In addition to Ethics in the News, the Ethics Center is now providing links to state-specific ethics newsletters. If your state ethics commission issues a newsletter that you would like the Ethics Center to highlight, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Updated May 10, 2013
FLORIDA. The governor signed ethics reform legislation into law. SB 2 authorizes the ethics commission to investigate complaints referred to it via enforcement agencies and the governor and collect unpaid fines, including allowing it to garnish wages. The commission will now be able to collect fines for 20 years following a violation and must post financial disclosure forms online. The bill also places a two-year revolving door prohibition on legislators who would lobby state agencies, prohibits legislators from accepting certain other forms of public employment, requires vote abstention on issues that would affect members’ financial matters, and allows officials to place their assets in blind trusts so that they can avoid conflicts of interest. Lastly, the bill requires legislators attend ethics training. The bill was a major legislative priority for the Senate President.
Associated Press. May 1, 2013. http://tbo.com/scott-signs-ethics-campaign-finance-bills-b82486472z1
Times/Herald, Tampa Bureau. May 2, 2013. http://www.bradenton.com/2013/05/02/4508268/gov-scott-said-he-blocked-changes.html#storylink=cpy
GEORGIA. The governor signed the legislature’s 2013 ethics reform measure into law, which implements a $75 per occurrence limit on lobbyist gifts to legislators. The law also exempts lawyer lobbyists and others, and exempts gifts given to certain groups of legislators, such as a committee. Peggy Kerns of NCSL’s Ethics Center was quoted as saying that gift restrictions show the public that “lawmakers are out for (the public’s) best interests, not whatever sector is trying to push a law.” The law goes into effect on January 1, 2014.
Georgia Public Broadcasting. May 6, 2013. http://www.gpb.org/news/2013/05/06/law-reigns-in-lobbyists
Opinion: Ending the ethics push will require sign-off from GOP grass roots.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution. May 7, 2013. http://www.ajc.com/weblogs/political-insider/2013/may/07/your-daily-jolt-ending-ethics-push-will-require-si/
ILLINOIS. Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon is asking the legislature to consider ethics legislation before session ends at the end of May. The Senate bill would place increased financial disclosure requirements on members.
WREX Chicago. May 2, 2013. http://www.wrex.com/story/22140842/2013/05/02/lt-governor-simon-backing-ethics-reform-legislation
IOWA. The Senate Ethics Committee decided to ask for a special investigation into a complaint that a senator violated ethics rules while serving as state chair of Representative Michelle Bachmann’s presidential campaign. The allegations claim that the senator accepted payments for campaigning and that he took a private email list from a former campaign staffer’s computer. The senator has denied wrongdoing. The committee felt the step was necessary in order to prevent any lingering questions about the issue, and to protect the integrity of the institution.
Des Moines Register. May 2, 2013. http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20130502/NEWS10/305020073/0/MARKETPLACE05/?odyssey=nav|head
MISSOURI. The Senate debated, but failed to pass, a bill that would have placed a 10 year waiting period on former legislators who would be lobbyists.
Associated Press. May 2, 2013. http://www.ky3.com/news/ky3-missouri-senate-passes-on-ethics-bill-campaign-caps-20130502,0,3688302.story
NEVADA. An Assembly committee heard AB 77, which would institute a waiting period for legislators who want to lobby until the end of the next legislative session after they leave office. The sponsor’s main argument for the bill was that it demonstrates to the public that lawmakers would not use their final term in office to line up future employment An amendment added in the Assembly would allow legislators to lobby if it’s not the primary duty of their new job, and if they are only lobbying for their immediate employer. It wouldn’t take effect until after the next election, so no sitting legislators would be affected unless they are re-elected. The committee members debated whether or not there was a perception problem in the state, as there is in Washington, DC. Another advocate for the bill claimed that “good policy doesn’t need to be scandal-driven.”
Associated Press via Elko Daily. May 7, 2013.
NEW YORK. JCOPE has promised to release their report examining sexual harassment claims against an assemblyman if the prosecution and Legislature does not do it. By law, the commission is not allowed to release reports about legislators until the Legislature has reviewed the report and had 90 days, which in this case will be in late May, to act on it. The assemblyman has denied wrongdoing and was reelected to his position but did lose committee chairmanships and other perks and had his salary cut after the scandal.
New York Times. May 1, 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/01/nyregion/ethics-panel-vows-to-release-report-on-vito-lopez-in-harassment-inquiry.html?_r=0
The executive director of JCOPE announced she will be leaving the post at the end of May. Her exit comes just after JCOPE’s chairwoman also resigned. It is also a high-profile time for the fledging oversight body as it prepares to review new financial disclosure forms and act on the report of the legislative sexual harassment case.
