Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Legislators Approve Strong Ethics And Lobbying Reforms

The House and Senate overwhelmingly passed an ethics and lobbying bill (HB 1843) on Thursday, which supporters and advocates described as one of the toughest and most far-reaching package of reforms and regulations in the nation. The legislation strengthens ethics regulations for the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of government, including boards and commissions. It establishes an independent, eight-member State Ethics Commission, which will conduct inquiries on complaints filed against all three branches of government. Following last year’s passage of tougher lobbying regulations (SB 612), lawmakers went further this year by enacting additional reforms including a gift-giving ban and a ban on lobbyists contributing to political campaigns.

Some reform advocates contend the bill didn’t go far enough because it didn’t attempt to bar lobbyists from soliciting others for campaign donations; however, supporters of the bill said that those changes would be unconstitutional. Lobbyists would also be prevented from “bundling” or collecting campaign donations, a practice in which several campaign checks are given at a time to a candidate, sometimes after a fundraising event. Even that provision could be challenged in court, supporters said.

The House agreed 109-1 and the Senate 46-1 to the comprehensive reform package that was more than a year in the making. House members spent close to 8 months on drafting various ethics, campaign finance and lobbying reform proposals. At the end of last year, House Speaker Jim Black established and appointed me to the House Select Committee on Ethics and Governmental Reform, which spent months prior to May on drafting legislative recommendations on various ethics, campaign finance, and lobbying reforms.

Governor Easley, who must still sign the bill into law, said: “The Legislature has taken on a difficult issue and worked hard on what has become much more complicated than anyone anticipated. Their action should be applauded.”

Legislators previously approved bills that provide more control over the use of campaign funds, improves required training for campaign treasurers, and requires stronger reporting requirements on campaign finance reports as well as efforts by lobbyists and politically active “527” groups.

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