The Alabama state legislature last week approved a package of ethics bills that supporters say will change state politics for the better amid the unfolding bingo legislation bribery scandal. But as the Birmingham News reports there’s “disagreement on whether those changes are giant leaps or small steps.”
The legislation bans transfers between political action committees and puts some restrictions on what lobbyists can spend on public officials. But there’s no limit on what lobbyists can spend on transportation, hospitality, meals and lodging expenses for lawmakers and their spouses attending some sort of “educational function” that is sponsored by a lobbyist, according to the newspaper.
There’s also no limit on what a lobbyist (or principal of a company lobbying on an issue) could spend on a “widely attended event,” like a dinner or reception where more than 12 people “with a diversity of views or interests” were expected, the newspaper said.
“You could drive five Mack Trucks through the holes in that bill,” Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham told the newspaper. “It’s not going to change one thing.”
But Gov. Bob Riley (R) Riley, who planned to sign the bill, said Alabama has moved “light years” ahead. “Does this mean there is no need for more reforms? Absolutely not. But there is no denying this package of seven bills is a giant leap forward for Alabama,” Riley said, according to the newspaper.
Meanwhile, the federal trial in the massive corruption case in the state is scheduled for April. Eleven individuals — including Alabama state legislators, lobbyists and businessmen — were charged in October for their alleged roles in a conspiracy to influence pro-gambling state legislation. One lobbyist pleaded guilty this month, admitting he was involved with bribe payments to three of the charged current and former legislators.