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Abramson protests too much on information bill veto

There’s been lots of legislator carping about Gov. Bobby Jindal’s vetoes for this past regular session, given he cast 302 of them (278 line items), and a lot of it has come from lawmakers who, frankly, have a fundamentally misguided view about the purposes of government. They may be safely ignored. But one complaint merits further investigation since it comes from one of the apparently more level-headed House members.

Of all the Democrats in the Legislature, state Rep. Neil Abramson scored the most conservative/reform in voting. Thus, when he complains that a veto of one of his bills, HB 176 (actually, a second attempt since an earlier version in the first special session also got vetoed), casts doubt on the sincerity of the governor on the issue of transparency of the office, it should be reviewed seriously.

This bill intended that an elected official with appointive powers disclose whether appointees had made contributions to his campaign (or a gubernatorial transition). Jindal vetoed the bill citing concerns that the language was overbroad and would force reporting of any appointee’s contributions to any candidate. He also said his office had talked to Abramson about altering the bill to address that concern and that Abramson agreed, to which Abramson said he had not agreed and therefore did not change the bill.

But another reason Jindal easily could have used to justify vetoing the bill is it is a prime example of unnecessary regulation already adequately dealt with under current law. The point of the bill, to show which appointees gave to an appointer, already can be accomplished. All you have to do is go to the state’s Ethics Administration web site, enter an appointer, and there will be the list of donors. And if you need to know who the appointees are, there’s a list of boards and commissions with member names.

Yes, this is somewhat clumsy because in many cases, through this list or on agency web sites sometimes it’s not clear who exactly is whose appointee, and an appointer’s list of donors requires going through report after report, but the fact is the information is in the public domain. So when Abramson makes statement such as “It raises the question whether they're concerned about releasing that information or not,” it shows he is one or more of misinformed, ignorant, or stupid, because information going back a decade is accessible by anybody with Internet access. (The only thing new about the bill is the gubernatorial transition information – which Jindal voluntarily released – but Abramson didn’t make a point of that.)

If Abramson made public complaints about how it might be difficult to collate the information, or how his bill could streamline the process, he might come across as reasonable. Instead, he looks like a political opportunist, fabricating an issue by accusing the governor of doing the same, in attempt to score cheap political points. Thus this strained credibility calls into question whether Abramson can be believed that he did not agree that the bill was flawed. Methinks he doth protest too much.

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