Ethics reform: It ain't dead yet UPDATED | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Ethics reform: It ain't dead yet UPDATED

Posted By on Tue, Oct 9, 2007 at 11:19 AM

A news release from Reps. Steve Harrelson and Dan Greenberg says ethics reform isn't dead in the Arkansas legislature, despite any appearances to the contrary. They say there'll be a move to amend House rules to require disclosure of any gift or meal by a lobbyist on a monthly basis.

The release is on the jump. Here's the proposed rule.

There's no enforcement mechanism, I note. Another shortcoming: limiting disclosure to lobbyists does nothing about gifts from corporations, corporate executives and any of a number of other suppliers of the fuel with which lawmakers are slopped. I know it's bad form to immediately flyspeck any effort, no matter how limited, to bring marginal improvement to the ethical rules that "govern" public life in Arkansas. But it's clear to me that nothing short of an initiated act -- with bans on gift-giving by any lobbyist or anyone other than a long-time friend or close relative; bans on travel; clean-up of campaign finance rules; the end of the revolving door to lobbyists jobs -- is likely to produce a meaningful improvement in the corrupted ways of the Arkansas legislature.

UPDATE: Also on the jump, a reply from Rep. Greenberg and my response.

Also, Harrelson explains and defends on his blog.

NEWS RELEASE

STATEMENT ON NEW PROPOSED ETHICS RULE IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
 
"Ethics reform is still alive in the House of Representatives. Next week on October 18, during our House caucus, we will try to amend the Rules of the House on the floor so as to add ethics/disclosure procedures to our own rules," said Arkansas state representatives Dan Greenberg and Steve Harrelson in a statement today.
"Our proposed new ethics rule would require each House member to fully disclose the nature, the value, the date, and the giver of all food, gifts, services and other valuables, with no significant exceptions or thresholds, if those valuables are received from or by means of any lobbyist.   The disclosure would appear in a monthly report filed with the House clerk."

"The House passed an extensive ethics bill earlier this year (Speaker Petrus's "Sunshine in Government Act," HB 2384) by 89-3, but the bill died in the Senate. The Greenberg/Harrelson amendment will bring us a step closer to the intent that the House expressed during our legislative session to pass strong ethics rules."

"The House Parliamentarian, Tim Massanelli, has assured us that there is no procedural bar to amending the Rules of the House on the floor. We also wish to thank Representatives David Johnson and Michael Lamoureaux for their suggestions and cosponsorship of this rules change."

"Finally, we wish to thank the Speaker, Benny Petrus, for his work in passing the "Sunshine in Government Act" through the House earlier this year. Assuming that he permits our amendment a vote on the floor and that it passes by the required two-thirds vote, our understanding of the procedure is that we will then need to waive the rules by another two-thirds vote so that the measure does not get sent back to the Rules Committee for an indefinite time. We hope to have the support of the House on these votes."


EMAIL RESPONSE TO MY ORIGINAL POST  FROM REP. GREENBERG
Thanks for your mention of our amendment on your weblog. In my opinion you make one strong criticism and one weak criticism of the amendment.
 
The strong criticism is that there is no enforcement mechanism. Other than expulsion for noncompliance, you are correct. I cannot see how we would have any kind of enforcement mechanism written into the House Rules, although I am open to suggestion as to how we would do it. Perhaps you would agree that an attempt to write the existence of some kind of quasi judicial body and a schedule of penalties into the House Rules would be difficult; I think it would certainly make the amendment less likely to pass.
 
Your suggestion that the bill is bad because it doesn't include corporation heads, etc, who give gifts is in my opinion a little weaker, but on the other hand maybe we should have explained this particular aspect of the bill a little better in our release. I sent you a draft version of the bill under separate cover. The disclosure requirements extend not only to gifts from lobbyists but also to gifts given at the direction or suggestion of a lobbyist. Perhaps this gets rid of some of your concerns. 
 
I can understand the perspective that a total gift ban is better (there is some question as to whether we could actually accomplish this under House Rules), but I'd ask you to consider the possibility that full disclosure is a big step forward.

Dan

MY RESPONSE:

I anticipated you’d offer that rejoinder. I don’t think a lobbyist needs to “suggest” to the head of Blue Cross that a hunting trip to the Blues’ duck club might be a nice way to build bridges with a member of the legislature. Or that Scott Ford might want to take someone out to dinner. I think they can figure that out without a lobbyist’s “direction.”
 
It’s a small step forward only if it’s approved and then honored. Not just one but two big Ifs. We have a law now that requires reporting that is ignored and it carries fines, small ones. It’s like drinking and smoking. Cold turkey is the only solution for addicts.

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