The Alabama Ethics Commission is failing us

August 1, 2017

By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter

The Alabama Ethics Commission has become a joke.

Let’s all stop pretending that this five-man panel, along with its Executive Director and legal counsel, are any sort of a defense against corrupt public servants or a means to punish public corruption.

They’re not.

Not consistently.

And not without an air of corruption and good-ol’-boy backroom dealing surrounding nearly everything they do.

Need examples?

Well, first off, read Bill and Susan Britt’s interview with outgoing commissioner Stewart Tankersley. Secondly, consider all of the problems this bunch has created when a simple, straightforward interpretation of law was all anyone expected.

Need some examples? Let’s go.

On Monday, Randy Brinson openly criticized the Commission for pushing its scheduled meeting from August 2 to August 16. That new date placed the meeting one day after the Republican primary in the special-called Senate election.

That’s a big deal, because the Commission was expected to take up a complaint filed by Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill against appointed Sen. Luther Strange, who is running for the position. Merrill, as he told APR in May, believes Strange has violated two campaign finance laws – the same two violated by Gov. Robert Bentley, who ended up pleading guilty and resigning from office – and he wants the Commission to review.

And you’d think that if the guy who is in charge of monitoring campaign finance issues – the same guy who leveled similar charges against a Governor who resigned over those charges – filed allegations against Strange, the Ethics Commission, if only in the interest of sparing the state another national embarrassment, would move quickly to investigate his allegations.

But not our Ethics Commission.

It punted.

Actually, I take that back. Wrong football analogy, because that one implies that the Commission sent the problem to another entity that might solve it.

Allow me to restate: The Ethics Commission took a knee.

So, as Brinson said Monday, it’s likely – and in this State, that means probable – that we could have a runoff in which one of the candidates is deemed by the Ethics Commission to be a possible felon.

Swell.

But that’s par for this Commission’s course.

Let’s not forget the utter debacle over the smear campaign against Jefferson County superintendent Craig Pouncey – a smear campaign the Commission foolishly allowed itself to be sucked into.

Let’s also not forget the “Friends of McCalla” farce, which only allowed the commissioners to continue to be lobbied.

Let’s also not forget that time Commissioner Charles Price – a member of the Montgomery Chamber of Commerce’s board and its upcoming president – voted on an action concerning the city’s funding of the Chamber, and when called on it Price said that the Ethics Commission isn’t beholden to the ethics laws it enforces. (No, for real, that’s true.)

Let’s also not forget the numerous times the Commission issued cover-their-butts opinions on behalf of lawmakers who were only looking to use their offices for personal gain.

Let’s also not forget the numerous examples of shady lobbying and questionable relationships between commissioners and subjects – relationships that have served to forever taint the Commission.

The idea of the Alabama Ethics Commission is a good one – a public body that serves as an ethics watchdog for the people of the state. The execution of that idea – a body that has been politicized and compromised to the point that no one believes in the purity of its opinions or actions – has fallen well short of that ideal.

And that’s no good to any of us.

 

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