Friday, February 27, 2009

Bobcast: Train the ethics watchdog

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

Too often, Alabama’s rules governing officeholder conduct resemble a Caribbean island bank where U.S. companies park their money away from the prying eyes of the feds.

State campaign finance laws are so dodgy that politicians can legally conceal tons of tainted dollars from well-heeled contributors wishing to remain in the shadows.

Of course, once in office politicians find the going just as smooth. Lobbyists can spend up to $250 a day on an elected official before having to report it. Over a full year that comes to more than $90,000 a legislator could legally take from his good friends the Allied Widgetmakers Association and never have to report a dime.

That sum, while impressive, is less than recently convicted state Rep. Sue Schmitz earned in a sham job strung together through the two-year college system and her fellow lawmakers. The Democrat from north Alabama earned a $177,000 salary for doing essentially nothing, nothing but being a state representative with influence over how much money the two-year system gets.

Several lawmakers are trying to clean up this mess. Bills would cut down on the under-the-table lobbying giveaways, increase reporting requirements and hand more power the state’s ethics watchdogs. Attempts like this have been tried in the past only to fail.

We’ll be watching to see how these measures proceed. So should the rest of the state.