SCOTT MOONEYHAM: Ethics More Than Just Perception
Who can blame them?
The talk around Raleigh is that lawmakers will wrap up the current legislative session in the next few days. And so far, not one of the proposals that the government reform crowd wants put into law has passed both chambers of the General Assembly.
The House has passed nine bills addressing government ethics rules or campaign finance reform. The House proposals include the creation of a more powerful ethics panel to oversee executive branch behavior and a ban on converting leftover campaign money to a candidate's personal use. A bill that would restrict gifts from lobbyists to legislators, though watered down from an earlier version, was expected to be approved as this column was being written.
The Senate, though, hasn't approved any of the House bills. One of that chamber's big dogs -- Sen. Tony Rand, a Cumberland County Democrat -- has been working on his own plan for the last couple of months. While the Senate may approve some of the House bills, with a few modifications, it also plans to roll out the larger Rand proposal.
The reform advocates aren't worried that the Senate won't act. The Senate is almost certain to approve its own ethics reforms. The worry comes because, with time ticking on the legislative session, the two sides will need to work out some considerable differences.
The journalist types who hang around the Legislative Building carry around a slightly bemused smirk at all this worry. They know what kind of pummeling their publications will put on these folks if they walk away from the legislative session without passing significant ethics reform.
With scandal and an ongoing federal investigation hanging over this legislature, the thrashing would last for months.
In fact, several legislators on both sides of the aisle recognize as a problem the current lax rules regarding lobbying gifts and campaign practices. Others, though, believe it's all about perception.
Rep. Pryor Gibson is a Montgomery County Democrat who has backed the tougher rules, largely without complaint. But even he sees these bills as primarily remedying perception, not reality.
"The perception is that we are down here and we are for sale and lobbyists are buying us. and the fact is that it is not so," Gibson recently told one newspaper.
What's not perception: a federal investigation of the video poker industry that goes to the very core of House campaign fund-raising practices; sworn testimony that indicates proxy donors were used to funnel illegally gained money into campaigns; lobbyists handing out sporting event tickets to legislators who will later be asked to support legislation backed by the same lobbyists.
If the 170 people who make up the General Assembly enjoy hearing this recitation of facts, they shouldn't pass meaningful ethics reform.
Then they can hear them again and again and again.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association. Contact him at smooneyh@ ncinsider.com
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