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PAR Calls for Stronger Governmental Ethics and Constitutional Revision

PAR Calls for Stronger Governmental Ethics and Constitutional Revision

Posted: 09/24/2003

A state’s image plays an important role in economic development and Louisiana’s image has suffered from a history of lapses in governmental ethics, the Public Affairs Research Council (PAR) said in its “White Paper on Governmental Ethics and Constitutional Revision” released today. “While unethical behavior cannot be eliminated by legislation, strong ethics laws and active enforcement can help reduce its occurrence,” said Jim Brandt, PAR president.

The report notes that the state has made progress in enacting ethics, lobbying, campaign finance and sunshine laws. However, further tightening of these statutes is needed to help prevent situations where the appearance, and in some cases, the reality of undue influence and conflicts of interest have arisen. The white paper offers 21 recommendations for improving governmental ethics and calls for revision of the constitution.

New restrictions would improve the state’s image by reducing the problems created by actual or perceived instances of unethical behavior or improper influence. Some of those new restrictions would prohibit legislators from holding certain government contracts or having any business relationships with registered lobbyists.

Another long-standing PAR recommendation would end the wining and dining of legislators and other public servants by lobbyists. “This prohibition should be applied across the board to legislators and all executive branch agencies,” said Brandt, “to prevent favoritism which undermines public confidence in the law-making process.”

The campaign finance law would be strengthened by prohibiting legislators from accepting campaign contributions during session. In addition, businesses would be prohibited from making campaign contributions to public officials who head the agencies that regulate them or, alternatively, the amount any person could contribute to such candidate or public official would be limited to $500.

The report also recommends a prohibition against candidates using contributions made to run for one office to fund a campaign for another office. A related recommendation is to prohibit elected officials from controlling political committees that support other candidates.

Greater transparency is needed to identify potential conflicts of interest. Personal financial disclosure reports are critical in this area and should be filed by all elected state officials, legislators, and candidates for such positions, not just the governor and gubernatorial candidates. In addition, more light would be shed on executive level actions by extending the lobbying law to include the executive branch.

More detailed lobbyist reports would provide better information on lobbyist’s spending and those who hire lobbyists.

PAR recommends the creation of a non-binding mediation program to assist citizens who have complaints relating to the sunshine laws but have no formal means of resolving them except to sue in court–a costly and time-consuming process. In addition, the Office of Attorney General should make sunshine law education a higher priority to help the general public and public servants understand their rights and responsibilities.

PAR also recommends that elected offices that are chiefly ministerial be made appointive; that state audit and investigatory agencies be strengthened; and, that all professional and personal services contractors be chosen through a competitive selection process.

Finally, PAR calls for a constitutional convention that would, among other things, produce a leaner constitution and consider:

a broad-based, balanced, fair and growth-oriented state tax structure.
greater fiscal flexibility for local governments.
a more streamlined state organizational structure.
fewer elected state and local officials.
improved governance of higher education.
a reduction in the dedication provisions.
a more restrictive amendment procedure.
Using expert public/private task forces, a comprehensive review and analysis of governmental structures, programs and financing should be undertaken by the new administration to provide a blueprint for change and a starting point for the constitutional revision.

“A state’s image is an important factor in business location and expansion decisions. Unfortunately, Louisiana’s image has been tarnished and every possible step must be taken to assure businesses and individuals that they will be treated fairly and equitably and that the state has left the problems of the past behind,” stated Brandt.

This is the fourth and final report in PAR’s four-part white paper series dealing with major issues facing the new administration and Legislature to be elected this fall. The first three reports addressed higher education, state finance and taxation, and elementary and secondary education. The series focuses on the significant relationship between these issues and the state’s economic development.

PAR members will receive a free copy of the “White Paper on Governmental Ethics and Constitutional Revision.” Others may order copies for $3.50 each by writing PAR at P.O. Box 14776, Baton Rouge, LA 70898-4776 or, by calling 225-926-8414. This report and others in the series may also be viewed on PAR’s Web site at www.la-par.org.
For More Information Contact:
Jim Brandt – President
225-926-8414 ext. 21

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