Wall Street Journal. May 2, 2013. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323628004578457460847769102.html
A senator, who was caucus leader in 2012, pled not guilty to charges of embezzlement, obstruction of justice and making false statements. After his arrest, he was stripped of committee appointments and ranking positions and Senate leadership announced that he would no longer caucus with his party. The charges came soon after it was announced that yet another senator had been recording colleagues’ conversations as part of a plea deal after being convicted of mail fraud and embezzling money from a nonprofit she controlled. It is unknown if the two cases are related. Several legislators have been indicted in the past month and it was revealed that two members had been wearing wires to assist the FBI.
Legislative Gazette. May 7, 2013. http://www.legislativegazette.com/Articles-Top-Stories-c-2013-05-07-83697.113122-Sen-Gipson-says-Sampson-case-shows-need-for-campaign-finance-ethics-reform.html
Two senate bills have been introduced that would forfeit state pensions for legislators who are convicted of felonies related to public employment. SB 4836 and SB 4807a address what the bill’s sponsor calls loopholes in current law – the first would ensure that the forfeiture applies to sitting officials who were elected prior to 2011, and the second would make it so that any convicted public official, no matter what court they are tried in, would be subjected to the pension ban. The Assembly recently voted down a similar measure.
Legislative Gazette. May 6, 2013. http://www.legislativegazette.com/Articles-Top-Stories-c-2013-05-06-83677.113122-Hoylman-bills-would-close-glaring-ethics-loopholes.html
WNYT. May 7, 2013. http://wnyt.com/article/stories/S3023987.shtml?cat=300
Editorial: Corruption in Albany.
New York Times. May 7, 2013.
PENNSYLVANIA. May 1st was the deadline for filing financial disclosures, both for the governor and state legislatures. Public officials must disclose sources of income and gifts of entertainment, travel and lodging costs over a certain amount. Several legislative leaders and other members did not disclose any gifts in 2012.
Philadelphia Inquirer. May 1, 2013. http://www.philly.com/philly/news/politics/20130502_Corbett__lawmakers_disclose_gifts_from_2012.html
SOUTH CAROLINA. Senate leaders are saying that the House-passed ethics bill could see more amendments. Among the ideas are stronger financial disclosure requirements than those proposed by the House, including provisions that require disclosure for certain family members. The House proposal has been criticized because the new oversight entity it creates is partially comprised of sitting legislators – one issue the Senate will examine is whether or not removal of members from the committee would be in violation of the constitution, which gives the legislature the ability to “punish” its members.
Greenvilleonline.com. May 6, 2013. http://www.greenvilleonline.com/article/20130506/NEWS10/305060013/Senate-may-rewrite-ethics-plan
Editorial: Ethics bill is good, but could be better.
scnow.com. May 5, 2013. http://www.scnow.com/opinion/editorials/article_c864f43c-b503-11e2-8447-001a4bcf6878.html
ALASKA. A senator is planning to introduce a bill that would change the rules governing conflict of interest and voting recusal for members. Under current law, a legislator can ask the body to abstain from voting on a bill, but the body needs to approve the request unanimously. As a result, members are often required to vote on matters on which they have declared a potential or perceived conflict. Some legislators have chosen to walk off the floor in order to avoid this situation. The senator acknowledged the difficult balance legislators must face in balancing “the right to recuse oneself due to a conflict of interest, versus recusing oneself to avoid making tough decisions.” His bill would require excuses to be granted by majority vote.
Alaska Dispatch. April 4, 2013. http://www.alaskadispatch.com/article/20130404/why-can-alaska-lawmakers-vote-conflicts-interest
ARIZONA. Legislators and lobbyists are calling for reform in the state’s lobbying laws – from disclosure reports, to oversight, to outright bans on certain types of lobbying. According to a recent analysis of the system, reports contain errors, loopholes and ambiguity create confusion over what must be reported, and no audits are done of the reports by the secretary of state’s office, which is given oversight of the process. There is discussion about a legislative solution, though not during the 2013 session, or a possible ballot initiative. The chair of the Senate Elections Committee proposed SB 1332, which would have required monthly, rather than quarterly, reports and would have lowered a monetary threshold for certain reporting. It also would have requires lobbyists to provide legislators with a statement about the value of certain expenditures and required legislators to report on these expenditures annually. The bill did not get called for a floor vote. Another Senate bill that did not pass, SB 1326, would have empowered the Citizens Clean Elections Commission to oversee lobbyist registration and financial disclosure forms. Critics of that bill were concerned for various reasons about giving the commission that authority and placing it under the office of the secretary of state. Finally, the chair has also cited a need for an electronic filing system accessible by smartphone. Peggy Kerns of NCSL’s Ethics Center was quoted as saying that the trend in states has been to strengthen lobbyist disclosure laws and increase transparency.
