“It’s important to restore the people’s confidence in their government,” Gipson said. “We need to make transparent conflicts of interest or the appearance of conflicts of interest.”
The bill proposes to limit the amount of money lobbyists are allowed to spend on gifts for public officials to a maximum of $25 per occasion.
It will also have a yearly maximum of $50 from any one person.
Lobbyists must also report to the Alabama Ethics Commission any financial transactions between the lobbyists and public officials and their families.
The Ethics Commission must then post the lobbyists’ disclosures on the Internet for the public to view at any time.
Although the new code will still allow public officials to accept tickets to sporting or cultural events as gifts, it will require full disclosure of every ticket accepted from any organization.
The current code only requires disclosure of costs received over $250.
Gipson’s first term was in 1995, the same year that Alabama’s current ethics code was instated.
“At the time it was one of the strongest ethics codes in the U.S.; a lot of states didn’t even have one,” Gipson said. “It’s been 14 years, and times have changed.”
Hugh Evans of the Alabama Ethics Commission agreed that the current ethics law is out of date and should be updated.
“We’ve found a number of things since 1995 that need to be fixed or need to be clarified,” Evans said.
Evans said a major concern of the Alabama Ethics Commissions is that they currently lack the power to subpoena.
“We’re the only state whose ethics commission does not have the power to subpoena,” Gipson said.
The bill proposed by Gipson will grant the Ethics Commission the power to subpoena witnesses and demand books, papers or other documents as evidence when conducting investigations.
Gipson said that Alabama is in danger of earning a bad reputation for government corruption.
“Alabama is near the bottom of the list for ethical governments,” Gipson said. “We’re not highly thought of as a body.”
“Not hardly a day goes by that you don’t pick up the paper for any small town in Alabama and read about some new evidence of a corrupt government,” Gipson said.
Gipson mentions former governor Don Siegelman’s involvement with the two-year college scandal as a recent example of corruption in Alabama’s government.
“I think we’re in danger with what’s been going on in the last few years of our state being known for corruption in the government,” said Auburn’s representative Mike Hubbard.
The proposed ethics bill will require public officials (renamed “public servants” in the bill) to disclose to the Ethics Commission all jobs or income they or their families receive from any government institution, business or nonprofit organization.
“The government feels like it’s time to strengthen its ethics,” Gipson said.
Gipson said a reputation for a corrupt government could negatively impact Alabama’s ability to attract business.
“I believe that it ties into economic development,” Gipson said. “Companies do not want to relocate to a state known to have corruption.”
The bill was proposed last week.
Gipson said he did not know when the bill would be out of committee and on the floor for debate.
Although Bob Riley said in a press conference that he would be willing to go to a special session if the ethics bill fails.
However, Gipson said he believes it will not be necessary for him to go to that extra session.
“A special session costs about $4,000, and the taxpayer will not be happy about spending that kind of money on something that could be resolved in a regular session,” Gipson said.