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October 12, 2015

Houston Co. DA guilty of Ethics Law violation

The Dothan Eagle reports: The Alabama Ethics Commission ruled Wednesday that District Attorney Doug Valeska committed two minor violations of the Alabama Ethics Law.

Valeska could face an administrative penalty. Minor violations of the state ethics law result in an administrative penalty of no more than $1,000. Restitution could also be ordered. ...

The action resulted from an ethics complaint filed by former assistant district attorney Andy Robinson, who alleged Valeska used assistant district attorneys to perform campaign work and other personal work. The Ethics Commission investigated the matter to determine its validity, gathering evidence and conducting interviews with Robinson and others, including Valeska.

Alabama law states public interests cannot be converted to personal interests.

Alabama Code 26-25-5(c) states: "No public official or public employee shall use or cause to be used equipment, facilities, time, materials, human labor, or other public property under his or her discretion of control for the private benefit or business benefit of the public official, public employee, any other person, or principal campaign committee." -- District Attorney Doug Valeska found in violation of state ethics law - Dothan Eagle: Crime Court

September 15, 2015

"Bill would let officials solicit money for criminal defense"

AP (via the Tuscaloosa News) reports: The head of the Alabama Ethics Commission on Monday sharply criticized a bill that would let public officials solicit money from lobbyists and others for criminal defense funds.

Tom Albritton, executive director of the Alabama Ethics Commission, called the bill that was approved by the states House of Representatives last week a significant step backward for public ethics. ...

No laws govern the creation of criminal defense funds in Alabama. The bill by Rep. Jack Williams would allow public officials to start the criminal defense funds and solicit contributions without violating a state ban on public officials soliciting a thing of value from lobbyists and others.

The bill would require the treasurer of the fund to file public reports listing donors. -- Bill would let officials solicit money for criminal defense |

September 12, 2015

Speaker Hubbard claims the Ethics Law has quit preaching and gone to meddling

John Archibald writes on Hubbard, who has publicly praised ethics reforms Republicans used to usher themselves to power -- including those that prevented public officials from lobbying -- asked Lee County Circuit Judge Jacob A. Walker III to dismiss charges against him on a claim that the much ballyhooed ethics law is unconstitutional, and that he, even as a public official, has a constitutional right to lobby for money.

Even from his powerful position in the Legislature. Even as an elected representative of the people of Alabama.

Hubbard lawyer J. Mark White argues under the heading: "Hubbard's right to lobby on behalf of his or his business' clients is a fundamental right constitutionally protected by the First Amendment," that the law Hubbard is charged with breaking presents a host of constitutional issues.

"Lobbying -- the right of the people to inform their representatives in government of their desires with respect to the passage or enforcement of laws -- is 'core' political speech, prototypical of the kind of speech protected by the First Amendment," White argued. -- Documents revealed: No wonder Mike Hubbard wanted them sealed |

Hubbard's Motion to Dismiss (Ethics Act is Unconstitutional) by John Archibald

September 5, 2015

"A sure scandal in Gov. Robert Bentley's Administration"

John Archibald writes on Rebekah Caldwell Mason, a chief adviser to the governor of the state of Alabama, is paid by unknown entities with money funneled through an opaque non-profit. And that shadowy operation ? it doesn't have to reveal its donors -- is set up by people connected to the state's most powerful and politically aggressive institutions. ...

Mason is paid through the lovely sounding Alabama Council for Excellent Government, formed of folks tied to both the University of Alabama Board of Trustees and Alabama Power. And she is not the only one on the lease-an-advisor program. Bentley's chief of staff, Seth Hammett, continues to be paid by Power South Energy Cooperative in Andalusia.

And yes, that has somehow been approved by that enabling outfit that calls itself the Alabama Ethics Commission – a group that ought to be renamed the Politicians' Apologist League, or PAL.

So in the end we have the two top advisers to the governor of the state of Alabama bought and paid for – with the blessing of the state's adjudicators of what is good and proper – by the most powerful people and aggressive lobbyists in the state. -- A sure scandal in Gov. Robert Bentley's Administration |

August 6, 2015

"Panic Over Campaign Cash for Legal Defense"

The Alabama Political Reporter says: Word around the State House is Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) is in a panic to find sponsors for a bill that would exempt campaign contributions used for legal fees as being considered a "thing of value."

Even before Hubbard was indicted on 23 felony counts of pubic corruption, he was using campaign contributions to pay attorneys. ...

However, during the 2015 Regular Session, the Republican Supermajority codified that opinion into law and expanded it allowing public office holders to use campaign contributions for, "Legal fees and costs associated with any civil action, criminal prosecution, or investigation related to conduct reasonably related to performing the duties of the office held."

What has not been addressed is whether this new law conflicts with the ethics laws passed in 2010.