AZ Capitol Times. April 29, 2013. http://azcapitoltimes.com/news/2013/04/29/improving-arizona-lobbyist-reporting-system-action-lacking-despite-opportunities/#ixzz2SeMk2FiH
CONNECTICUT. A candidate for governor is promoting a pay-to-play bill that would prevent legislators, public employees and their immediate family members from receiving $1,000 or more from state contractors, public employee unions or lobbying firms. He is also proposing changes to conflict of interest rules. His potential rival, the House minority leader, said that legislator lawyers could be unfairly subjected to the law.
New Hampshire Register. April 28, 2013. http://www.nhregister.com/articles/2013/04/28/news/doc517d67281d171588304853.txt
COLORADO. The secretary of state is asking a Denver district court to stop an ethics commission investigation into a complaint alleging he misused public funds. He is arguing that the commission, which was established in state constitution via a voter initiative, lacks jurisdiction and that the amendment’s language, on which the entire proceeding rests, is “ambiguous and overly broad.” Colorado Ethics Watch filed the complaint against the secretary months ago, claiming that he improperly reimbursed himself with state funds after traveling to the Republican National Convention and another partisan meeting. The state has paid private law firms over $60,000 in defending the secretary’s case. Critics say his argument that ethics violations are ambiguously defined is a “red herring,” and that it is clear that one cannot spend public money on personal or political activities.
Colorado Statesman. April 5, 2013. http://coloradostatesman.com/content/994084-sos-gessler-sues-overturn-ethics-plank
A House member filed an ethics complaint with a legislative ethics committee against a lobbyist. The legislator claims that the lobbyist violated a rule that prohibits lobbyists from using political threats or deceit to influence lawmakers. At the heart of the matter is a verbal disagreement between the two in the lobby of the House chamber. Testimony will be heard and the committee will then forward the information to an executive committee, which can take any number of actions against the lobbyist.
OurColoradoNews.com. April 4, 2013. http://www.ourcoloradonews.com/news/gun-lobbyist-s-actions-eyed-in-ethics-probe/article_5712b96c-9d3f-11e2-bab8-0019bb2963f4.html
FLORIDA. Opinion: Lawmakers should close ethics loopholes. Pending bills, including SB 1634 would make changes to the state’s ethics laws. Among the proposals is the ability for the ethics commission to initiate its own investigations, mandatory ethics training for public officials and revolving door limits on officials who want to take positions with state agencies or public universities while holding office. A two-year revolving door prohibition has also been proposed that would prohibit legislators from lobbying state agencies after leaving office.
Daytona Beach News Journal. April 4, 2013. http://www.news-journalonline.com/article/20130403/OPINION/304029964/1027?p=2&tc=pg
GEORGIA. The legislature passed ethics reforms, including a monetary limit on lobbyist gift-giving, an issue that has been contentious for several sessions. Gifts will be capped at $75, and can not be for outings such as golf, sports tickets or international travel.
April 1, 2013. Savannah Morning News. http://savannahnow.com/news/2013-04-01/legislative-session-marked-juvenile-ethics-video-game-reforms
MAINE. A House committee approved legislation that would create a one year revolving door provision on legislators and executive branch officials who would be lobbyists after leaving office. The measure will also increase financial disclosure requirements for public officials and require that they be filed electronically and accessible online. A provision that would have prevented executive branch officials and employees from working for certain business post-service failed to pass.
Maine Sun Journal. April 5, 2013. http://www.sunjournal.com/news/1344303
MASSACHUSETTS. The House granted a host of investigatory powers to the body’s Ethics Committee as it investigates “serious allegations” against a sitting member. A legislative staff member brought forward allegations of misconduct against a member who has yet to be named. Last month a preliminary investigation found the complaint had merit, which prompts a formal investigation by the committee. The committee is now afforded with the power to subpoena witnesses, compel and take sworn testimony, administer oaths and require that evidence be produced. The complaint becomes public depending on the outcome of the investigation.
