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Tussle over transparency bill reveals true agenda of some

What some assert was a move towards greater transparency in government became more of a vehicle for veiled attacks on Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal that ignored transparency that not only works, but does so better with really no additional taxpayer burden.

In the Louisiana House and Governmental Affairs Committee yesterday, members debated the merits of HB 243 by Democrat state Rep. Neil Abramson that would make officials in jurisdictions of over 5,000 people report on any contributions or loans above $1,000 they received from their political appointees. While this only marginally increases transparency in government (information about contributors and appointees are already public knowledge, just not together), the relative lack of effectiveness of the bill and its high cost to taxpayers were brought home in the discussion leaving it decidedly wanting, especially when a much better alternative has been introduced elsewhere.

Since the bill designates officeholders as the ones having to report, they could legitimately use state personnel to compile these reports. The governor would have the most state resources used in this task, as he appoints in the thousands of individuals and in the case of Jindal he had over 10,000 contributors to his 2007 campaign. Many hours would be spent on the taxpayer dime each year picking every appointed name and then tracking down donations, and filling out the report, precious resources that could be used elsewhere – and already is being done in the private sector such as in a recent media report about this very question, begging the question of whether this increased government is needed. It gets even more costly when considering some people donate through other entities like corporations, which are harder to track still.

As well, this measure still would not allow “hidden” kinds of contributions to be connected to an appointment. For example, governors typically get input for appointments to the more obscure boards and commissions from legislators. Somebody could contribute to a legislator who then makes the recommendation of that person to the governor who didn’t get anything from that appointee, but the connection never can be made that a contributor to a legislator use that influence to get a gubernatorial appointment (just as now).

If we are going to grow government larger to perform this marginal function, it is appropriate that it cost as little as possible, and there is a much better bill out there whose payoff still is low but whose costs are even lower and does a better job of revealing potentially obscured donations. SB 195 would make the appointees themselves in their disclosure forms report any contributions or loans over $1,000. This approach has the utility of connecting the dots by grouping officeholders by appointee instead of the reverse, will cost no taxpayer resources because the appointee will have to record at most a few names on their disclosure forms and thereby have no reason to involve state staff, and provides a hint where to begin looking for contributions through other entities.

The general ideas behind that bill were reiterated in front of the committee by the governor’s Executive Counsel Jimmy Faircloth which put Abramson on the defensive, who ultimately with no real good argument to counter was reduced to saying that he simply thought his way was better and should be an obligation of an elected official. Others on the committee, especially Democrat state Rep. Karen Peterson, remained entirely obtuse about the matter and kept stating they did not see how the SB 195 approach was superior and implying that somehow to be against this bill was to be against ethics reform while Jindal they claimed said he was for it. (In one remark, Peterson asked Faircloth if they were opposed to what she said were three “ethics” bills in front of the committee that day; his reply being the Administration was in their current forms.)

The dishonesty of their attitude is unfortunate and demonstrates that the likes of Peterson have been for ethics “reform” only insofar as it could be used as a political tactic of convenience against Jindal. This continues the broader strategy by Democrats explained previously of finding every way imaginable to sully Jindal to forestall a rise in his prominence in national Republican politics.

Transparency that works and that brings more benefits that costs is the approach in SB 195, not that of HB 243. The committee wisely recognized this and it concluded by allowing Abramson a chance to bring back the bill with amendments presumably similar to those in SB 195 in the future. Such a change does not harm, but, in what seems to be a regrettable early trend of this session for some in the Legislature, this exemplifies a theme that political agendas far removed from the merits of policy and contaminating discussion of that will look to be advanced at every occasion.

1 comment:

Jeb Bruneau said...

Transparency legislation at all levels of government is very important. The public deserves to know how tax dollars are being spent. The seperation between those that only want to use transparency reform for political will and those that want it for the right reasons is evident.