By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
A Senate joint resolution creating The Code of Ethics Reform and Clarification Commission sponsored by Republican Senators Arthur Orr, President Pro Tem. Del Marsh and Majority Leader Greg Reed has been submitted to the Rules Committee and could be making it’s way through the Senate soon.
Creating a commission to reform and clarify current ethics laws sounds like a reasonable undertaking until it’s understood that the underlying premise is to weaken much of existing laws.
Over 18 months ago current law was tested and defined in a Lee County courthouse where Circuit Court Judge Jacob Walker III and 12 jurors found former Republican Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard guilty of 12 felony counts of violating the state’s ethics statutes.
The commission as envisioned by the resolutions’ sponsors can be summarized by the now infamous email from Hubbard to former Gov. Bob Riley in which Hubbard wrote, “Those ethics laws, what were we thinking?”
While these three senators can be granted the benefit of the doubt — that they are not acting for personal interests — the motivation of those pressing for this so-called reform and clarification by committee should be seriously questioned.
Simply put, the vast majority of Montgomery’s power elites would like to see Hubbard be the last man convicted under the current law. In fact, many are hoping the Court of Criminal Appeals will overturn Hubbard’s convictions on soliciting a thing of value from a principal.
A number of high-net-worth individuals took the stand in Lee County as unindicted co-conspirators in Hubbard’s case. Those individuals and business interest don’t want to face such humiliation the next time they purchase a lawmaker as was the judgment of the court in Hubbard’s trial.
Since Hubbard’s conviction, a select group of lawyers has worked to specifically undermine the section of code that defines who a principal is.
There are also legislators especially attorney-lawmakers who want to solicit and represent “clients” with business before the legislature. Even non-lawyers like Hubbard want “business” and “economic development” opportunities to make a little money on the side advising companies who need some help from the government.
Let’s put aside the notion of public service or the idea that any committee appointed to reform and clarify the state’s ethics code will be any more than a group of men and women slavishly beholden to special interests.
Who would comprise this commission, according to the resolution?
The Legal Advisor to the Governor. That would be Bryan Taylor who, with direction from Hubbard, Riley and BCA chieftain Billy Canary, carved-out the ethics reforms enacted in 2010 that appeared to favor those men specifically.
The Attorney General or Chief Deputy Attorney General, who shall serve as co-chair. Lawmaker’s decided to offer current Attorney General Steve Marshall the co-chair position not because he knows ethics law but to satisfy his ego so he would go along with the plan of a commission rather than legislation as prepared by his predecessor.
The Executive Director of the Ethics Commission would serve as co-chair. Heaven knows Director Tom Albritton has tried, but the Ethics Commission itself is weak and corrupt.
The resolution goes on the name other groups represented on the commission, even a representative from the Alabama Press Association.
As an aside the Alabama Political Reporter cannot be a full member of the press association because we do not mail a print product. Even though APR employs more political reporters than any other media outlet, has broken more public corruption articles in the last several years and was the only press outlet to doggedly pursue Hubbard’s crimes, we can only join the press association as associates, which is a category available to any Tom, Dick or Harriet.
A commission to reform and clarify state ethics laws is a terrible idea. It was a bad plan when Republican House Ethics Committee Chair Representative Mike Ball — an unrepentant Hubbard supporter — suggested it years ago.
This commission is a purely political move and not a serious attempt to “unambiguously articulated policy that clearly distinguishes between the private interests of public officers and public employees and the public duties of those officers and employees,” as the resolution states.
This is yet another attempt to water down existing law to curry favor with big mules and lobbyists while giving public officials loopholes to enrich themselves.
There was a bill prepared by former Attorney General Luther Strange, Chief Deputy Alice Martin and Special Prosecutions Chief Matt Hart.
That bill was signed-off on by Republican House and Senate leadership only to be ignored when disgraced former Gov. Robert Bentley played fast and loose with appointments.
Republican leadership has expressed a desire to have a controversy-free session. This resolution is not the way to keep the peace, it’s pure fantasy.