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Opinion | Republicans playing by different rules when it comes to state ethics laws

The law is simple: Candidates running for public office in Alabama must file a statement of economic interests when they qualify, and then must file an annual SEI by the yearly deadline.

That’s not hard, right?

File an SEI when you qualify. File again at the next year’s deadline.

Simple.

But then, following ethics laws is like Kryptonite to an Alabama politician. And so, quite a few candidates — some big name Republicans and a couple of Democrats — didn’t file on time.

The consequences for this, according to the laws on the books, are also fairly simple and easy to read: You get booted off the ballot.

Don’t take my word for it, though. Here, read the law for yourself: “… if a candidate does not submit a statement of economic interests or when applicable, an amended statement of economic interests in accordance with the requirements of this chapter, the name of the person shall not appear on the ballot and the candidate shall be deemed not qualified as a candidate in that election.”

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For future reference, that’s Section 36-25-15(c) of the Code of Alabama.

Would you care to guess what’s happening with these candidates who quite clearly violated this law?

Well, the two Democrats were determined by the Ethics Commission to have violated the law, so they were booted. Judicial candidate Pamela Cousins appealed that decision to a Montgomery Circuit Court, and a judge ruled in her favor, saying she had complied with the law by filing her paperwork with the Democratic Party but the SEI didn’t make it to the Ethics Commission on time.

For the Republicans, though, the story has been much different.

Sure, they violated the same laws in the same ways and had the same excuses as the Democrats. But the Republicans — four of them so far — haven’t been kicked off the ballot. And state lawmakers and party officials are on record saying those Republican candidates won’t be booted.  

Apparently, when there is an R beside your name on the ballot, the laws become a bit more ambiguous.

Republican Secretary of State John Merrill — the man at least partly responsible for enforcing the laws surrounding ballot access — found not only some exceptions for his party mates but also a makeshift fine: $5 per day.

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I’ve read through the filing requirements, the Code of Alabama and the guidance documents presented on the Ethics Commission website, and I can’t find any mention of a $5 fine.

I do see where the Ethics Commission can impose a $10 fine per day on elected officials who miss the SEI filing deadlines. But that fine applies only to sitting officeholders.

The penalty for candidates missing the deadline is removal from the ballot. That simple.

As such, according to reporting from APR’s Brandon Moseley, Republican House District 30 candidate Brandon Craig Lipscomb, PSC commissioner Jeremy Oden, Montgomery state Rep. Dimitri Polizos and Guntersville state Sen. Clay Scofield should be removed.

Just as the Democrats were.

They all missed the deadlines. They all violated the laws. They’re all candidates for public office.

And there’s a reason why that last part matters, why the laws are different for sitting lawmakers than for an incumbent candidate for office. Because during campaigns is when money can flow the easiest. It’s when debts and personal financial obligations and business dealings and partnerships can be exploited easiest.

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That’s why the laws of this state place such an importance on these SEI filings — because they’re that important to the integrity of our election process.

But who am I kidding?

There’s no integrity left.

 

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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