Riley calls special session

Published 12:04 am Thursday, December 2, 2010

Gov. Bob Riley announced Wednesday he is calling a special session of the Alabama Legislature to address ethics reform beginning Dec. 8.

In doing so, he said he will give Alabama the most stringent ethics law in the country, if legislators approve the changes in the special session.

“This really is, I think, the toughest in the country,” Riley said of his proposed ethics reforms designed to fight public corruption.

Throughout his two terms in office, Riley has pushed for reforms to bring more accountability and transparency to state government. But each year, the Legislature failed to pass them.

Riley described the special session as “crucial because the momentum for tough reforms may not last” and by waiting, it would “squander this historic opportunity to end a broken and corrupting political system that gives the special interests too much power.”

“Delay does nothing but allow the special interests to continue with business as usual,” he said. “Delay gives (special interest groups) three more months to hide campaign contributions through PAC-to-PAC transfers. It gives them three more months to deploy their armies of lobbyists to try to influence legislators over drinks, dinner and rounds of golf.”

Newly elected state Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia, agreed.

“There is no question there is a need for ethics reform,” Jones said. “The key word in any legislation is transparency. If the public can see it, they’re able to judge for themselves if it’s good or bad. The way it is right now, there’s not a lot of that transparency going on.”

Jones cited the need to eliminate PAC-to-PAC transfers as a priority.

“Those transfers are an easy manipulation of money that needs to stop,” he said. “If we can keep the focus on transparency and regain the public’s trust, this should be productive session.”

Jones said he’s received no official briefing on the session; however, he has been reviewing the proposed legislation from the last session to prepare.

Included in Riley’s package are laws that would require:

• full disclosure of spending by lobbyists on all public officials and public employees;

• an end to unlimited gift-giving by lobbyists and others to public officials and public employees;

• a ban on pass-through pork spending;

• subpoena power for the Alabama Ethics Commission;

• the outlawing of all transfers between political action committees;

• the end of “double dipping” by legislators;

• mandatory ethics training for elected officials and public employees at all levels of government; and

• creation of an online, searchable database of lobbyists’ disclosure reports so citizens can see who is trying to influence their elected leaders and how.

Under state law, the session must last a minimum of five days.