By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
It is almost laughable and tragically so to use the word “ethics” when referring to the commission charged with overseeing the State’s ethics laws. In a recent opinion concerning Rep. Randy Davis (R-Daphne), the ethics commission approved Davis’ request to take a job from a principal with business before the State. This is not the first time this so-called “ethics” commission has issued an opinion that would allow lawmakers to receive “a thing of value” from a principal. The last time it was forced to reverse itself under pressure from the State’s Attorney General and District Attorneys.
Recently Davis, an educator by training and profession, asked if he would be in violation of the ethics law if he accepted a position with Arc Terminals Holdings, which according to the ethics commission, “is a registered principal with the State.”
Arc Terminals Holdings, LLC, provides bulk storage, terminaling, and transloading services. Arc has five facilities in Mobile County that are in direct proximity to the port and rail facilities, as well as other facilities in other states, according to the commission.
Woods’ recent bio lists him as, “on the faculty of the University of Mobile as an Assistant Professor of Music.” Arc wants to hire Davis as the company’s information officers.
In its opinion, the commission states, “A member of the Alabama Legislature may accept employment with an entity doing business in his district and elsewhere, as long as the offer is made based on reasons unrelated to his public service as a public official; he may not, however, use his position as a member of the Legislature to benefit himself or his employer.”
The commission, in a unanimous opinion, concluded it was perfectly fine for Davis to receive a thing of value from a principal, in this case, a paycheck, as long as he promised not to use his position in the legislature to help his employer.
What was the commission’s guarantee that Davis would not use his position as a member of the Legislature to benefit himself or his employer? He said so, “And, hey, if you don’t believe me just ask my future employer.”
It is outrageously and abundantly evident that this ethics commission is little more than a clearing house for legislative lobbying, and not an agent of the law.
Succinctly put, the commission rubber stamps law breaking under the guise of these dishonest, diluted and dangerous opinions.
State law is unambiguous: a lawmaker may not receive a thing of value from a lobbyist or principal.
This was recently reaffirmed when the ethics commission was forced to issue a new opinion concerning Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham). The commission first ruled it was okay for her to lobby but after the commission was challenged by the State’s Attorney General and the District Attorneys they changed their mind and said on second thought you can’t.
On August 5, 2015, the commission issued opinion No. 2015-14, which, according to Attorney General Luther Strange and the State’s DAs, “practically permits an interest group (HRC Alabama) to pay a legislator (Rep. Patricia Todd) to lobby the legislature and State and local governments, we find the Ethics Commission’s legal analysis to be fatally flawed.”
Only after the challenge did the commission clarify its opinion with another flawed opinion, written more to cover the commission’s first mistakes, than adhere to the letter of the law. The refusal of the commission to clearly address the fatally flawed Todd opinion has led to this latest opinion given to Davis.
Last year, Senators Gerald Dial (R-Lineville) and Dick Brewbaker (R-Montgomery) questioned opinions that seem designed to give a pass to lawmakers. Dial who helped write the State’s first ethics laws said it was never the intention of the laws to allow any lawmaker to work for a group and lobby the legislature.
Addressing similar opinions in September of last year, Brewbaker said, “The Ethics Commission has got to change their focus. I have talked to people that understand the ethics law and none of them think that the ethics law permits what the Ethics Commission is permitting.”
Dial and Brewbaker warned then that if the commission continued to issue such opinions, the legislature would need to act to abolish or find another solution to the problems at the commission.
The questions now before lawmakers is, did you really mean what you said when you passed these ethics laws? Are you going to sit idly by and watch the commission give special “get out of jail free” passes to fellow legislators, or will you finally act?
How many times must the Attorney General and the District Attorneys force the commission to uphold the law? How many times will the commission be allowed to say, “Oops, we made a mistake?” It is time for serious lawmakers to act with swift and decisive actions.
Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard will stand trial in May on 23 felony violations of the ethics laws. Gov. Robert Bentley is under investigation by the Ethics Commission and Federal authorities. It may be time to abolish the Ethic Commission, because it is apparent they do not understand or are unwilling to enforces the State’s ethics laws.
At this hour our state is awash in a sea of corruption and the ethics commission continues to add to the problem by refusing to do its job.