State ethics law -- Section 36-25-6 passed by the Republican Supermajority in 2010 states: "Contributions to an office holder, a candidate, or to a public official's inaugural or transitional fund shall not be converted to personal use." -- Panic Over Campaign Cash for Legal Defense

July 22, 2015

Hubbard to attack constitutionality of Ethics Act reports: Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard plans to claim that parts of the state ethics law are unconstitutional, according to a request filed in court by his lawyers on Monday. ...

"Hubbard anticipates filing a motion challenging the constitutionality of various portions of the Alabama Ethics Act," and other issues, the motion says. -- Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard to claim parts of ethics law unconstitutional |

July 21, 2015

"Abortion rights group files ethics complaint against Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore" reports: Alabama Reproductive Rights Advocates has filed an ethics complaint against Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore.

The group claims Moore showed public support for domestic terrorism by speaking at an anti-abortion rally held by Operation Save America in Montgomery on July 11. ...

"Chief Justice Moore has a history of working contrary to federal law in promoting his own personal beliefs and agenda through the Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrate as evidenced by his refusal to follow federal orders to remove the Ten Commandment monument and most recently his stance on disallowing probate judges to issue marriage licenses to couples of the same sex in violation of federal order," according to the complaint. -- Abortion rights group files ethics complaint against Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore |

For a Wikipedia article on the "Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrate," go here.

December 12, 2014

Don't steal or appear to steal: Ethics rules simplified

The TimesDaily reports: Don't do anything you wouldn't want to see reported in a newspaper. And be careful what you Tweet.

Those were a few of the takeaways from a daylong orientation for state lawmakers Wednesday. Topics included an explanation of the state's ethics law as it applies to legislators and how to deal with the media. ...

The Republican-led Legislature updated the state's ethic rules in 2010. John Caroll, director of the Alabama Ethics Commission, said there is one over-arching rule for lawmakers to keep in mind: Don't attempt to use your office for personal gain.

Similarly, he told lawmakers not to use office resources for personal benefit or business and don?t vote on legislation if they have a conflict of interest. -- Lawmakers receive tips, ground rules - TimesDaily: Local News

November 20, 2014

Taking contributions may be legal under the campaign-finance law, but illegal under the Ethics Act

The Montgomery Advertiser reports: State Sen. Clyde Chambliss is facing a complaint filed with the State of Alabama Ethics Commission alleging a conflict of interest in actions he took as a Prattville city councilman.

The Prattville Republican resigned from his post on the city council on Nov. 5, the same day he was sworn in to the Legislature. Prattville resident Jon Lee Finnegan filed the complaint.

Her complaint stems from Chambliss' Senate campaign receiving contributions from AUTO PAC, a political action committee of automobile dealers in the state. According to campaign finance disclosure forms filed with the Secretary of State's office, Chambliss receive a total of $13,500 in contributions from the PAC.

While on the council, Chambliss voted for an incentives package used to keep Long Lewis Ford of the River Region's dealership in Autauga County. Long Lewis Ford of Muscle Shoals contributed $2,500 to AUTO PAC on Feb. 2, finance disclosure forms show. In August, Long Lewis Ford of Muscle Shoals purchased the former Gilmore Ford in Prattville, and the business was renamed Long Lewis Ford of the River Region. -- Chambliss faces ethics complaint

November 1, 2014

Mike Hubbard "Collides With Ethics Law He Espoused"

The New York Times reports: For a time, it seemed that Michael G. Hubbard and the prosecutors were waging parallel wars.

Both aimed their fire at the state's political establishment: Mr. Hubbard, as a state representative and chairman of the Alabama Republican Party, by focusing intently on defeating the Democrats who controlled the State House until 2010, and federal anticorruption prosecutors by launching a fusillade of investigations.

But this year, on his way to another easy re-election as the most powerful politician in Alabama, Mr. Hubbard and the law collided.

On Oct. 20, Mr. Hubbard, 52, was arrested after a grand jury returned a 23-count indictment, partly on the basis of an ethics law he had championed, accusing him of using his positions as party chairman and speaker of the House to steer thousands of dollars' worth of business to companies in which he had a financial interest. Mr. Hubbard has vehemently denied the charges. -- Firebrand Alabama Republican Collides With Ethics Law He Espoused -

October 26, 2014

"3 local campaigns received funds from Speaker Hubbard, paid thousands to companies he owns"

The Decatur Daily reports: The campaigns of several area legislative candidates received thousands of dollars in campaign funds from entities controlled by recently indicted House Speaker Mike Hubbard and paid thousands to companies he owned.

