Recently the Alabama Ethics Commission said it was legal under the Alabama ethics law for a state representative to accept a job, while still serving as a legislator, with a company that has a powerful interest in lobbying the state for favorable treatment.
The Commission apparently is illiterate, because the Alabama ethics law bans such conduct in words that are simple and easy to understand.
The legislator in question, Randy Davis (R. Daphne) sought an opinion as to whether the ethics law would prohibit him from taking a job with Arc Terminals Holdings, Inc., a company that stores millions of gallons of oil in facilities along the Alabama coast. This same company was fined by the state for illegally storing over a million gallons of sulfuric acid, and regularly has to deal with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management. Arc Terminals, in short, is a company that could use a friend in Alabama government.
Now they have bought one.
The law in question couldn’t be clearer. It states:
No lobbyist, subordinate of a lobbyist, or principal shall offer or provide a thing of value to a public employee or public official or to a family member of the public employee or family member of the public official; and no public employee or public official or family member of the public employee or family member of the public official shall solicit or receive a thing of value from a lobbyist, subordinate of a lobbyist, or principal.
It doesn’t say a lobbyist or principal (person or company who needs to lobby the state) cannot “offer or provide a thing of value” to a public official unless some condition is satisfied. It says “no lobbyist . . . or principal . . . shall offer or provide a thing of value” to a public official. Period. No caveats, exceptions, or work-arounds. As statutes go, it is as clear as it can be.
Likewise, the law doesn’t say a public employee or official cannot “solicit or receive a thing of value from” a lobbyist or principal unless everyone agrees that it really is, honest to God, a legitimate job having nothing to do with the company needing state favors. It is a blanket prohibition: “no public employee or public official . . . shall solicit or receive a thing of value from a lobbyist, subordinate of a lobbyist, or principal.”
The law clearly and unambiguously prohibits a state legislator from accepting a thing of value from a company like Arc Holdings. A job is thing of value.
Or is it? The Ethics Commission apparently relied upon an obscure definitional section of the statute, Section 36-25-1(34)(b)(l0), which lists a bunch of things that are exempt from the definition of “thing of value,” including:
Compensation and other benefits earned from a non-government employer, vendor, client, prospective employer, or other business relationship in the ordinary course of employment or non-governmental business activities under circumstances which make it clear that the thing is provided for reasons unrelated to the recipient’s public service as a public official or public employee.
This exemption, of course, is designed to prevent a legislator with a good full-time job before being elected to the legislature from being forced to quit the job if his employer has dealings with the state. I cannot imagine that it was designed to allow a sitting legislator, who is a music teacher by trade, from accepting, while serving in office, a corporate position as “public information officer” or “human resources adviser,” neither of which involves teaching music.
The Ethics Commission basically took everyone’s word that nothing corrupt is intended, and twisted the statute beyond recognition in order to give its Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval to a clearly corrupt arrangement.
I take it back. The Commission can read. It just has no interest in enforcing the ethics law.
Nobody in Montgomery really wants to stop the rampant corruption in our state government, and this recent opinion is confirmation that the Alabama Ethics Commission has no more appetite for cleaning up our dirty state government than anyone else in Montgomery.