Legislative ethics, Part II | Arkansas Blog

Monday, June 18, 2012

Legislative ethics, Part II

Posted By on Mon, Jun 18, 2012 at 6:49 AM

South Carolina reporters are on the trail of Gov. Nikki Haley. She was paid a handsome sum as a fund-raiser for a charitable foundation and also as a private business "consultant" for an engineering firm. Did she lobby for her employers? And how about this: The foundation received a lot of money from interests that had legislation before a House committee she chaired.

Sound familiar? Democratic State Rep. Tracy Steele, a candidate for North Little Rock mayor, is paid a handsome salary to lead the Stand Foundation, a nonprofit that has solicited contributions (he won't disclose them specifically) from corporations with legislative agendas.

But the issue is far broader than solicitations for a foundation that employs a legislator and often much harder to pin down. It gives rise to questions such as these posed in the article from The State:

• Should legislators be required to disclose who employs them?

• Should legislators be required to disclose what job they perform for their employers, ensuring that no conflict of interest exists with their legislative roles?

• And should they be allowed to take campaign contributions from special interest groups that have legislation pending before lawmakers to whom they’re donating?

Good questions for campaign 2012 — anywhere. The Arkansas legislature has been littered over the years with members in jobs for which their legislative seats appear to be prime, if not the only, qualifications. And there have been many "consultants" in the ranks, too. Retainer fees for legislative lawyers have also raised suspicion over the years. Do such legislators amount to de facto lobbyists for the people who pay them, contrary to the intent of law meant to ban in-chamber lobbyists? Do we require enough disclosure on income? Who'll fight for ethics in the current crop of candidates? Anybody?

Answer to that last question: Probably not Republicans, as evidenced not only by activities outlined by the D-G this morning but also by the Stephens Media story noting that Republicans have produced most of the official opposition to the ethics reform initiative now circulating. It would end wining and dining of legislators, prevent the current crop of term-limited legislators from turning instantly into lobbyists (see Sen. Gilbert Baker, quoted as the apparent mastermind of the campaign finance rule-buster mentioned earlier) and put some limits on the flow of corporate cash into legislative races.

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