[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.