State Reps. Dan Williams, R-Athens; Terri Collins, R-Decatur; and Ed Henry, R-Hartselle, all entered office in 2010, and all received support from Hubbard. During the same election cycle, each of their campaigns paid money to Hubbard's printing and media companies. Hubbard, R-Auburn, was then chairman of the state Republican Party and House Minority Leader. After the November 2010 election, he became House Speaker.

The lawmakers said they did not know at the time that Hubbard had an ownership in the companies.

"At a minimum, it creates an appearance that this is all just money being laundered through a candidate and back to enrich the originator of the funds," said Meredith McGehee, policy director of The Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan campaign-finance organization based in Washington, D.C. "These transactions sound so incestuous. The candidates should have been aware of the appearance this would create, even if there was not an understanding that, ‘I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine.' " -- Financial ties that bind - Decatur Daily: News

"Hubbard indictment hinges on one particular ethical question"

Cameron Smith's op-ed says: During a recent press conference responding to his corruption indictment, Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard asked a critical question "Why does the Attorney General's Office....think it's a crime to do business with anyone you didn't know before you were elected to office?" ...

Outside employment for citizen legislators is not inherently problematic and may actually provide a benefit. For instance, legislators that actively participate in the business community will likely have a better perspective on economic challenges facing the state and the issues impacting their respective industries.

The ethical problem arises when legislators secure business and financial opportunities because of their public office or in exchange for specific favors. Most people are familiar with the "quid pro quo" type of corruption, but the more general use of a public office for personal gain is equally problematic. In that situation, politicians can ask for favors, compensation, or other benefits without agreeing to do anything in return. The implied agreement is that those providing the value to the politician can expect his or her help on their priorities in the future. -- Hubbard indictment hinges on one particular ethical question: opinion |

Contrast that with Kyle Whitmire's column: For instance, Hubbard faces 11 counts of soliciting a thing of value from a lobbyist or principal. (A principal is defined in the law as anyone who employs a lobbyist.) The elements the prosecution must prove are fairly straight forward. Is Hubbard a member of the Alabama Legislature? (Yes.) Did he ask for or receive anything of value from a lobbyist or principal? (If yes, then he's guilty.) -- Is Mike Hubbard going to jail in a gift basket? The consequences of legislate now, litigate later: opinion |

October 25, 2014

Hubbard may have been hoist on his own petard

Kyle Whitmire writes on When the Alabama Legislature passed the state ethics law in 2010, the newly elected Republican majority boasted that the state now had the toughest ethics laws in the nation. ...

Sometimes the consequences can land folks behind bars. Lawmakers rarely have to deal with those consequences themselves, and if some poor sap gets thrown in the pokey? Well, then they can brag they're tough on crime.

But this week it was one of the Legislature's own who fell in the gap.

Fifteen of the 23 counts against Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard are built on new ethics laws passed since 2010. -- Is Mike Hubbard going to jail in a gift basket? The consequences of legislate now, litigate later: opinion |

August 23, 2014

Circuit Court puts Alexander back on the ballot (2) reports: As expected, Montgomery County Circuit Judge Charles Price issued an order today in favor of Louise Alexander in her effort to remain on the ballot in the race for District 56 in the Alabama House of Representatives.

Price had announced on Monday he would rule in Alexander's favor.

The judge found the state Democratic Party was at fault for not forwarding a form to the Ethics Commission.

Secretary of State Jim Bennett said the case highlighted the need to strengthen the state law on the requirement that candidates file statements of economic interests with the Ethics Commission.

Price's ruling overturns Bennett's decision to disqualify Alexander from the race. -- Jim Bennett says he'll seek clearer ethics law after Louise Alexander prevails in ballot dispute |

August 20, 2014

Filing an ethics statement appears to be hard to remember ... for candidates reports: Louise Alexander's Republican opponent in Alabama House District 56, Darius Foster, was late this year filing an ethics statement, the same document that led to Alexander's temporary disqualification.

Foster had a current statement of economic interests on file when he qualified as a candidate, as required.

But he later failed to file a new statement for 2013 until more than three months after a deadline in the ethics law. -- Louise Alexander's Republican opponent, Darius Foster, filed ethics form late |

April 17, 2014

"Ethics Commission asked to investigate PSC Commissioner Dunn staffer for misuse of state office" reports: In a letter sent today to the Alabama Ethics Commission, Tuscaloosa coal miner John Box asks officials to investigate what he describes as "misuse of state office" by an employee of Public Service Commissioner Terry Dunn.

Mr. Box specifically asks the Ethics Commission to review two examples of alleged misconduct by Dunn's chief of staff David Rountree, under the auspices of his boss.

Rountree recently conducted a television interview on behalf of Commissioner Dunn, who is currently running for re-election.

"Not only is Mr. Rountree there during work hours under the title Chief of Staff in Commissioner Terry Dunn?s office, he is also discussing which type of political donations the Terry Dunn Campaign will accept," Box wrote in his Ethics Commission letter. "He can either be a Chief of Staff or a campaign spokesman, but he can't be both."

