Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Bauer Proposes Ethics Reforms

He's been a state lawmaker for four decades and, up to this point, exhibited no signs of being concerned about legislative ethics. Today, House Speaker Pat Bauer turned over a new leaf in announcing an ethics reform package he will push to adopt next year. “Public trust in the workings of state government is critical if we are to do the people’s business,” Bauer said at a Statehouse press conference today. “Today’s announcement demonstrates a commitment to maintaining the public’s trust and a willingness to enact reforms that will make sure that conduct by all branches of government is above reproach.”

Bauer's ethics reforms fall into three categories: legislative branch restrictions; executive branch restrictions; and state contracting and political contributions.

Bauer wants to reduce from $100 to $50 the reporting theshhold of gifts by lobbyists to lawmakers. That would capture a lot of those free sporting event tickets and dinners at St. Elmo that fall outside the current reporting requirement. He also wants to impose a one-year cooling off period for ex-legislators who wish to become lobbyists. The most perplexing proposal in his package is one that would prohibit lobbyists with multiple clients from representing clients whose representation poses a conflict of interest between the lobbyists' clients. Lawyer lobbyists are already subject to this ethical consideration under the Indiana Rules of Professional Responsibility, although that doesn't seem to stop some of the big lobbying firms from taking on representations that pose conflicts of interest among their clients.

Bauer wants to impose the one-year cooling off rule on lobbying to appointed persons in the executive branch. He is also proposing to bar the governor and gubernatorial candidates from engaging in political fundraising during the long legislative session during odd-numbers years and during reorganization day in the even-numbered years.

Perhaps one of the most important changes Bauer is proposing is to bar persons who hold contracts with state government or are bidding for state contracts from contributing to any individual who holds a state office or is a candidate for a state office. This is important in efforts to curtail pay-to-play politics. Such persons would be required to register with the Indiana Elections Division, a list of which would be provided in a searchable database on the Election Division's website. Civil and criminal penalties would be imposed on those who violated this prohibition. Contractors who violate the requirement could have their contracts voided, while bidders who violate the prohibition could be found to be non-responsive in their bids.

I'm not sure what Bauer's motive is in proposing these ethics reforms, although I applaud him for having done so. Some are suggesting a cynical motive based on ongoing investigative reporting on lobbying activities by some newspapers. Personally, the ethics reforms don't go far enough for me, but they are a big step in the right direction. Bauer is politically wise to get out front of this issue before it becomes an albatross around his neck during next year's critical legislative races that will decide who will control the House after next year's election and get to redraw legislative boundaries for the next decade. Current political trends favor the House Republicans in their quest to retake control of the Indiana House. Bauer may simply be pre-empting a move by House Republicans to make ethics an issue next year.


dcrutch said...

I'm normally as apt to spend Thanksgiving with the Wicked Witch of the East as praise Speaker Bauer. Well, Ding-Dong, I preliminarily applaud his intent. I smell a rat, er, burning broomstick, something foul.....But, along with Rokita's stab at redistricting-somebody's darn sure put something in the water at the Statehouse. When I hear they're also tackling Kernan-Shepard, township gov't, and illegal hiring then I'll know it's reached my water too.

Sir Hailstone said...

"Pat Bauer" and "Ethics" ... mutually exclusive terms.

I know said...

For the D and R leaders to come together on the issue so soon before the new session one might think there is a storm on the horizon and the politicians need to put up a good front to avoid scrutiny when the mess comes out.

Just like before a hurricane or tornado. Come together, board up the windows, send out a mass message of unification and then take cover.

There must be a big wind brewing and boy will it stink! Just ask some of the big R and D folks for they know the hundreds of millions of dollars missing from defaulted bonds with State Contracts and the pleas for tax hikes to bail the contractors out. They have had it given to them on a silver platter of the conflicts, the profiteering and the good old boy wrangling.

Boy what a site to see! I hope the R and D groups don't miss one of the holes in their routine that will drag them into the cesspool too.

Jon said...

When Bauer, Crawford et.al. stop being lobbyists for Ivy Tech and start representing the people then I'll believe in ethics.

Advance Indiana said...

Maybe the Star is planning a little more reporting on the Ivy Tech employment plan for politicians, Jon. I personally want Greg Porter's $115,000 gig at HHC. If someone can convince me he actually does legitimate work for that paycheck, I would like to hear it.