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