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Bill Britt

Opinion | Terminal corruption and its accomplices

Bill Britt

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There is at present a deliberate, brazen unraveling of the Republican’s signature 2010 legislation on ethics. Bastardization of the laws are not only happening at the so-called Alabama Ethics and Reform and Clarification Commission, but it’s also taking place at the state’s Ethics Commission where a group of appointed individuals are interpreting ethics and campaign finance statutes in a way never intended by the Legislature.

But perhaps this shouldn’t surprise anyone who understands the true state of politics in Alabama. What is shocking is that so many good people are saying nothing about what is happening at these commission meetings.

At its most recent hearing, the Ethics Commission showed its willingness to place cronyism over the rule of law when in a 3-0 vote (with two abstentions), the Commission voted to give itself the authority to reduce the number of offenses levied against candidates and political action committees (PACs) that violate campaign finance reporting rules, according to a report by APR‘s Josh Moon.

Ethics Commission gives itself more power to reduce penalties for campaign law violators

Routinely, the commission has exercised its power to reduce or dismiss civil penalties for campaign finance violations, but now it has taken an extraordinary step to reserve power to itself in determining what may rise to the level of a criminal offense.

Commission chairman Jerry Fielding noted that no-one from the attorney general’s office or the district attorney’s association had voiced any concerns about changes the commission was making to the law, but is that really the case or is there something more sinister afoot?

Appointed Attorney General Steve Marshall currently has an ethics complaint pending before the commission. Marshall, during the Republican primary, took $735,000 in contributions from the Republican Attorneys General Association, in what is widely believed to be an illegal campaign contribution. However, the commission decided not to weigh-in on Marshall’s case until after the fall elections. Has Marshall purposefully withheld any critical comments about the commission’s ruling to curry favor or not anger the commission that might soon charge him with violating campaign finances laws? Marshall, for all his aw-shucks demeanor, is a calculating politician who will sacrifice anything that stands in the way of him remaining attorney general – a job he claims God gave him. Perhaps Marshall needs reminding that his position was given to him by disgraced Gov. Robert Bentley who by his actions has proven he has little in common with the Almighty.

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Marshall, along with Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Albritton, are chairing the Alabama Ethics and Reform and Clarification Commission, which was created to give the Legislature cover for when they abolish the ethics laws the Republicans passed in 2010. After eight years, which brought about numerous indictments and scandals, the Republican leadership has determined that the rules are just too rigid. So, under the guise of clarification, they will gut the laws during the upcoming legislative session.

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Several individuals close to the process and one person who sits on the commission express grave concerns and even disgust at how blatantly the new rules will undercut the laws championed in 2010. As one individual said, “All is lost.” Far from hyperbole, these individuals sincerely believe that the commission will present a reform package that will not just undermine current laws but will open broad avenues for legal public corruption within the state.

Often the words ethics and morals are used synonymously, but they are quite different. Ethics is a set of rules that govern conduct in the workplace, an organization or government. Morals, on the other hand, are personal beliefs of right and wrong which are part of an individual’s character.

Many of our elected officials and others who make their living from politics place personal gain over any other guiding principle. Perhaps therein lies the problem.

Strong ethics laws enacted by corrupt individuals will not last long, and so after eight years, we see that many in Republican leadership never intended to live by the rules they championed when they took office.

As for the Ethics Commission, it is terminally corrupt without even a pretense of acting ethically.

The state is in dire need of those who realize that those who do not fight corruption are in fact accomplices.

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