Worchester Telegram and Gazette. April 5, 2013. http://www.telegram.com/article/20130405/NEWS/104059730/1052
. Albany is reeling after a series of indictments were announced, and it was revealed that one sitting Assembly member had been secretly working with law enforcement in probes “aimed at rooting out public corruption.” On April 2nd
, a senator was arrested in an alleged plot to bribe his way into an opportunity to be the Republican nominee for New York City mayor. Other local politicians and republican operatives were also arrested. The senator has pled innocent. On April 4th
, an assemblyman was indicted for taking bribes in exchange for official acts. The U.S. attorney’s office claims he accepted $22,000 from operators of a several adult day centers in exchange for introducing legislation that would place a waiting period on the construction of new, competing facilities, and exempted those accused of bribery from the ban. If convicted, he could face 35 years in prison. A third legislator, also from the Assembly, stated that he had assisted authorities after he was indicted on perjury charges from an incident that occurred prior to his election. As a result, the government claims it has audio and video evidence of repeated bribes being given. There are also recordings of the indicted member discussing his fear of being caught and going to jail, and claiming that other legislative colleagues are also corrupt. The Speaker has called on the indicted assemblyman to resign. The member who helped the authorities announced his resignation, adding “I continue to cooperate with…authorities in this prosecution, and in other investigations.”
Albany Times Union. April 4, 2013. http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/One-Assemblyman-charged-another-resigns-4409381.php
April 4, 2013. http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/End-to-state-of-scandal-4407832.php
Washington Post. April 4, 2013. http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/ny-state-assemblyman-charged-with-bribery-another-ny-assemblyman-charged-and-cooperating/2013/04/04/771dc1f4-9d33-11e2-9219-51eb8387e8f1_story.html
Calls for change and reform were immediate, coming from legislators, good government groups and the Governor’s office. Among the comments: “you can’t legislate morality…what we’d rather do is change the culture…” (The League of Women Voters) and “never waste a crisis” (Governor Cuomo). The governor is planning to introduce a comprehensive ethics package that would include changes to election law and increase the power and capability of the state board of elections. Others called for more disclosure and transparency laws, lower contribution limits and stronger prosecutorial powers.
Albany Times Union. April 8, 2013. http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/184518/cuomo-on-ethics-reform-never-waste-a-crisis/
NY Daily News. April 8, 2013. http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/dailypolitics/2013/04/gov-cuomo-latest-nys-legislature-scandals-an-opportunity-for-reform-0
A final issue receiving publicity is the fact that prosecutors allowed an assembly member to run twice for reelection while under sealed indictment. He began cooperating with investigators in 2009, and wore a wire for over a year.
NY Daily News. April 8, 2013. http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/dailypolitics/2013/04/debate-over-allowing-secretly-indicted-nelson-castro-to-twice-run-for-re-elect
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics sent its report to the state legislative ethics commission in February for possible sanctions against an assemblyman accused by staffers of sexual harassment who is now getting ready to run for City Council. By law, the legislative commission has 45 days to take action against Lopez and release the report, but Friday marked day 45 and the report is still delayed. The speaker, as well as JCOPE commissioners, are all calling for the report’s release.
April, 5 2013. http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/speed-release-vito-lopez-report-ethics-commission-article-1.1309236#ixzz2PuO7rzBa
NORTH CAROLINA. Senator Soucek is now the chairman of the Legislative Ethics Committee. The Committee is a bipartisan group of members from both chambers, responsible for creating and maintaining ethical standards among the General Assembly.
Watauga Democrat. April 26, 2013. http://www2.wataugademocrat.com/News/story/Soucek-to-lead-Legislative-Ethics-Committee-id-011264
PENNSYLVANIA. Two senators are pushing ethics reforms as part of a bipartisan joint government reform caucus. Proposals center on a variety of ethics, campaign finance and disclosure issues, and include: lowering to $50 the threshold for reporting, requiring PACs to disclose payments made to vendors on a website, requiring contractors to disclose the subcontractors they work with, prohibiting lobbyists from serving as campaign managers, requiring individuals appointed to governor’s advisory panels to disclose campaign contributions to the governor, codifying the governor’s code of conduct, prohibiting the governor and executive branch officials from accepting gifts and favors from companies that do business with or are regulated by the commonwealth, and lastly, prohibiting lobbyists from owning a portion of a gaming license.
Pennlive.com. April 8, 2013. http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2013/04/bi-partisan-backed_government.html
RHODE ISLAND. The legislature is considering a bill that would put a constitutional amendment before the voters that would restore power to the ethics commission to prosecute legislators for their votes.
A state supreme court decision struck that power from the commission, saying that it violated separation of powers provisions in the constitution.
SOUTH CAROLINA. The governor is criticizing the legislature for failing to pass a bill that would subject members to the state’s public records law. There is a currently an exemption for the legislative branch. Ethics has been a hot topic in South Carolina for over a year. There is currently an investigation pending against the Speaker and a Supreme Court case against the governor.