Box's second complaint centered around Rountree's use of a taxpayer-funded cell phone to conduct business for a Political Action Committee he launched last year. -- Ethics Commission asked to investigate PSC Commissioner Dunn staffer for misuse of state office - Yellowhammer News

Yellowhammer attached Box's letter.

May 25, 2013

Is paying face value for UA football tickets an ethics violation? reports:A longtime University of Alabama booster said today he is filing an ethics complaint against state public officials for purchasing Crimson Tide football tickets without paying extra as Tide Pride members. The Alabama Ethics Commission, without confirming or denying the complaint, says the issue is out of its hands.

Fred Palmer, a 76-year-old Tuscaloosa man who says he's an original Tide Pride member, argues that because Alabama states all season tickets are sold through Tide Pride except for students, faculty and staff, public officials are receiving free booster-club membership.

"It's not fair for the people that can't get tickets," Palmer said. "The legislators work for us. They're no better than we are. There are 28,000 people on a waiting list who can't join Tide Pride unless they pay $25,000 per seat to jump the line, and 100 legislators get the tickets." ...

"It's not an ethics issue," said Jim Sumner, director of the Alabama Ethics Commission. "The commission couldn't do anything even if they wanted to. This is an issue for the universities to determine. If they want public officials to purchase tickets outside the booster program, that is not an issue for the commission." -- Read the whole story --> Alabama booster files ethics complaint over public officials buying football tickets without donations |

December 15, 2012

Coaches in ethical hot water reports: The Alabama Ethics Commission this afternoon found that nearly two dozen Decatur High School coaches ran afoul of state ethics law when they accepted monetary Christmas gifts from the school's booster club in 2011.

Commissioners, following a closed-door hearing, voted without dissent that there was cause that the 21 coaches broke state ethics law. Commissioners said they would handle the case administratively, which means the coaches might be fined up to $1,000.

Attorney James Anderson, who represents 20 of the coaches, said the coaches did not know they were doing anything wrong when they accepted the Christmas gifts. The gifts ranged from $50 for the girl's soccer coach to about $1,125 for the head football coach, Anderson said. ...

Anderson said there was a longtime tradition of the booster club giving Christmas gifts to coaches. -- Read the whole story --> Ethics Commission says Decatur High coaches likely broke ethics law by accepting booster gifts |

October 17, 2012

Ethics and a school board - Part 2 reports: Edward Maddox has stepped down from the Birmingham Board of Education, where he served as president, as part of a plea agreement with the Jefferson County District Attorney's Office.

Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Tommy Nail accepted Maddox' plea deal this morning, stemming from two ethics charges that Maddox used public office for personal gain. ...

The first warrant stated he used his position for either personal financial gain or for the financial gain of a family member. Falls said that charge stemmed from Maddox' position as president of the Woodlawn Neighborhood Association. He was accused of voting for funds from the city of Birmingham for Woodlawn Missions and More, a charity he founded.

The second warrant states that while on the Birmingham Board of Education, he voted to increase his daughter Melody Alston's salary by $17,000. Alston is an employee of Birmingham city schools. Board members cannot vote on personnel matters regarding family members, and are required to abstain from the vote. -- Read the whole story --> Edward Maddox steps down from Birmingham school board as part of plea agreement deal by Jefferson County judge today |

Ethics and a school board - Part 1

AL. com reports: Huntsville would do well to take notice of Mike Culbreath, who is already making moves -- even running a contract past the Alabama Ethics Commission -- a month before being sworn in as the newest member of city school board. ...

He begins his time in office by doing something that elected city officials too seldom do, and almost never undertake before being sworn in. He's asking challenging questions and making waves. Most notable was his probing of a contract with a consulting company that employed the services of Frank Spinelli, who left the system last month for personal reasons. Superintendent Casey Wardynski had brought in Spinelli soon after being hired, and Wardynski has said he continued to need Spinelli's expertise, particularly when dealing with state and federal questions about the system's reduced special education budget.

Culbreath suspected that the board couldn't turn around and contract with a finance director who had just left. So he asked questions. Board members and school officials agree that legal advisors initially said everything was fine. Culbreath placed more calls, including one to the Alabama Ethics Commission. "I'm not going to be involved in anything that I don't think is right," he explained this week.

State law is clear. "No public official, director, assistant director, department or division chief, purchasing or procurement agent having the authority to make purchases, or any person who participates in the negotiation or approval of contracts, grants, or awards" can enter into a contract with the same agency they just left. Not for two years. -- Read the whole story --> New Huntsville board member, already bouncing illegal contracts, is one to watch (Our views) |

October 14, 2012

Mixing political money and personal uses nets conviction for former county commissioner reports: Former Marshall County Commissioner Timothy Frank Bollinger pleaded guilty Wednesday to using a campaign contribution for personal purposes, Attorney General Luther Strange said Thursday.

