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PAR Announces Ethics Reform Agenda for 2007

The Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana (PAR) released its Ethics Reform Agenda for 2007 at the Ethics Symposium sponsored by the Louisiana Board of Ethics on March 17. This list of 12 recommendations is intended to educate the public and to guide policymakers as they consider ways to strengthen the state’s ethics and campaign finance laws.

  1. Maintain the full authority of the Ethics Board to enforce the Code of Governmental Ethics for all elected officials and other public servants. Louisiana’s two separate ethics boards for elected officials and other public servants were consolidated in 1997 into a single body. Recent challenges to the board’s authority to enforce the code for legislators threaten to weaken this important reform. Establishing a separate enforcement body for any group of officials would create a double standard for ethical behavior, because each body could interpret the law differently.
  2. Require full, annual financial disclosure from all state elected officials, legislators and candidates for these positions. By requiring them to report their sources of income, the public can be made aware of real or perceived conflicts of interest. Current law only requires full disclosure from the governor (LSA R.S. 42:1124) and candidates for governor (LSA R.S. 18:463(B)).
  3. Prohibit legislators and other public servants from receiving anything of value from lobbyists or anyone doing business with or regulated by the state (“no cup of coffee” rule). Currently, several exceptions exist to the law forbidding public servants from receiving “things of value.” Food, drinks and tickets to sporting events are good examples (LSA R.S. 42:1102.22 and 42:1123.13). These exceptions allow lobbyists to buy access to decision-makers that most citizens cannot afford.
  4. Undertake a comprehensive review of all exceptions in the Code of Governmental Ethics to prevent the continued erosion of the code (LSA R.S. 42.1123). There may be circumstances that warrant an exception to balance the state’s need for a strong ethics law and the particular needs of a community or public entity. But those exceptions should be carefully crafted with a sunset provision to force a timely review. A strong ethics code backed by consistent enforcement is critical to improving the state’s image and fostering a business-friendly environment supportive of economic development.
  5. Require those who hire lobbyists to disclose publicly their total lobbying expenditures, the names of the lobbyists hired and the subjects lobbied. The employers of lobbyists are not currently required to make any report to the ethics board; rather they are only required to report to the lobbyists any direct lobbying expenditures they make (LSA R.S. 24.55).
  6. Require lobbyists’ reports to include the subject matter lobbied and itemized spending related to the subject matter lobbied. Current law requires lobbyists to register with the Ethics Board and identify their employers (LSA R.S. 24.55). They must disclose how much they spend and on whom they spend it if the expenditure exceeds a certain level. They do not have to report the subject matter lobbied. This additional disclosure would enable the public to better understand what role lobbyists play in the legislative process.
  7. Prohibit businesses owned by legislators and their immediate family members from receiving contracts from the state or any political subdivision unless the contract is competitively bid. Businesses where legislators or their family members have more than a five percent ownership interest should be included in the ban. By allowing contracts to be negotiated with state agencies, the current law opens the door for legislators to use their positions for inappropriate influence.
  8. Prohibit businesses owned by state and local public officials from receiving recovery-related contracts whether competitively bid or not. Tough ethics laws that keep public officials out of the recovery contracting business will help decrease the appearance of impropriety and help make the case for more federal recovery aid. Currently, recovery contracts with public officials are allowed but must be reported to the Ethics Board (LSA R.S. 42:1114.3). Businesses where legislators or their family members have more than a five percent ownership interest should be included in the ban.
  9. Prohibit an elected official who serves in a regulatory capacity, such as members of the Public Service Commission, the Insurance Commissioner and Agriculture Commissioner, and candidates seeking such offices, from accepting campaign contributions from businesses or persons who seek to influence those officials in their regulatory capacity. Allowing such contributions creates a relationship where the official may feel beholden to aid contributors or companies may feel obliged to contribute. Campaign contributions figured prominently in the criminal convictions of two former insurance commissioners and one former agriculture commissioner. Some limited prohibitions are already in place for those associated with the insurance industry, hurricane recovery contractors and those in the gaming industry.
  10. Prohibit transfers of campaign funds from one candidate to another or among a candidate’s political action committees to support another candidate. Current law allows the transfer of “excess campaign funds” from one candidate to another (LSA R.S. 18:1505(I)). Such transfers could be used as a type of leverage or bargaining tool to expand the power of the contributing candidate. A prohibition would ensure that citizens’ campaign contributions are used for the purpose they were originally donated.
  11. Prohibit the use of contributions in a campaign for an office other than the one for which the contribution was made. Current law allows candidates to take contributions from one campaign and use them to run for another office (LSA R.S. 18:1505(I)). Contributions should be allowed to be used only for the purposes given. Any money left after reasonable deductions for expenses should be returned to donors or given to charity.
  12. Require that current laws mandating the disclosure of funding sources for the governor’s transition activities (LSA 42:1125) apply to other state and local officials also. These state and local officials are not required to disclose the sources of funding for their transition teams, and there is some disagreement over whether they must disclose the names of team members and whether their meetings and records are subject to sunshine laws. Transition teams often influence early policy decisions for newly elected officials, and, as such, their business should be fully transparent.

PAR has a longstanding interest in governmental ethics, and our research has assisted the state in achieving many of the reforms that have been implemented over the past five decades.

Further information on any of the recommendations on the Ethics Reform Agenda for 2007 or other proposals that have been implemented in recent years is available on PAR’s Web site, www.la-par.org. The following publications are particularly useful.

Additional research and recommendations on the state’s sunshine laws are also available.

For more information, contact PAR at staff@la-par.org, P.O. Box 14776, Baton Rouge, LA 70898-4776, or by calling (225) 926-8414.

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