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July 15, 2011

Another source of income for legislators seems to be illegal now

The Montgomery Advertiser reports: The chairs of the state Legislature?s ethics committees sent a letter to their colleagues Thursday saying the acceptance of referral fees from lobbyists is ?unquestionably illegal? following the passage of an ethics reform package last December.

Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville and Rep. Mike Ball, R-Huntsville, said that ?while such practices may have gone on in the past,? the passage of Senate Bill 14 in last year?s special session ruled them out.

?The new Ethics Code makes it patently illegal for a public official or public employee to accept anything from a lobbyist ? or for a lobbyist to offer anything to a public official or public employee ? unless the item is expressly allowed by law,? the letter states. ?Referral fees are not allowed.?

Lobbyists pay referral fees to legislators who send potential clients to them. The practice has come up in the trial of nine people accused in a scheme to bribe legislators over gambling-related legislation. -- Read the whole story --> Legislature's ethics chairs say referral fees are 'unquestionably illegal' | The Montgomery Advertiser | montgomeryadvertiser.com

December 8, 2010

Alabama: the anti-stimulus bill?

The Montgomery Advertiser reports: A proposed ethics crackdown that would limit spending on public officials could have a huge impact on Montgomery restaurant owners, causing some to shutter their doors and costing the area hundreds of jobs, Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange said.

A special session to pass a package of ethics reform bills starts today, and one piece of legislation in that package would upend the current structure of what lobbyists can spend on gifts, including meals and entertainment for public officials.

The proposed bill would cap what public officials can accept from almost anyone, but particularly lobbyists, at $25 a day and $100 a year. Some, including Strange, said that could be bad news for Montgomery restaurants. -- Read the whole story --> Proposed ethics rules could hurt Montgomery-area eateries | montgomeryadvertiser.com | Montgomery Advertiser

October 23, 2010

Alabama: Sparks wants special session on ethics

The Tuscaloosa News reports: Democrat Ron Sparks said earlier in the week that he will call a special session on ethics. He said it will come after he calls a special session to expand, tax and regulate gambling. Sparks wants the first session to start the day after the inauguration in January. Read the whole story --> Candidates for governor propose ethics sessions | TuscaloosaNews.com

Alabama: Bentley proposes special session on ethics

The Birmingham News reports: Republican Robert Bentley said today that, if elected governor, he would call a special session of the Legislature to push for stronger state ethics laws. ...

In the special session, Bentley said he would propose new laws that would:

--Ban PAC-to-PAC transfers. The practice of transferring campaign contribution from one political action committee to another makes it difficult to determine the source of a candidate's money. As a member of the House of Representative the past seven years, Bentley has voted in favor of a proposal to do that.

--Seek to eliminate the ability of lobbyists to entertain legislators, or limiting it by capping what they are allowed to spend entertaining lawmakers, or requiring legislators to report every penny spent on them.

--Requiring candidates to report weekly all contributions given to them, preferably online for the public to see. -- Read the whole article --> Robert Bentley would push for special session on ethics law | al.com

May 13, 2008

Companies beginning to disclose lobbying expenses

The Washington Post reports: Ever wonder how much companies really spend to influence government through trade associations? Well, a few corporations are coming clean, or at least cleaner.

The Center for Political Accountability, a nonpartisan group that promotes corporate political disclosure, has been gradually persuading companies to disclose more about their political activities. As a result, a few mysteries have been solved.

In 2006, for example, Chevron, the oil company, paid the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Industry PAC BIPAC $250,000 each to educate voters. Such spending has traditionally been kept secret because laws do not require disclosure, even though it is an important element in the assault on Washington. Now, shareholder pressure has changed a few minds in corporate boardrooms.

Aetna, the insurance company, has disclosed that it paid trade associations $3.4 million in 2006, the latest year for which information is available. That included $950,000 to America s Health Insurance Plans, $925,000 to the Coalition for Affordable Quality Healthcare, $226,500 to the Business Roundtable and $100,000 to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In other words, a ton of dough. -- Jeffrey H. Birnbaum - Companies Start to Lift Veil on Political Spending - washingtonpost.com

December 23, 2005

Increasing scrutiny on "independent" policy groups

The New York Times reports: Susan Finston of the Institute for Policy Innovation, a conservative research group based in Texas, is just the sort of opinion maker coveted by the drug industry.

In an opinion article in The Financial Times on Oct. 25, she called for patent protection in poor countries for drugs and biotechnology products. In an article last month in the European edition of The Wall Street Journal, she called for efforts to block developing nations from violating patents on AIDS medicines and other drugs.

Both articles identified her as a "research associate" at the institute. Neither mentioned that, as recently as August, Ms. Finston was registered as a lobbyist for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the drug industry's trade group. Nor was there mention of her work this fall in creating the American Bioindustry Alliance, a group underwritten largely by drug companies.

The institute says Ms. Finston's ties to industry should not have prevented her from writing about those issues. Nor is there a conflict, it says, in the work of Merrill Matthews Jr., who writes for major newspapers advocating policies promoted by the insurance industry even though he is a registered lobbyist for a separate group backed by it. "Lobbying is not a four-letter word," said the institute's president, Tom Giovanetti.

But organizations like the institute, which bills itself as an independent, nonprofit research group committed to a "smaller, less intrusive government," are facing new and uncomfortable scrutiny over their links to special interest groups after the disclosure this week that the Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff had paid at least two outside writers for opinion articles promoting the work of his clients. -- On Opinion Page, a Lobby's Hand Is Often Unseen - New York Times

December 18, 2005

Texas: prosecutor mulls investigation of Ralph Reed

The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports: This month, three government watchdog groups called on an Austin prosecutor to investigate Reed, arguing that he violated a strict Texas law requiring lobbyists to register with the state. Travis County Attorney David Escamilla, a Democrat, said he will decide in the next few weeks whether to open a criminal investigation.

An inquiry would come at an inopportune time for Reed. The former head of the Christian Coalition and political strategist is a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in Georgia, his first run for office. He has already faced unwelcome questions about his work with Abramoff.

A campaign spokesman for Reed called the Texas complaint "partisan" and "specious."

"We were not retained to lobby Texas public officials. Texas law does not require registration by firms engaged in the work that we did," campaign manager Jared Thomas said in a prepared statement.

Reed has long made a distinction between lobbying and "grass-roots" campaigning. Since leaving the Christian Coalition in 1997 to open a political strategy firm in Georgia, Reed forged a reputation as a master of grass-roots organizing. Reed's firm has been hired to energize conservative Christians, who would then contact their elected officials on issues ranging from trade with China to shutting down casinos. -- Texas county attorney weighs Reed inquiry