In a press release from the AG's office, Strange wrote Bollinger, 54, was sentenced in Marshall County Circuit Court to a suspended term of five years in the felony ethics conviction. He was ordered to serve four years' probation and perform 100 hours of community service.

During his court appearance, Bollinger admitted he intentionally cashed a check for $500 for personal use although it was contributed to his campaign in April of 2010, the statement said. He was indicted by a Marshall County grand jury Aug. 18, 2011. -- Read the whole story --> Ex-Marshall County commissioner Tim Bollinger guilty of felony ethics violation |

July 26, 2012

Indian Springs mayoral race reduced to one because of failure to file Ethics Commission statement

The Shelby County Reporter reports: Current Indian Springs Town Council member Stewart Dudley is ineligible for this year's mayoral race after failing to submit required paperwork, according to current Mayor Steve Zerkis.

By state law, all elected officials in Alabama are required to submit a completed statement of economic interest each year to the Alabama Ethics Commission, Zerkis said through an email. A statement of economic interest is a public document used to disclose financial interests.

This year's deadline to submit the statement was April 30, Zerkis said. ...

Officials with the Alabama Ethics Commission confirmed that Dudley has not submitted a statement of economic interest and is not qualified for the municipal election. -- Read the whole story --> Dudley not qualified for Indian Springs mayoral race | Shelby County Reporter

June 3, 2012

Alabama ethics law allows overseas junkets

The Montgomery Advertiser reports: The Legislature may have capped gifts to teachers at $25, but there are no similar limits to the trips lawmakers can take abroad.

At least four lawmakers took a jaunt to Turkey last year where travel and accommodations were paid in whole or in part by a group promoting bonds between Turkey and the United States. The groups sponsoring the trip offered a similar package to lawmakers at the beginning of the month, a journey that for individuals would cost anywhere from $4,000 to $14,000, according to pricing on the web site Travelocity. ...

After an inquiry from Sen. Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile, last year, the Alabama Ethics Commission approved the trips, citing passages in the state?s ethics law that broadly allow lawmakers to go to "widely attended events," "educational functions" and "economic development functions."

Journeys to "educational functions" are limited to locations within the United States, but there is no similar limit on widely attended events, a distinction noted by the Ethics Commission in approving the trips to Turkey. The widely attended event must be a gathering where it is "reasonably expected" more than 12 people "with a diversity of views or interest will be present." -- Read the whole article --> State ethics law puts few limits on lawmakers' trips abroad | The Montgomery Advertiser |

April 22, 2012

Lobbyist faces hearing for being "disrespectful"

The Montgomery Advertiser reports: In what the chairman of the House Rules Committee called a "precedent-setting" event, the Legislature may take action against a longtime Montgomery lobbyist over alleged disrespectful remarks she made Wednesday about a Montgomery representative. ...

The Joint Rules Committee of the House and Senate is scheduled to meet Wednesday afternoon to determine whether [ lobbyist Claire] Austin "violated the joint rules of the House and Senate during a meeting of the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee on April 18, 2012," according to a letter sent to members of the committees Thursday. ...

The incident involved Austin and Rep. Joe Hubbard, D-Montgomery. Austin did not return messages left at her office Friday afternoon, and Hubbard declined comment on the incident Friday. ...

[Rep. Blaine] Galliher said it was "insinuated" that Rule 27 of the Joint Rules of the Alabama Legislature had been broken. The rule, which covers the "obligations of a lobbyist," says lobbyists "shall uphold the honor of the legislative process by the integrity of his or her relationship with legislators." -- Read the whole story --> Lobbyist faces ?precedent-setting? hearing over alleged conduct | The Montgomery Advertiser |

April 15, 2012

Ethics law cutting into baseball ticket sales

The Montgomery Advertiser reports: As baseball season arrives in Montgomery, there is still a business buzz about the Biscuits, but fewer businesses are treating customers to games at Riverwalk Stadium because they are afraid of violating Alabama's ethics law.

State legislators blame misinterpretation of the law for the perception that businesses could be targeted for giving sports tickets to public employees, like teachers and state workers. Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said the resulting uproar is an example of "legislating a problem that didn't exist before."

It's a situation that has frustrated people such as Realtor Sandra Nickel, who planned to offer Biscuits tickets to customers as "thank you gifts."

