By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Director of the Alabama Ethics Commission, James L. Sumner sent a memo to Alabama Senate Pro Tem Dell Marsh, Alabama Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, and all registered lobbyists saying that Alabama lobbyists are still taking legislators to dinners in violation of Alabama’s strict new 2011 ethics law.
Director Sumner wrote, “We have heard from several sources recently that since the session started last week, there are some people and groups who either do not understand the new hospitality provision of the new Ethics Law or are intentionally disregarding those rules.”
“Specifically we are hearing that at the end of each day several lobbyists are attempting to gather groups of approximately eight (8) to go out for dinner.” “It appears what may be occurring is that groups are going out after every day and calling this a “work session.” We believe this is a subterfuge and is not something that we would precertify. If events that are precertified are carried out in this way then that precertification is null and void.”
Director Sumner acknowledges in the letter that “work session” is not defined in Alabama’s ethics law however the Alabama Ethics Commission has defined “work session” in their interpretation of the Alabama Ethics Law and under that definition a gathering of 8 legislators at a steakhouse with a lobbyist who pays for the dinners is not a work session. Director Sumner says that a lobbyist can take a group of 8 legislators out to dinner if he wants to but he has to report that and apply those dinners to the new annual limit set under the Alabama Ethics Law. Director Sumner finishes, “We do not want anyone to run afoul of the law, and have gone to great lengths to interpret and educate as to the new law.” “Please bear in mind that the intent of the special session was meaningful ethics reform, and doing away with “ethics as usual”.
Prior to the 2010 election it was entirely legal, and many claim it was expected, for a lobbyist to spend up to $200 a day per legislator wining and dining Alabama state legislators to influence them to introduce or pass legislation desired by the special interest that was hiring the lobbying firm. Similarly these tactics were used to influence legislators to kill legislation that the special interest did not favor. The Alabama Republican Party promised voters that they would end the potentially corrupting and unethical practices that were then allowed by Alabama’s weak ethics laws. For several years the Alabama Democratic Party majority promised many of these same reforms. The ethics bills would be introduced in the House to much fanfare and then the ethics bills would die in some committee in the then Democrat Controlled Senate. Following the election of Governor Robert Bentley (R) and the new Republican majorities of both houses in 2010, the new Governor called a special session of the Alabama Legislature where a series of new stronger ethics laws were passed into law, including the strict limits on how much lobbyists can spend on food for legislators.
The existence of the ethics memo was first reported by weldbham.com
To read the memo: