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16.1.08

Ethics proposals good start, but Jindal should go for more

Although Gov. Bobby Jindal called the report released by his ethics advisory panel a “good start” and that it was not “set in stone,” he should give serious consideration to pushing legislation that is at least as stringent as the recommendations, if not more so.

Especially valuable is the extension of disclosure requirements to all state Cabinet appointees and elected officials even at the local level (except for offices of municipalities of fewer that 5,000). The prevailing philosophy seems to be if you are elected or have a full-time state appointive job at the highest level you should be subject to annual disclosure requirements of income divided into five categories.

But it would be better to go a little further. All administrative (but not those solely designated as policy-making assistants) appointed full-time employees at the state level should be included. Legislation also should empower local governments to apply those same standards to their full-time, appointive administrative personnel.

Having such standards at the state level will be controversial but given the attention to the issue and that a large portion of the new Legislature committed to a similar agenda through Blueprint Louisiana’s pre-election efforts, if Jindal accepts these recommendations they ought to go through. Much more controversial is the extension to local officials, on which Jindal did not specifically campaign and was the reason a combined bill despite overwhelming legislative majorities got sidetracked last session.

Jindal has indicated he would support a separate local bill which makes political sense in that objections to it would not derail automatically a statewide version. Of course, that means it makes it easier to defeat a bill addressing local officials. When about a couple of dozen other states already have such laws covering local officials there’s no reason Louisiana shouldn’t as well, especially with the 5,000 population exception, and hopefully Jindal will push as strongly for this as for a law dealing with state offices.

Entering into state contracts by legislators and their families also will provoke serious opposition among some lawmakers. Some will argue it would discourage quality potential legislators from wanting to run, and might especially be constraining regarding lightly-populated areas where few providers of a service exist to contract with the state.

However a law like this already exists, dealing with hurricane recovery contracts and its presence hasn’t seemed to have damaged the state. Moreover, Jindal has justified a ban of this nature with a very compelling argument: elected office to serve the people is a privilege, not a right, and so one must choose whether to gain access to it by meeting certain requirements. If you want to serve but you have a potential conflict under such a law, you either must decline the opportunity, or change your career and/or job to do so. Nobody is being forced to run for public office at the expense of his ability to earn a living. This point Jindal must drive home again and again to overcome resistance.

Recommending reporting transactions electronically is long overdue. In today’s world of technology, there’s no reason a candidate or lobbyist cannot download simple software from the state, take a few minutes here and there to update transactions, and through the Internet send the report to the state. Under the option to report by paper still available, it is difficult and cumbersome to find out information about campaigns, contributors, and lobbying. Jindal has preached transparency will prevail under his administration: he needs to put great effort into getting this kind of legislation passed.

The board did not recommend a total ban on lobbyist-provided victuals, but that also is worth pursuing. Many other states do it, and there’s no real reason for lobbyists to be able to pay for these things. Why must lobbyists be able to buy meals and the like for officials? Do they have to lobby over the lunch hour? Why can’t they transact business during business hours and leave legislators in peace to eat?

Along with the other recommendations made, adopting these as well will maximize transparency and minimize the potential for corruption. These items must find their way onto Jindal’s special session call coming up within the next couple of weeks.

1 comment:

baton rouge du nord said...

I think a lot of legislators would opt for a steak dinner over "peace" at lunchtime. We can only hope that Jindal's concept of ethics and avoiding the appearance of impropriety greatly differ from that of Ellington, his chosen chair of the Appropriations Committee. Hiring his wife as his L.A. doesn't look like "good government." Looks like business as usual.

I was about to be impressed with Jindal until I read Forgotston's blog. Now, I back to being skeptical.