By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
Former Acting Finance Director Bill Newton intends to open a consulting business. So, he asked the Alabama Ethics Commission to grant him permission to use his years in government service as leverage to provide professional services/advice, request information from public officials/employees, to aid his potential clients, all the while ignoring that there is a two-year ban on such activities.
Newton’s attorney Joel Dillard said to the commissioners, “I believe there’s no real disagreement between the commission staff and between Mr. Newton, on what the answers to all four questions are; which is ‘no.’ The only real problem is the final one, number 4.”
The “no” is that Newton’s exception would not violate the revolving door act by serving as a consultant.
Dillard implies the Commission’s staff agrees that Newton can consult for clients with business before the State, without violating Section 36-25-13 (a) which prohibits a public official to serve for a fee as a lobbyist, or otherwise represent clients or (c) which prohibits a former public employee from obtaining work related to his former office or pursuant to an arrangement, such as a consulting agreement for two years.
This case looks to test the meaning, spirit, and limits of the two-year revolving door prohibition.
What does Newton want?
Dillard claims the Commission’s staff believes Newton’s consulting plan doesn’t cross the line because he is not lobbying.
What does’s Dillard who unsuccessfully represented former Speaker Mike Hubbard. Hubbard was convicted on 12 felony violations of the State’s Ethics Laws think the laws mean?
Here are the questions that Newton wants to be answered which Dillard says the Commission professional staff has no problem.
1) “Would my work of providing the professional services of advice and consultation to my clients be considered as lobbying?”
Dillard says the Commission has agreed the answer is no; it would not violate the ethics code?
2) “Would my requesting information from public officials and public employees be considered lobbying?”
Again Dillard believes the Commission agrees the answer is no it would not violate the ethics code?
3) “Would I violate Code Section 36-25-13(a) and (c) if I implemented my plan within a period of two years after I left membership and employment?”
Here, Dillard suggests that Newton would not violate the revolving door act, even thought he would be starting his consulting venture before his two-year restriction expires.
Dillard says he, Newton and the Commission are in agreement that Newton’s consulting would run afoul of Code Section 36-25-13(a) and (c).
Dillard says the fourth question is still in doubt which reads:
4) “Would I violate Code Section 36-25-13(f) if, under my plan and within the two-year period after termination from office or employment, I provided the professional services of advice and consultation to my clients in connection with a non-judicial matter?”
The Commission voted on Wednesday to hear the matter at its August meeting.
This is one to watch because if Newton is allowed to redefine the ethics code to fit his consulting plan, then it opens a gaping hole for others to walk through as well.