Governor unveils reform package

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 29, 2004

MONTGOMERY - Kicking off a week-long series of announcements on government accountability measures that will culminate with the State of the State Address on Feb. 3, Gov. Bob Riley announced Monday an ambitious package of ethics and accountability reforms he will be proposing to the Legislature.

"Alabama must become the state with the cleanest, most open and most accountable state government in our nation. The people of Alabama demand it, and they deserve it. They deserve a government they can trust and respect, and we will give it to them," Riley said on the steps of the State Capitol Monday.

"The message the people of Alabama have sent to Montgomery is unmistakable," Riley continued. "We must have more accountability. We must have more reforms. We must restore their trust. This is the people's agenda, and it is my agenda."

"This was the first day these proposals have been unveiled," said John Matson, the governor's deputy press secretary. "It will take a few days for the public and legislators to judge and receive them."

One of the accountability measures Riley announced today would abolish an exemption in current law that allows lobbyists to spend up to $250 per day entertaining public officials without reporting it.

"We will reduce the power of special interests by requiring full, pubic disclosure of how much lobbyists spend entertaining public officials and their staffs," Riley said.

Under current law, Riley said that "in a year's time that adds up to $91,000 - all without public disclosure. That's outrageous It breeds mistrust, and I urge the Legislature to join me in stopping it."

Riley also proposed a ban on financial transfers between political action committees. Alabama's current campaign finance laws allow unlimited transfers of money among PACs, thereby making it impossible to trace the true source of many contributions.

"Instead of continuing to keep these transfers hidden from public view, it's time we shine the light of a accountability on them," Riley said.

"It's very easy for this money to be lost," Matson added. "We and the public need to know where this money is coming from, so it can be traced to a source."

Another ethics reform Riley proposed Monday would require lobbyists who lobby the executive branch to register and file ethics reports. Now, only lobbyists who approach the Legislature have to file reports with the Ethics Commission.

"All lobbyists, whether they lobby the legislative branch or the executive branch, should be held to the same strict ethical standards" Riley said.

Matson said Riley doesn't wish to stop lobbyists, just to make them accountable.

"The governor wouldn't stop legislators having the ability to have lobbyists," Matson said. "The money would have to approved as a line-item, though, detailing its purpose."

In addition, Riley is backing legislation that would permanently ban pass-through pork. The proposal Riley announced today includes criminal penalties for agency directors who aid legislators on their pass-through pork projects.

"(Legislators) wouldn't be allowed to receive any money that didn't have a purpose," Matson said.

The executive order the governor signed banning pass-through pork eliminated more than $26 million in pass-though appropriations in the 2003 and 2004 budgets.

"Ending this process of secret spending will save tens of millions of dollars and help restore the public's faith in the budget process," Riley said.

Riley also discussed several steps he has already taken to make government more accountable to taxpayers.

The governor specifically mentioned clamping down on no-bid contracts, saying safeguards are now in place to ensure that state contracts are competitively awarded; his Executive Order banning pass-through pork; and his decision to voluntarily disclosure on the Internet a full listing of who in the governor's office travels on state aircraft, where they travel to and the purpose of the trip. That information, as well as disclosures of how the Governor's Contingency Fund is used, can be found online at

Riley will spend much of this week announcing other major accountability and reform measures he will advocate this year.

Matson said the governor does not have any plans to generate additional revenue through the government before "faith is restored in the people."