"We had to be extremely careful what we did last year with the tickets because of this crazy new law," Nickel said. "This is the state capital. We have a lot of state employees as clients. We have county and city employees as clients, military employees, federal employees -- and the idea that maybe it will get us or them in trouble is a little scary."-- Read the whole story --> Ethics law curveball | The Montgomery Advertiser |

March 22, 2012

Bill to raise ethics-filing threshold passes House

The Capital Bureau reports: The Alabama House today voted to exempt public employees who make less than $75,000 annually from having to file economic disclosure forms with the Alabama Ethics Commission, a move that commission Director Jim Sumner called "long overdue."

Under current ethics laws, the salary threshold for public employees to avoid filing statements of economic interest is $50,000. ...

Sumner said his office receives about 60,000 economic disclosure forms currently, and that figure could drop by about one third should House Bill 136 pass the Senate and be signed into law by the governor. That would ease the burden on ethics staff, he said.

People who have authority to spend money and make hiring decisions must file statements of economic interest regardless of salary. -- Read the whole story --> House votes to raise income threshold for ethics forms |

February 19, 2012

"Fairness of face-value Tide tickets questioned"

The Tuscaloosa News reports: Tickets to University of Alabama football games -- including season ticket packages and the BCS National Championship Game -- were purchased at face value by 151 state legislators, judges, lobbyists and local officials who avoided the hurdles and extra costs most Crimson Tide fans face.

UA officials, who provided the list through a public records request, noted this is not a violation of Alabama's year-old ethics law. Legislators and others who took advantage of the deal said they don't see anything wrong with it.

But Birmingham resident Jim Metrock has been on a two-year crusade to end special access to football tickets for public officials. The majority of fans must make donations to UA's Tide Pride to obtain tickets, or purchase tickets from scalpers at higher prices.

"In the past, we had a corrupt system where legislators traded on their public office for free football tickets. Now we have a corrupt system where they still have special access to tickets unavailable to their constituents and they pay only the face value of the tickets," Metrock wrote in a news release. -- Read the whole story --> Fairness of face-value Tide tickets questioned |

Query: If I offered a legislator a $10 gold coin (which is on sale from the Franklin Mint for $899), would I get to argue the "face value" interpretation? Or would I be considered to be offering an $889 "thing of value"?

February 18, 2012

Spencer Bachus starts legal defense fund

The Birmingham News reports: U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus started a legal defense fund to help cover his bills in response to an investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics into allegations that he used his office for personal gain. ...

Such funds are approved by the House Ethics Committee for members to raise money to deal with legal matters arising from their official duties. Bachus is one of several members accused of using their access to nonpublic information to inform their personal investment decisions, but he's the only one known to be under investigation. ...

Members can use legal expense funds to raise money and pay their legal bills. According to the House Ethics Committee, the fund may not accept more than $5,000 in a calendar year from any individual or organization, but no contribution may be accepted from a registered lobbyist or foreign agent. Donors and expenditures also have to be disclosed every quarter. -- Read the whole story --> Rep. Spencer Bachus starts legal defense fund |

February 16, 2012

"Kimberly mayor loaned more than $5,000 to himself with city money"

The Birmingham News reports: A complaint has been filed with the Alabama Ethics Commission concerning more than $5,000 in loans that Kimberly Mayor Craig Harris made to himself with city money, Councilman Brad Stark said Wednesday.

The Kimberly City Council voted 4-1 Tuesday night calling for Harris to resign. They also passed a no-confidence vote on his conduct and passed a resolution asking Harris to immediately repay the outstanding balance of those loans, $1,175.

Harris said the money was not loans, but a series of advances on his $250 monthly salary. He said he cleared the advances with the city auditor, starting in June 2010, and the money is scheduled to be completely repaid in July. -- Read the whole story --> Kimberly mayor loaned more than $5,000 to himself with city money |

February 10, 2012

"I welcome this opportunity to present the facts"

The Birmingham News reports: U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus said Thursday night that he is cooperating with an investigation into his financial dealings by the Office of Congressional Ethics.

The office, Bachus said in a prepared statement, "has requested information and I welcome this opportunity to present the facts and set the record straight."

Bachus, R-Vestavia Hills, is one of several members of Congress recently accused of using nonpublic information gained through their official duties on Capitol Hill to guide their personal investments, often at a profit.

The allegations in a recent book, "Throw Them All Out," and a corresponding "60 Minutes" report in November prompted quick work on legislation that more expressly bans insider trading by members of Congress and strengthens the rules for disclosing their personal financial information. -- Read the whole story --> Alabama Congressman Spencer Bachus says he welcomes ethics investigation |

January 27, 2012

Former judge barred for life from the bench

The Montgomery Advertiser reports: Former Montgomery County family court Judge Patricia Warner and the Judicial Inquiry Commission filed an agreement Friday that forbids Warner from ever serving as a judge in Alabama again.

Warner has lived in North Dakota since abruptly retiring from the bench last June, a few days before the state Judicial Inquiry Commission brought an ethics complaint against her.

