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Opinion | The Alabama House: Making Illegal Lobbying Legal Again

The Alabama Statehouse in Montgomery, Alabama.

By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter

There they go again.

Your Alabama Legislature, playing with the ethics laws. Loosening them. Giving themselves a little more wiggle room, because dammit, earning an easy $45,000-plus for putting in a three-day work week three months out of the year can really grind on a man, I reckon.

Tuesday afternoon’s session of smash and grab by House members focused on the two most magical words in all of Alabama governance: economic development.

Simply saying those words makes felonies disappear.

It doesn’t matter what shadiness is proposed by Alabama legislators, so long as the magical words “economic development” are muttered somewhere within that proposal, all is well. All is justified.

On Tuesday, in the name of economic development, we transformed lobbyists into not lobbyists.

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Just, poof.

One minute these men and women who go to public officials and ask for things, and wine and dine those public officials in order to get those things, and stroll the State House hallways making their deals — all of the things that have been traditionally defined as lobbying — they were lobbyists. And therefore required to register as such, and wear special badges that designate them as lobbyists.

And then the next minute, those same folks, who are still doing all of those things, were no longer lobbyists.

No one was quite sure just what they were — Rep. Chris England, searching for a proper term came up with “economic developists,” which is as fitting as anything.

One thing is for sure: Something stinks at the State House.

Let me clarify: Something stinks more than usual at the State House.

Just a week ago, a bill written by the Alabama Attorney General’s Office and given the blessing of the Ethics Commission (along with the blessings of the guys who fight white collar crime for a living in this state), was placed on hold. The sweeping legislation would have locked down the ethics laws.

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But it went to a panel to be “studied.”

And then there’s this new bill, carried by Rep. Ken Johnson, and from origins unknown. When he was questioned about it on Tuesday, Johnson stammered more than a teenager with weed in his pocket.

The best he could do was explain that Alabama requires economic developers, who are defined as people working full time on economic development or part time and given “pre-certification” by the Ethics Commission, to register as lobbyists. And that registration requirement, according to Johnson, is costing Alabama jobs because companies aren’t relocating here because of it.

If that seems far-fetched, well, hold on. It gets worse.  

Johnson was asked to name a company that didn’t come here because of this requirement — which has been in place for eight years.

He couldn’t name one. Not even a generic one.

He then back-tracked and insisted that it could be used against Alabama in recruiting a company. He was asked to name one.

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He couldn’t name one.

And as England so properly pointed out, “if a company we’re recruiting held our ethics against us, is that a company we really want here?”

Of course not.

But there are bigger questions about this bill.

Such as why it’s being pushed so hard by so many of the power players in Alabama state government, from the governor’s office to the leadership in both houses? Why has every other ethics bill been relegated to a task force for study, but this bill, which addresses a manufactured problem that has apparently not cost Alabama the recruitment of a single business, being fast-tracked?

I’m not sure. But man, if you were potentially facing charges of illegal lobbying activities, this sure would be a sweet “get out of jail free” card.  

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.



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