IndependentMail.com. April 4, 2013. http://www.independentmail.com/news/2013/apr/04/haley-public-records-law-should-apply-to/
Opinion: Finish the legislative reform agenda.
April 6, 2013. http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20130406/PC1002/130409518/1268/finish-the-legislative-reform-agenda&source=RSS
The House passed an ethics reform measure, one that requires disclosure of all sources of income and overhauls the current system for ethics oversight by creating a new ethics commission. Currently, the commission oversees the executive branch and the each house of the legislature has ethics committees. Under the bill, the new committee would have jurisdiction of both the legislative and executive branches. The new committee would be comprised of eight sitting legislators and eight legislator-appointed members, and would handle only certain aspects of ethics laws. Allegations of criminal misconduct would be sent to a new public integrity investigatory unit. Legislators would have to recuse themselves from votes in conflict of interest situations at the subcommittee level. Critics of the bill said that the legislation was created quickly and in private and that the hybrid committee is worse than the current oversight body. Others complained that the alterations to the lobbying laws will create confusion over who must register and does not provide an exemption for grass-roots or volunteer lobbyists. Those who support the reform say that the joint body represents a better, more independent system than the current one. The bill also has campaign finance reform provisions.
Aiken Standard. April 30, 2013. http://www.aikenstandard.com/article/20130430/AIK0105/130439955/sc-house-approves-ethics-reform-package
Easley Patch. May 1, 2013. http://easley.patch.com/articles/house-passes-ethics-reform-but-some-still-not-happy
Editorial: Ethics bill shows we can’t trust legislators.
The State. April 24, 2013. http://www.thestate.com/2013/04/24/2738550/teague-landess-ethics-bill-shows.html#storylink=cpy
TEXAS. Editorial: Readying another punt on major reforms to Texas Ethics Commission. Proposed reforms in 2013 would grant the commission more power regarding financial disclosure and would strengthen its ability to punish ethics violations. SB 1773 would create an interim committee to study and review ethics, lobbying and campaign finance laws, and propose changes. SB 219 would require e-filing for some campaign and finance data, and a rejected amendment would have required that redacted financial disclosure statements be accessible online. No bills have passed yet.
Austin American-Statesman. April 4, 2013. http://www.statesman.com/news/news/opinion/readying-another-punt-on-major-reforms-to-texas-et/nXCnk/
UTAH. The annual report from the Legislative Ethics Commission shows that no legislator has had a complaint filed against him or her in the past two years. Any citizen in Utah can file a complaint, but is first only reviewed by the director and chair. Dependent upon their determination of the complaint's validity, the process continues from there. The commission is not authorized to issue advisory opinions. The report also showed that while the commission originally received a $50,000 budget, only $1,000 has been used. The director asked that she be authorized by the Legislative Management Committee to hold a training session for new LEC members, and the management committee will meet again next month to give her that authority.
Utahpolicy.com. April 9, 2013. http://utahpolicy.com/view/full_story/22187770/article-No-Ethics-Complaints-Against-Utah-Legislators-in-Two-Years?instance=today_home_policy
VIRGINIA. The governor has been under fire from the media and possibly the FBI over allegations that a company received special treatment due to the governor’s relationship with the CEO. The company has given gifts to the governor, some of which he had disclosed under Virginia law, and also to his family members, which he was not required to disclose. A story revealed the CEO had paid for a substantial portion of the governor’s daughter’s wedding reception, which in turn launched a much criticism about not only the governor, but the state’s laws regarding gifts from lobbyists and others. The governor claims that the CEO and his wife have been family friends for years and that the friendship has in no way influenced his
decisions as a public official. The state is one of 10 that does not have monetary thresholds for gifts or total bans, though it does require that public officials disclose what gifts they receive. Some are calling for the laws to be changed to require that officials disclose gifts given to family members as well. NCSL data, cited in one article, shows that while almost all states do have restrictions, their exceptions make those limits convoluted.
Washington Post. April 29, 2013. http://www.newsleader.com/viewart/20130429/NEWS01/304290005/Virginia-has-one-nation-s-most-lax-ethics-laws-politicians
Washington Examiner. April 30, 2013. http://washingtonexaminer.com/virginia-gov.-bob-mcdonnell-says-firm-in-fbi-probe-got-no-special-deals/article/2528540
WYOMING. Opinion: The ethics of lobbyists.
Star Tribune. April 9, 2013. http://trib.com/opinion/editorial/the-ethics-of-lobbyists/article_5a872c15-a874-5270-b2c1-c4401a702c8e.html