Under the terms of the agreement, the Alabama Court of Judiciary found that Warner created "the appearance of impropriety" by not recusing herself in a timely manner from a custody case. -- Read the whole story --> Patricia Warner banned from serving as Alabama judge | The Montgomery Advertiser |

January 25, 2012

Georgia: "New ethics bills could make lawmakers' extramarital affairs with lobbyists even more difficult"

Fresh Loaf (Atlanta) reports with the tantalizing headline above: A diverse coalition of ethics advocates are doing cartwheels over new legislation expected to be soon introduced by state Rep. Tommy Smith, R-Alma, that would clamp down on lobbyist gifts, tighten up disclosure requirements, and increase the amount of time a former public official must wait before registering as a lobbyist. According to the Georgia Alliance for Ethics Reform, which includes Common Cause of Georgia, the Georgia Tea Party, Georgia Watch, and the League of Women Voters, the bill would:

* Create a $100 cap on lobbyist expenditures for legislators (there is currently no limit), with an exception of a $500 limit for travel and related expenses associated with speaking engagements and conferences, and an exception allowed for expenses associated with events for which all members of the General Assembly are invited. ...

* Create PAC contribution and expense disclosure requirements, limit contributions to PACs to $1,000, and limit PAC-to-PAC and campaign to campaign transfers to $10,000 per election cycle. There are currently no limits on contributions to PACs, no aggregate limits on PAC to PAC and campaign to campaign transfers and no disclosure requirements for PACs. -- Read the whole story and get a link to the bill -->New ethics bills could make lawmakers' extramarital affairs with lobbyists even more difficult | Atlanta News & Opinion Blog | Fresh Loaf | Creative Loafing Atlanta

Interesting defense to an ethics complaint

The Selma Times-Journal reports: A letter of complaint filed by the State of Alabama Ethics Commission against Valley Grande councilwoman Donna Downs inquiring about a monetary donation to Dallas County High School has been found to have no merit.

During a Valley Grande City Council meeting earlier this month, Downs, who is also employed as a bookkeeper for the high school, presented the letter to the council stating the commission was to perform a preliminary inquiry concerning a $5,000 donation the council approved to give. The commission said the act was a violation.

Valley Grande Mayor Tom Lee said Downs informed him of the letter of complaint in December. Lee believes Downs, was wrongfully accused.

"She evidently was singled out, I'm not sure why, for an ethics violation that actually applies to at least one other member of the council and possibly another," Lee said. -- Read the whole story (with a much better defense) --> Ethics charge tossed | The Selma Times?Journal

December 7, 2011

Alabama's ethics law and gifts to teachers (part 2)

The Mobile Press Register reports: Students can give their teachers gift cards this holiday season, so long as it is to buy items for the benefit of the class, according to an opinion just rendered by the Alabama Ethics Commission. -- Read the whole story -->Gift cards OK for teachers, if they're for the classroom, Ethics Commission rules |

The Ethics Commission opinion can be viewed on the Ethics Commission's website.

December 6, 2011

Ethics complaint alleges dubious doctorate degrees (which sounds like a Perry Mason title)

The Mobile Press-Register reports: A Grand Bay woman has filed ethics complaints against the top 2 administrators at Bishop State Community College concerning their doctoral degrees from unaccredited institutions.

Hugh Evans, the general counsel of the Alabama Ethics Commission, said state laws prohibits him from discussing complaints unless the commission decides to take action.

Angela Goudreault provided copies of her two complaints to the Press-Register. She also provided a letter from Evans stating that the commission would assign an investigator to the case. ...

Goudreault's complaints accuse Lowe and McCane of using dubious doctorates to collect $2,000 annual income supplements for "duly accredited doctoral degrees." -- Read the whole article --> Grand Bay woman files ethics complaint over doctoral degrees against Bishop State officials |

November 26, 2011

Personal use of government cell phone leads to suspension and ethics complaint

The Montgomery Advertiser reports: An audit of the Alabama Public Service Commission has recommended the body adopt policies to prevent employees from using cellphones for personal use.

The audit follows an incident this fall when a prominent employee was suspended for using a state-issued cellphone to run a private business. ...

In September, the commission voted to suspend Janice Hamilton, director of the energy division, for a period of six weeks after Hamilton admitted to conducting personal business on state time using a state-issued cellphone. Hamilton paid back about $938 in overtime. ...

The case has been referred to the Alabama Ethics Commission. -- Read the whole story --> Audit of Public Service Commission recommends cellphone use policies | The Montgomery Advertiser |

November 21, 2011

Alabama's ethics law and gifts to teachers

The Mobile Press-Register reports: This Christmas, students won't be able to give their public school teachers gift certificates or anything deemed valuable without breaking Alabama's new ethics law.

