February 3, 2011 •
Alabama Lawmakers Overhaul Ethics Rules in Special Session
The special session, called by Governor Riley in late December, lasted seven days and saw the passage of several landmark bills, each of which was promptly signed into law.
The most dramatic change concerning lobbyists is the newly enacted expenditure limits. Previously, lobbyists could spend anything on an official without having to report it until the spending exceeded $250 per day. Now, lobbyists may only spend $25 on an official for a meal with an annual limit of $150. For a lobbyist’s employer, the limit is $50 per meal with a $250 annual cap. This law has been criticized by some as having too many loopholes. For instance, the limit does not apply to an “educational function” or certain “widely attended” events. Disclosure of spending at these events is still required when spending exceeds $250 per official.
Lawmakers also passed a ban on PAC-to-PAC transfers of funds. This, lawmakers hope, will reduce the “shell game” sometimes played which makes it very difficult for the public to track who is actually funding candidates or making expenditures.
Several of the laws passed impacted the actions of state officials directly. Starting in 2014, a state lawmaker will no longer be allowed to hold another government job. Additionally, the reforms include a ban on “pass through pork.” This is a practice whereby state lawmakers could direct an agency to spend money a certain way without legislative approval. Finally, the Alabama Ethics Commission will be granted subpoena power; this is expected to make enforcement of the laws much easier and effective.
The most controversial bill passed during the session is one banning politically active groups from receiving contributions via payroll deduction from state employees. This law was decried as an attack on the American Education Association, a group usually linked to Democratic candidates. Governor Riley, a Republican, defended the bill as a step to prevent misuse of state time and money.
While most agree the reform package is not perfect or all-inclusive, most within the state’s ethics and political circles agree they are a significant step forward at a time when Alabama badly needs one.
Photo of the Alabama Statehouse by Spyder_Monkey on Wikipedia.
State and Federal Communications, Inc. provides research and consulting services for government relations professionals on lobbying laws, procurement lobbying laws, political contribution laws in the United States and Canada. Learn more by visiting stateandfed.com.