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Ethics Commission finds an exception for speaker’s chief of staff

Lustrous Wooden Cabinet with Ethics File Label in Dramatic LIght.

Retiring Republican Rep. Mark Tuggle of District 81 is in line for the position of Chief of Staff to Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon. An opinion from the Ethics Commission issued last week concluded that Tuggle’s duties as Chief of Staff would not violate the state’s revolving door provision which prohibits elected officials from lobbying their former office for two years.

Traditionally, a significant part of a Chief of Staff job is to promote the Speaker’s agenda which means lobbying for legislation that the Speaker’s office deems essential.

In its analysis, the commission states, “The “Revolving Door” provisions of Alabama’s Ethics Law, Ala. Code § 36-25-12(a) and (b), provides that no former elected public official can lobby or otherwise represent clients, including his or her employer, before the legislative body of which he or she is a former member for a period of two years after he or she leaves office.” The Commission found, “The Code makes no distinction between public and private employers in this context.”

According to the state’s personnel board, the Speaker is an employer, and his or her chief is an employee. However, in its unanimous opinion, the Commission found an exception to the stated ban within the law.

The Commission reasoned that the law didn’t, “prevent former elected public officials who wish to remain in state service from being able to do so, provided that in doing so they not use the opportunity to personally benefit themselves, their family, or any business with which they are associated.”

In its ruling, the Commission cites a prior opinion for Rep. Mike Hill, who was permitted to accept a position with the Alabama Banking Department where he represents the department before the state Legislature.

Tuggle was part of the Republican wave that swept into power in 2010. In his book, Storming the State House, former Speaker and convicted felon Mike Hubbard says Tuggle was recruited to run against then-Democrat incumbent Betty Carol Graham, who he claimed was, “the main lapdog,” for the Alabama Education Association. Tuggle defeated Graham and has served two terms in the House.

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According to his Legislative Bio, Tuggle, “has been a professional forester for more than 20 years and holds a Masters of Science in Management Degree from Faulkner University.”

The Ethics Commission held that the underlying intent of the statute meant for the “Revolving Door” provision to only apply to public sector employment, not government jobs.

Routinely, the Commission has issued opinions that carve out exceptions not found in the black letter of the law for select individuals. The Tuggle opinion is another example of an appointed board—not accountable to voters—finding an exception in statutes championed by Republican lawmakers in 2010.

Currently, an appointed committee not subject to the Open Meetings Act is rewriting the state’s Ethics Acts without even the most basic oversight.

The Commission concluded Tuggle, in his role as Chief of Staff, “may communicate with lobbyists or principals, meet with them, and perform administrative duties as a normal part of his duties as Chief of Staff, but what he cannot do as a former elected official is communicate with other members of the Legislature on behalf of any outside interest, including principals, for the purpose of promoting, opposing, or in any manner influencing or attempting to influence the introduction, defeat, or enactment of legislation or their legislative agenda before the Legislature.”

 

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Written By

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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