They can still bake cookies, or bring in something consumable such as hand lotion or a candle, a potted plant or a coffee cup, said Jim Sumner, director of the Alabama Ethics Commission, which has been asked to clarify the law as it relates to holiday gifts.

But cash or anything that a teacher could turn around and resell is out of the question, Sumner said, as are holiday turkeys and ham. -- Read the whole article --> Ethics law: No gift certificates, anything of value for teachers this Christmas |

November 6, 2011

Exemption requests abound under new Ethics Law

The Birmingham News reports: The Alabama Ethics Commis­sion has received nearly 200 requests to certify din­ners, trips and conferences as allowable exemptions since Alabama 10 months ago adopted a new ethics law, which caps how much a lobbyist can spend on a public official.

The events range from associations paying for pol­iticians' hotel rooms during their summer conferences to sponsors picking up meals for the General Fund budget committee.

The new ethics law caps what a lobbyist can spend on a legislator's meal to $25 per meal, with a limit of $150 in a calendar year. It rules out the free tickets, golf outings, social trips and one-on-one dinners lobbyists used to treat legis­lators to. But the new law also has exemptions to allow work sessions, economic devel­opment functions, educa­tional events and recep­tions and dinners that are considered widely attended events.

Politicians and lobbyists do not have to get Ethics Commission approval be­fore sponsoring events, but the requests that have been made offer a glimpse at the wining and dining that still is going on in Montgomery. -- Read the whole article --> Alabama's new ethics law fails to stop exemption requests from lobbyists and public officials |

November 5, 2011

GOP complains about use of official letterhead

The Mobile Press-Register reports: The head of the Alabama Republican Party today blasted state Rep. Napoleon Bracy Jr., D-Prichard, for using his official letterhead to advocate leniency for a brother-in-law convicted of a federal drug offense.

"Representative Bracy owes his constituents an apology for abusing their trust in this way," GOP Chairman Bill Armistead said in a prepared statement. "I am certain they did not vote for him in order for him to use his authority to protect convicted criminals."

A party spokeswoman said Bracy is free to advocate for criminal defendants as a private citizen but that using his official stationary is inappropriate.

Bracy said his actions did not violate any ethics law or rule. He said he focused on the importance of defendant Lorenzo Evans Jr. to his children and said he wrote the letter after his niece asked him to in January. -- Read the whole story --> Alabama GOP chairman blasts state Rep. Napoleon Bracy for seeking lenient sentence for relative |

November 4, 2011

"Alien law vs. ethics"

The Decatur Daily reports:The sanctity of communications between lawyer and client, historically highly protected, could become a victim of the state?s recently passed illegal-immigration law.

In an email distributed Monday to members of the Morgan County Bar Association, lawyers were advised that they should "cautiously err on the side of disclosure" if asked by investigators to divulge information provided by clients who are undocumented immigrants.

The dilemma for lawyers comes from Sections 5 and 6 of the law, which make it a crime for an "officer of the court" to adopt a practice "that limits or restricts the enforcement of federal immigration laws by limiting communication" with immigration officials. -- Read the whole story --> Alien law vs. ethics -

Humtsville councilman committed "minor violation" of Ethics Law

The Huntsville Times reports: The Alabama Ethics Commission has determined that Huntsville City Councilman Richard Showers committed a "minor violation" when he allowed his daughter to gas up at a government fuel terminal on the day after the April 27 tornadoes.

Commission General Counsel Hugh Evans said the five-member ethics panel granted Showers' request to resolve the case administratively.

State law allows for an administrative resolution to minor ethics violations involving less than $250, as long as the public official admits guilt and makes full restitution.

If the state attorney general's office consents, Evans said, Showers would be fined a maximum of $1,000 with no possibility of criminal prosecution. -- Read the whole story --> Ethics commission says Huntsville City Councilman Richard Showers' use of fuel terminal a "minor violation" |

Anniston councilman arrested for violation of council-manager law

The Anniston Star reports: In the wake of City Councilman John Spain's arrest Wednesday for allegedly violating the law that establishes rules for Anniston's government, the city is still operating. ...

The arrest didn't affect the daily operations of the city, and if Spain is convicted it still won't because the council members are not involved in the daily administration of the city, said Anniston City Manager Don Hoyt. That's because Anniston, like more than 3,500 other U.S. cities, follows the council-manager form of government, a form that experts say is designed to keep politics from out of municipal services. ...

Spain was charged Wednesday with ordering a police officer in January to provide him a police incident report. The first page, giving an approximate address, date and time and what the call was about, is public record. However, police said, Spain ordered he be given the entire report, which contains more details of the investigation. -- Read the whole story --> Anniston Star - Powers separated in council manager municipal government