Georgia’s House Speaker says the ethics reforms he’s proposed this week could bring about a major shift toward cleaner government in the Peach State. But reform groups believe the initiatives may just represent politics as usual.
Speaker David Ralston introduced a bill that would ban gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers and restore the state ethics commission’s rule making authority, which the legislature stripped years ago. But the bill would also broaden the definition of who is a lobbyist to ensnare citizen volunteers, a move that has infuriated both liberal and conservative open-government advocates.
By Naomi Schalit and John Christie
©Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting
Legislation to make it unlawful for state officials to leave their jobs and immediately go to work for industries they regulated – the so-called “revolving door” – is one of several ethics bills expected to be debated in the legislature this session.
Rep. Adam Goode, D-Bangor, has sponsored legislation requiring executive employees “in a major policy-influencing position” to wait one year before accepting a job with “a business activity that is regulated by the state or quasi-state agency by which the former executive employee was employed.”
As lawmakers in three Southeastern states prepare for the 2013 legislative session, they’re finding bipartisan agreement on an unlikely agenda: ethics reform. Leaders in South Carolina and Florida have begun work that lawmakers and watchdogs say could lead to the states’ first meaningful reforms in decades. And in Georgia, proponents of stronger rules are rallying behind a slate of measures they hope may finally pass in what has long been a recalcitrant Legislature.
The initiatives all seek some regulation of money and influence. The proposals take aim at independent political spending, asset disclosure and gifts from lobbyists in an effort to bolster transparency and rein in the spiraling costs of running campaigns. In some cases the reforms could go deeper, as lawmakers try to attack the roots of corruption by strengthening ethics oversight and enforcement.
On October 26, 2011, the Illinois legislature passed a bill that authorized construction of a multi-billion-dollar smart grid and reshaped how utility companies seek approval for raising electricity rates. Consumer groups opposed the measure, saying it was a handout to utilities.
But the final blow for opponents came three months later when former state Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who had pushed the bill through the legislature only to resign after winning its passage, registered his own lobbying firm and signed his first clients. Prominent among them: Commonwealth Edison, one of the state’s largest utilities.
The state of Rhode Island will broaden public access to government information through a new online portal under an initiative announced Thursday by Gov. Lincoln Chafee. Chafee said many documents will be available immediately and that the state will continue to add audits, contracts and other financial documents to the website over the next 18 months.
“The people of Rhode Island deserve more and better information about the operation and management of their government,” said Gov. Chafee in a statement. “I believe that greater openness and transparency will ultimately strengthen our citizens’ faith in their government, bolster our national reputation, and increase our economic competitiveness.”
The Fiesta Bowl game and its many related events have become a football extravaganza that kicks off the new year for the Phoenix area with national publicity and a hefty economic boost.
But over the past three years, the Fiesta Bowl has also become the source of continuous embarrassment in the Valley of the Sun, for bowl officials, civic boosters and state legislators, as well. And it isn’t over.
Florida’s Senate approved a new set of ethics rules today that will strengthen the body’s conflict of interest guidelines. The vote marked the first action to emerge from a vocal push for ethics reform by the state’s incoming legislative leaders.
Senate President Don Gaetz, who took control during today’s organizational meeting, proposed the rules Monday after committing to reforms during the election season.
By Bill Lueders and Kate Golden
Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism
In the aftermath of the Nov. 6 elections, words like “fickle” and “schizophrenic” are being bandied about to describe the Wisconsin electorate.
How else can anyone explain a group of voters who simultaneously picked Democrats Barack Obama for president and Tammy Baldwin for U.S. Senate while preserving a 5-3 Republican edge in its congressional delegation and giving the GOP a commanding majority in both houses of the state Legislature?