Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Shields Introduces Lobbyist Contribution Ban During Session

Senate Leader Charlie Shields introduced legislation Tuesday that would bar lobbyists from contributing to any incumbent legislator or the Governor during the legislative session that runs between January and May.
Tuesday is the first day lawmakers can file legislation for the 2010 session.
Shields' three-pronged legislation would also create the position of an independent investigator within the Ethics Commission to investigate violations and file complaints and increase financial disclosure among staffers. He said the ethics reform package is in direct response to the resignation of three elected officials this year.
"Ethics violations are unacceptable, especially because of the damage they cause to the public’s trust in our democratic process," Sen. Shields said. “I believe we should continue to build on reforms we passed in 2007 by bringing even more transparency and accountability to the process in every way we can," he said in a statement.

The most far-reaching and potentially controversial measure is the contribution ban on lobbyists during the session. The ban would cover contributions to "any incumbent legislator’s candidate committee, incumbent governor's candidate committee, any continuing committee, or any campaign committee during the regular session of the General Assembly that runs from January to May."
In addition, the ban would apply to "any incumbent governor's candidate committee or and any continuing or campaign committee when legislation from the regular session awaits gubernatorial action." Incumbents seeking office in a special election would be exempted. In the legislation, a lobbyist is defined as "someone who is employed to influence legislation on a regular basis."

"We should work to avoid even the appearance of conflicts of interest and you can’t do that if you continue to allow campaign contributions while the Legislature is in session," Sen. Shields said.

The only exemption in the bill would be for those incumbents seeking office in a special election. According to the legislation, a lobbyist is defined as someone who is employed to influence legislation on a regular basis.

Another provision would require all employees and staff of the General Assembly to file yearly financial interest statements disclosing supplemental income received totaling $5,000 or more. Shields said the disclosure must include the source of the income and the general nature of the business conducted.

The Senate bill will be assigned a number by the end of the day and full text of the legislation will be available here in the coming weeks.

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