Patterico's Pontifications

11/25/2007

Louisiana Governor-elect seeks Ethics Reform

Filed under: Government — DRJ @ 8:17 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

Governor-elect Bobby Jindal’s first goal when he takes office is to overhaul Louisiana’s ethics laws and improve transparency in government:

“By promising an overhaul of Louisiana’s ethics laws as his first act as governor, Bobby Jindal is joining a recent national trend that experts attribute to public revulsion at political scandals and a declining overall trust in government.

From Alaska to Ohio and points in between, states have been revising their ethics laws in recent years to improve transparency and put new restrictions on interactions between legislators and lobbyists.”

Forty-seven states have strengthened their ethics laws in the past 2 years in response to scandals like the ones surrounding Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff:

“Peggy Kerns, director of the Center for Ethics in Government, traces the recent uptick in ethics-related legislation to public disgust with the Jack Abramoff scandal in Washington. Abramoff, a high-flying Republican lobbyist, is currently serving a prison sentence after pleading guilty to multiple corruption charges.

“I think the big push definitely started with Abramoff at the national level,” Kerns said. “States do tend to pass ethics reforms when there are scandals, either at the national or at the state level.”

While recent ethics changes in Alaska and Ohio came about partly as a reaction to scandals in previous administrations, Jindal takes over a state government that has been relatively scandal-free in the past 12 years. Nevertheless, civic leaders say the state still suffers from the battering its image took during the Edwin Edwards years, and the guilt by association that occurs any time a New Orleans politician is brought down by legal problems.”

Kentucky’s Republican Governor Ernie Fletcher learned the hard way when he lost his re-election campaign that talking ethics talk isn’t good enough. You have to walk the walk, too. Jindal plans to do this by focusing on transparency and disclosure:

“So far, Jindal’s main focus has been on requiring greater financial disclosure from legislators, where Louisiana ranks 44th nationally, according to the Center for Public Integrity. But reaching the top of national lists compiled by good-government groups could mean changing the after-hours culture of meals and entertainment that lobbyists routinely provide for legislators during the annual spring sessions.

Although most states have laws restricting the gifts that legislators can receive from lobbyists, only four have so-called “no-cup-of-coffee” rules that limit virtually all gifts from those who seek to influence the legislative process.

Louisiana’s law makes an exception for meals and drinks, plus lobbyist-financed travel and tickets to sporting events and concerts. State law does require lobbyists to disclose what they spend to entertain legislators, though such disclosure is often spotty.”

Like Jindal, I think the best solution is transparency. If that doesn’t work, then the answer may be a “no-cup-of-coffee” rule for lobbyists and politicians. The IRS and similar government agencies already follow that rule so politicians can certainly manage. They may not think they can, but they can.

– DRJ

Alaskan Earmarks and the GOP

Filed under: Government — DRJ @ 12:33 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

There are many reasons Republicans have a steep hill to climb to gain control of Congress and the White House in 2008. One of the biggest problems that faces the GOP is its members’ fondness for earmarks. Remember the “Bridge to Nowhere” and it’s companion bridge dubbed “Don Young’s Way?”

Now Alaska’s Rep. Don Young has another, smaller earmark that illustrates why many voters don’t trust Republicans to be good stewards of public funds:

“Some of the toughest money in America is made fishing for king and snow crab in the tempestuous Bering Sea. But some crab boat owners also do well on the opposite coast in Washington, D.C.

A case in point is an arcane section written into a bill Congress passed in December, just hours before adjourning for the year. President Bush signed the bill into law about a month later. Section 122 of the act, an updated version of the nation’s main ocean fisheries law, gives three fishing companies — and only three — the right to exchange certain rights to catch and process Bering Sea crab for a new and potentially more profitable kind of right. The change could lower the costs of running crab boats and hauling catches to an onshore processing plant.

The three companies — Yardarm Knot, Blue Dutch and Trident Seafoods — are all headed by people who have made substantial political contributions to U.S. Rep. Don Young, the Alaska Republican who inserted Section 122 into the legislation. Two of the companies, Yardarm Knot and Trident, also have long-standing ties with Young and U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, employing firms with lobbyists who used to work as aides to the two lawmakers. Yardarm also has paid the senator’s son, Ben Stevens, for consulting and business services while he was a state legislator.

Some competing seafood companies fought the section, but their managers declined to discuss their complaints publicly.”

