Monday, January 07, 2008

Day And Delph Want Restrictions On Legislative Gifts

Sen. Mike Delph (R) and Rep. John Day (D) have introduced bills in their respective chambers which would limit gifts legislators may legally accept from lobbyists. Day's HB 1063 would allow a legislator to accept no more than $50 worth of gifts in a calendar year. Day also wants to impose a 2-year wait period of legislators becoming lobbyists after they leave the legislature. Delph's SB 69 would require legislators to report any gifts they receive in a total day that are worth $25 or more. Current law requires legislators to report single gifts of $100 or more. As the Star's Mary Beth Schneider reports, chances of passage for either Day's or Delph's legislation is not good. "Both Delph and Day have pursued this legislation in past sessions and so far have never gotten a hearing," Schneider writes. "Chances aren't good this year, either, as the legislature is focusing on property tax reform and must complete its work by March 14," she writes.

I like Day's legislation much better than Delph's, although even Delph's would be a welcome improvement. If legislators had to report more of what they receive from lobbyists, I suspect some of them would turn down a lot of meals and free Colts tickets they currently enjoy. As a former lobbyist, I observed a number of legislators who were entertained by the same lobbyists night after night at Indianapolis' most expensive restaurants and never seemed to miss a Colts or Pacers ballgame. Oddly, many of those legislators never reported gifts of $100 or more. I recall one legislator, in particular, getting upset with me when I informed him entertainment provided to him and his family members by my law firm at a Colts game exceeded the $100 limit and would have to be reported. I think many lobbyists have a wink-and-a-nod understanding with legislators that they will always arrive at a figure below $100 no matter how lavish the entertainment is.

Speaking of ethics, I haven't seen or heard any news of ethics reform from Mayor Ballard and the new Republican council. During the campaign, Ballard pushed an ethics reform plan. "Taxpayers are being asked to pay for hundreds of millions of dollars in government spending ranging from huge construction projects to outside personal contracts. But there are virtually no rules governing the conduct of business or local government in such dealings," Ballard said during the campaign. He specifically proposed the following changes:

  • Require persons who lobby city government to register with the city and report any lobbying expenses they make, including any entertainment or item of value they provide to elected officials and public employees.
  • Bar lobbyists or other persons with a financial interest from serving on any commission or board that directly affects or deals with their lobbying or financial interests.
  • Establishing a code of conduct for city employees which bars them from soliciting contributions from individuals and firms which do business with the city.
  • Require statement of economic interests filed by public officials to be made publicly available online.
  • Require campaign finance reports be made publicly available online.

I realize folks like Bob Grand don't want to see any of these changes made now that the Republicans are in charge, but we voted for change and expect it to happen. An ethics reform plan should have been introduced at the first meeting of the new council, along with the Mayor's plan to shift control of IMPD to the Mayor's office away from the Sheriff's office. A look at the agenda of proposed resolutions for the council's first meeting tonight doesn't turn up anything about ethics reform, other than City-County Councilor Angela Manfield's proposal to restrict the council's general counsel from representing a councilor on any private matters. I suggested some ethics reform ideas as well, which you can see here.


Anonymous said...

Where are we today. Over the week end you touted Pollard who works for the largest lobby firm in the city as a congressional candidate. Today you kick lobbyist to the curb. Is it a good idea to elect lobbyist to congress? Are all lobbyist bad or just some.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Pollard sent me a link to a blog he set up to communicate with voters and asked me to share it with my readers. I did it because I want my readers to be informed, and I would have done it for any of the other candidates competing for this seat. He is the only candidate, Republican or Democrat, who has asked me to date to post any information about their candidacies on this blog.

Anonymous said...

The Statehouse lobbyists could've been reigned in back in 1989--but we missed our chance.

That's when brand-new Sec. of State Joe Hogsett, whose office then handled lobbyist registration, decided to get serious about it. He sent word that he'd be vigorous in collecting and evaluating lobbyist registration and reporting forms.

How did the legislature respond?

Within one session, they stripped the SOS of that duty. The legislature installed the nation's weakest lobbyist monitoring system. It's a commission appointed by the legislature itself.

This one-hand-washes-the-other approach has killed transparency in government in Indiana. It's how Ice Miller and some of the other huge firms wine and dine legislators, but don't have to report it.

They ought to be ashamed. But they aren't.

As Mayor, Ballard could push through any type of lobbyists ordinances he wanted. He's the perfect one to do it--he owes no one.

But I'm not holding my breath.

We all know that the Mayor actually shares power with the top two or three law firms anyway, regardless who the mayor is.

Anonymous said...

If I held public office I would never take a cent or special favors from lobbyists, but I would make time to talk with them.

If I liked the information they brought to me, I would give THEM gifts produced in Indiana.

I can afford to pay for my own dinners and entertainment.

Anonymous said...

There are federal codes outlawing "illegal gratuities" to public officials, which are gifts given in connection with the official's public role, but that don't rise to the level of "bribes" because there isn't an explicit quid pro quo. Bribing a public offical is illegal here, but Indiana should also adopt the illegal gratuities statute, which would make illegal much of the entertainment and other largesse lawmakers receive from those wishing to do business with the state.

Wilson46201 said...

Melyssa, why don't you run for Congress on the Libertarian ticket in the Special Election? They have a "slot" available by caucus as one of the 3 officially recognized political parties in Indiana ...

Anonymous said...

Oh, please Wilson, don't suggest that...

Anonymous said...

This is an odd partnership. Delph rarely does anything worth a cup of warm spit. But this actually sounds reasonable and overdue.

I guess Rex Early is right: even a blind squirrel can find an acorn once in a while.