By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter
Despite pleas from its executive director and legal counsel, the Ethics Commission on Wednesday elected to table a decision on an opinion that defined some economic development site consultants as lobbyists.
The non-decision allows the five-person Commission to avoid making a public decision on the matter – instead shuffling it off with hopes that the state Legislature will correct it through legislation – but it will do little to ease confusion about the matter, executive director Tom Albritton said.
Albritton, Ethics Commission legal counsel Hugh Evans and Matt Hart, chief of special prosecutions in the Attorney General’s office, argued vehemently with members of the Commission and with Greg Canfield, Alabama’s Secretary of Commerce to approve an opinion that states site consultants fall under Alabama’s lobbying law.
As such, the people who negotiate with the state on behalf of large companies considering locating to Alabama would be required to file regular income disclosure forms and go through training to ensure they know the state’s ethics laws. The Ethics Commission staff argued that they should be subjected to those laws because many of the site consultants behave in very similar ways to lobbyists, including attempting to influence lawmakers’ opinions through various means.
Canfield and Montgomery attorney Tommy Gallion, who represents Montgomery County, argued that the disclosures required under the law could reveal sensitive information during negotiations and prevent Alabama from landing a number of deals. Essentially: Do this and you’re hampering economic development.
“It simply doesn’t do that,” Albritton argued. “Those privacy protections can still be in there.”
Hart put it more bluntly: “There’s clarity in the law (in regards to site consultants being lobbyists). It’s just that some people don’t like that clarity.”
Commissioner Butch Ellis and Charles Price led the charge to table the decision until after the next legislative session in April. Of course, the Legislature could ultimately not take up the matter at all or fail to produce a final bill addressing it.
Until that time, Albritton said site consultants will be left in limbo, because by failing to vote on the matter, the commission leaves in place the legal opinion offered by Albritton and Evans.