The Anchorage Daily News’ article describes how Young’s earmark benefits these three Alaskan companies:

“According to a NMFS analysis, the law qualifies just three seafood companies to convert their existing crab fishery shares into a new type — one that will allow them to catch as well as process crab aboard boats equipped to do both jobs. Such a consolidated operation could save the three crab producers sizable costs. For instance, they don’t need to run separate boats to catch crab and haul them to port for processing in a packing house.

Crab rights also can be sold or leased, and the combo catch and processing quota created under Section 122 likely would be worth up to 25 percent more than straight catch quota, said Jeff Osborn of Dock Street Brokers in Seattle.”

The biggest complaints about Young’s earmark involve the way it was inserted at the last minute without oversight or comment:

“Craig Holman, of the congressional watchdog group Public Citizen, said Section 122 is the same kind of earmarking tactic that has stirred lots of trouble recently for Young on bills that benefited associates or campaign contributors elsewhere in the country.

The provision smacks of political favoritism, sidestepped the normal process for changing federal fishery rules, wasn’t subject to a public debate or hearing, and was inserted into a major bill at the last minute, he said. “This section is typical of Don Young-style legislating,” Holman said. “He appears to view his role on Capitol Hill as protecting the interests of those who will give him campaign contributions.”
***
Normally, the Anchorage-based North Pacific Fishery Management Council helps make changes in federal fisheries management off Alaska. But Young’s Section 122, amounting to about a page and a half in a 91-page act, never got a council review.

That troubles Kodiak fisherman Terry Haines, who said vessel crewmen often have been ignored or disadvantaged when corporate fishing companies lobby policy-makers for changes in fishing rules. The Young provision, he said, should have been subject to a public review “simply to avoid any appearance of impropriety and to give other stakeholders a chance to be involved.”

The companies say they did not lobby for the change in the law and one noted the change “helped everyone.” I’m sure it’s a complicated issue and it may be that the change is a good idea, but it’s not my idea of the way government should work.

– DRJ

Maryland Senators Threaten to Block Bush Nominee to 4th Circuit Court of Appeals

Filed under: Judiciary,Law — DRJ @ 12:10 am

[Guest post by DRJ]

Democratic Senators have finally hit on the perfect reason to block a Republican federal appeals court nominee:

He’s too good.

“FROM 1997 to 2001, Rod J. Rosenstein worked as an assistant U.S. attorney in Greenbelt. For the past two years, he has been the top federal prosecutor in Maryland and has earned plaudits for his crackdown on gang violence and public corruption. He has worked in public service jobs in the Washington area, primarily in the Justice Department, for roughly 18 years and has lived in Bethesda for the past 10.

Yet Maryland Democratic Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin are portraying Mr. Rosenstein as a carpetbagger. The senators criticized President Bush’s nomination Nov. 15 of Mr. Rosenstein to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit because they claim Mr. Rosenstein lacks “a lengthy history of state legal experience in Maryland and strong Maryland roots.” The senators also argue that Mr. Rosenstein is doing such a good job as U.S. attorney that he should be kept in that post rather than moved to the court.”

The Washington Post editors say Rosenstein is a “worthy nominee” and the Senators’ arguments against his nomination are not persuasive:

“Neither of these arguments is persuasive. Federal appeals court judges rule almost exclusively on the basis of federal law — not state and local law — so experience in the local bar or local courts would have little, if any, impact on their ability to perform the job. And punishing Mr. Rosenstein by denying him a judgeship because of an outstanding performance as U.S. attorney is perverse. In fact, the office has stabilized under Mr. Rosenstein and counts among its ranks senior lawyers who would be capable of taking charge.

Ms. Mikulski and Mr. Cardin may be hoping to stall Mr. Rosenstein’s nomination until a Democratic president can fill the Maryland seat. Such a move would not be unprecedented, but if it is happening, it is wrong. And it is most disturbing when it affects a nominee of Mr. Rosenstein’s caliber.
***
But blocking Mr. Rosenstein’s confirmation hearing — as the Maryland senators may yet do — would elevate ideology and ego above substance and merit, and it would unfairly penalize a man who people on both sides of this question agree is well qualified for a judgeship.”

You know times are tough when even the editors of the Washington Post think Democrats are being unfair to a Republican nominee.

H/T Howard Bashman.

– DRJ


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