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19.2.08

Legislators show feet of clay dragged by ethics reform

Legislators’ cowardice remained on full display yesterday as they made strenuous attempts to water down ethics legislation regarding removing the acceptance of up to $500 a year of free tickets from influence-seekers and in limiting meals to $50 per “occasion.”

These protestations both slowed the progress of such legislation and revealed the amazingly insular world in which some legislators apparently live, even as they argued in the case of the tickets which they often use to attend various events in their districts assisted them in actually meeting real constituents. And this isn’t even a total ban – it’s just tickets from those who wish to advocate something.

Perhaps that’s why Democrat Speaker Pro-Tem Karen Carter Peterson expressed that the legislation, SB 3, if not worded precisely, could threaten the amount of freebies she gets which she claimed would take her entire legislative base salary of $16,800 a year to pay for the tickets herself. Now, unless I’m missing the mark and underestimate the newlywed Peterson’s wit, charm, and good looks, my guess she wouldn’t get a fraction, or even any, of that value in free tickets if she weren’t in the legislature as second-in-command of the House. (Actually, as the new Speaker Pro-Tem, she’ll find her salary has about doubled.)

Isn’t this a problem, when a legislator basically matches her compensation through unregulated gifts even if they aren’t coming from the taxpayer? And while the donors of such tickets mostly never will be in a position of desiring influence, surely some will after the event in question which is not in and of itself unethical but the fact is none of this is regulated at this time – only when it involves an entity with a reasonable chance to wish to obtain influence.

In a world where legislators had courage, all free tickets, period, would be prohibited. But courageousness seldom defines the doings of the Louisiana Legislature and the present situation is no exception, so now there’s all this haggling over definitions to allow the free ticket ride, excepting influencers, to continue.

At least some over in the Senate do have some courage, as demonstrated by the approval of SB 19 by Democrat Sen. Ben Nevers that would not allow any lobbyist-paid meals, period, in contrast to the $50 standard, SB 8, being pushed by the leadership and Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration. But even that $50 is subject to carping by spoiled legislators. As Democrat state Rep. Charmaine Marchand’s impoverished district struggles to recover from Hurricane Katrina, its legislator appears to be living high off the hog when she complains that the $50 limit would force her to eat fast food on lobbyists’ tabs. The stupidity of this assertion was noted by Democrat state Rep. Rick Gallot, who noted that this amount would be a night out for a family of four in the environs of Ruston (and, in fact, a big night out I can vouch from personal experience).

The ticket measure finally got out of committee today, even as legislators still were griping about how their legislative lives would become so crimped in not being able to take freebies and talking of altering the bill on the floor. When are these dunces going to learn that you don’t have to pop up at every glad-handing event to serve their constituents well? Or if that seems such an imperative, they can pay for the ducats themselves. Although perhaps a novel idea to some is that they could converse with constituents without having it tied into some extraneous event requiring tickets.

While the silver lining is these imperfect measures continue to move along the legislative process into law, the dark cloud is their doing so exposes ugly truths about the attitudes of too many legislators. Service to the public, not to themselves, too often gets forgotten by some.

3 comments:

Daniel Z. said...

Karen Carter Peterson needs to just go away. I have no patience for the Democrats or Republicans who cry about losing their "free stuff".

When I was on the Charter Committee for the City of Kenner, I made a suggestion that business should not be able to get contracts from the city if they, or their owners, made a campaign contribution to a sitting Kenner politician for x number of years. Another citizen on the committe stated that this would be a bad idea, because how else would the Mayor be able to pay back those people who contributed to his campaign. I told him "It does not concern me that a mayor would be unable to pay back his campaign contributors by givng them government contracts" (or something to that effect.

I say that we adopt the Florida "no coffee law" and the only event that a legislator should be able to attend for free should be those in which they speak as a guest. And the description of such events should be carefully defined to avoid the situation where people would call sitting at a lunch table with 4 other people a "speaking engagement".

Jeff Sadow said...

>I made a suggestion that business should not be able to get contracts from the city if they, or their owners, made a campaign contribution to a sitting Kenner politician for x number of years.

Why does this not surprise me ...

>I say that we adopt the Florida "no coffee law" and the only event that a legislator should be able to attend for free should be those in which they speak as a guest. And the description of such events should be carefully defined to avoid the situation where people would call sitting at a lunch table with 4 other people a "speaking engagement".

Agreed. Whether Nevers really intended it to become law, let's hope SB 19 gets into law. Not likely, though, as it rots away (along with your favorites SB 23 and SB 25) on the "subject to call" Senate list, meaning the clock will run out on it as they want to adjourn sine die on Friday.

Daniel Z. said...

It shouldn't surprise you, because I tend to be fairly consistent. Of course I have been known to change my mind. I used to detest the idea of term limits and now I support them.

Did you fall out of your chair that you could actually type the word "agreed" in response to me?