by Max Brantley
Attorney General Dustin McDaniel will talk to the reporters today about his developing ethics legislation. Points:
A one-year moratorium on legislators, state officials and high staff employees going from state positions to work for people they regulated or as lobbyists. Good.
Penalties for soliciting gratuities that won't be reported and for failing to report a lobbyist who's offered a no-disclosure gift. Good.
The $40 threshhold for reporting lobbyist expenditures on legislators will stay. Too bad. McDaniel will argue that this is better than acceding to raise the limit, set years ago and now but a pittance. You can hardly get a good buzz on for that amount these days.
Tougher penalties for falsified reports. Good.
On-line lobbyist expense filing, readily searchable. Good.
Bad: To encourage legislators to pay for their own meals rather than accept freebies or feel a need to call for credit card numbers to use in the so-called "absentee lobbying" racket, McDaniel will propose loosening the law on how legislators may spend surplus campaign contributions. They already may keep an amount equal to one year's salary for political purposes, supposedly. McDaniel would expressly allow the money to be spent on meals and travel of some business nature -- such as dinner with a lobbyist to talk about legislation.
Since the money comes from special interests in the first place and is generally placed mostly on sure-thing winners, often in uncontested races, this amounts to legalization of laundering of the lobbyists' money. I think it's weird to think you'd improve ethics by giving legislators a good reason to shake down excess campaign contributions with express approval for good-time expenses. Yes, they must make a colorable argument that expenses are for political business. But the CEOs always figured out a way to deduct the tee talk on their Ireland golf outings. Legislators can be just as creative.
McDaniel really believes that giving lawmakers more economic resources is the best way to discourage them from seeking handouts. I dunno. I think they'll just double down.