- Cullman, Alabama

December 29, 2010

Ethics will continue to be a concern

By Paul Bussman
The Cullman Times

CULLMAN — The recent Special Session of the Alabama Legislature proved to be both successful and historic. The people of Alabama spoke very loudly on Nov. 2 and I am proud to say that the new legislature understood that message. Alabama now has some of the toughest, if not the toughest, ethics laws in America. It is very clear that business as usual in Montgomery is no longer acceptable. However, this was only the first step of many steps towards a transparent government that people can once again trust.

These are the bills that passed during the Special Session:

1. PAC-to-PAC transfers are now illegal. A political action committee (PAC) can only give contributions straight to a candidate and must report that donation. PACs cannot give to another PAC and candidates cannot give to another candidate. If a candidate loses the election or a legislator retires with money remaining in their campaign, they can only give that remaining money to charity, schools, local governments or the Alabama general fund, not another campaign fund. Every citizen will be able to go to the Alabama Secretary of State website and see exactly who contributes to individual candidate campaigns.

2. All public officials, from the state level to the local level, will now be required to have mandatory ethics training.

3. The Ethics Commission has now been given subpoena power. The Commission can now do a thorough investigation as opposed to a very superficial question and answer session.  

4. The practice of pass-through-pork has been stopped. Pass-through-pork occurs when a legislator increases a department’s budget with a promise from the department to give that additional money to the legislator’s pet project.

5. Double dipping will be banned and completely implemented by 2014. In general, double dipping occurs when a legislator is employed by the state and then votes as a legislator on issues and budgets that will personally affect them. It is an obvious conflict of interest.

6. The process of lobbying has been severely restricted. Prior to this new legislation, a lobbyist could spend $250/day/lobbyist per legislator ($91,250/year/lobbyist, there are more than 600 registered lobbyists in Alabama) without reporting it. Now a lobbyist is limited to $25/event with a $150 yearly limit per legislator. An organization, company or individual that hires a lobbyist is limited to $50/event and a $250 yearly limit per legislator. The general citizen’s voice will no longer be drowned out by the wining and dining of the special interests in Montgomery.

7. The state will no longer use taxpayer dollars to deduct dues for political activity. A U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2009 authored by Justice John Roberts on a similar Idaho law stated: “Such a decision is reasonable in light of the state’s interest in avoiding the appearance that carrying out the public’s business is tainted by partisan political activity.”

I am proud to be the cosponsor of four of these bills. It only took the new legislature six days to pass meaningful ethics reform. However, we are not done with the process. Ethics reform and corruption will continue to be a primary concern for this legislature.

‰ Paul Bussman of Cullman is the state senator for District 4.