by Max Brantley
He wrote about SB 797, which is a tax increase on cell phone users to pay for improvements in rural broadband service and some 911 system improvements. The tax is a charge up to 40 cents a month on all cell phone users to subsidize rural telephone companies. It could raise $20 million a year.
Could be a good project. It's still a tax increase — even on the poorest of the poor and on tens of thousands who'll see no benefit from it. But it passed with virtually no disssent in both houses in a legislature where the Republican majority has vowed not to increase taxes. Sen. Michael Lamoureux of Russellville, the Republican leader in the Senate and the body's president pro tem, pushed hard for the legislation.
Might a contributing factor be that Lamoureux has done private legal work for rural telephone companies that will benefit from this legislation?
Lamoureux was his customarily acommodating self in answering questions about his relationship to beneficiaries of the legislation that he worked to pass.
He confirmed that he'd done some private work for a rural phone company in his district and took on representing some others in a Public Service Commission case related to federal rules that had harmed soe school broadband projects in his district. He filed no notice with the Senate on that representation, but said he didn't think it was required.
I did meet with our general counsel Steve Cook and seek guidance on how to deal with any legislation that affected any of my clients and followed that.
For example, I also represent defendants in criminal cases but I still vote on bills regarding crime and punishment issues.
I said the analogy didn't seem particularly apt in that Lamoureux surely wouldn't legislate a financial payment or a reduced sentence for a criminal defendant. He responded:
I didn't mean it as perfect comparison. I often oppose increased punishments like I did today or like last session on act 570.
I think your questions are fair. I have spoken openly about my representing some of these guys. Some documents I have filed [at the PSC] are publicly posted.
These issues arise frequently if you are a small solo practice. Much of what we do impacts clients.
True enough. And it's an age-old legislative concern, up to and including the current governor, who got rich in private law practice while a senator. The suspicion has always been that corporate political players can put legislators on retainers or otherwise funnel lucrative work in ways not readily apparent to the public at large, but immensely influential in other ways.
Lamoureux says his initial work, later broadened to other companies, was for P.T Sanders, a friend for 15 years, whose family owns Arkwest in Danville. "He was a constituent prior to redistricting, He has had me do some legal work for him for years, There was an issue that was common to the other companies so they asked me to help as well since I was handling for PT."
I jump to no conclusions except the usual one: Transparency is a great cure for ill appearances. Routine disclosure by lawyer legislators of clients with pending legislative interests would be a public confidence builder. Until that sunshiny day, newspapers will just have to depend on the kindness of friends to learn about such things.