- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 7, 2015

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - The Alabama Ethics Commission on Wednesday revised an earlier ruling and made it clear that legislators can’t lobby other state officials on behalf of their employers. In another decision, commissioners took a dim view of public employees being paid by outside sources.

The lobbying issue has become a focal point in the ethics case against House Speaker Mike Hubbard. The so-called executive loan arrangement has been used by Gov. Robert Bentley to fill positions in his administration.

A look at how the commission weighed in on each issue:

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LEGISLATIVE LOBBYING



In a 5-0 vote, commissioners said legislators should not lobby for, or sponsor legislation written or endorsed by their employers or legislation that uniquely affects their employers.

In September, the commission had ruled differently for Rep. Patricia Todd after she took a job as state director of the Human Rights Campaign, an organization that works on gay and lesbian issues. Todd, Alabama’s only openly gay legislator, for years has been one of the state’s most outspoken advocates for LGBT issues.

The September opinion said Todd could advocate and vote on issues backed by her employer as long as there wasn’t a direct financial interest involved.

However, Attorney General Luther Strange and prosecutors asked the commission to revisit the opinion, saying that it blurred the line between legislator and lobbyist and “practically permits an interest group to pay a legislator to lobby the legislature and state and local governments.”

“The fundamental issue is a legislator should not be paid by a lobbyist or principal, period. So you get a lot of questions once you allow that sort of thing,” Strange said Wednesday. He said he wanted to review the new opinion before determining whether his concerns were addressed.

Prosecutors said their concern was not Todd but the larger ramifications of the initial opinion.

The revised opinion specifies that Todd can advocate on general issues but cannot lobby on bills drafted or endorsed by the HRC or any bill that uniquely affects HRC.

HRC issued a statement saying they are reviewing the opinion and Todd is committed to abiding by the law.

Hubbard’s defense team has cited the commission’s original advice to Todd as it seeks to have the ethics case against the speaker dismissed. His case is expected to go to trial next year.

The powerful Republican faces 23 felony ethics charges accusing him of using his public office to benefit his businesses and clients, by lobbying other state officials, soliciting clients and other actions.

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OUTSIDE PAY

The commission took a dim view of public employees being paid by outside sources, an arrangement that Gov. Robert Bentley has used to fill a key administration position.

Commissioners did not forbid the so-called “executive loan” arrangements but said they will only approve them through formal opinion requests, which will subject them to public scrutiny. In a 5-0 vote, commissioners said the third-party pay for a government worker is presumed to be in conflict with the underlying principles of state ethics law.

“No matter how well intended these arrangements may be, we find that they create at least the appearance of an inherent conflict of interest between the employee’s duty to the state under the Ethics Act and the employee’s loyalty to the interests who pay their salary. The public should not have to question the loyalty of a ‘public employee’ who serves two masters,” the opinion stated.

Former Bentley Chief of Staff Seth Hammett was paid by PowerSouth Energy Cooperative during his 17 months working for the governor. The governor’s press office said last week that Hammett has returned to his job in the private sector.

Bentley legal adviser David Byrne said the opinion does not prohibit such arrangements, but requires a formal opinion request to “lay out the facts.”

“No one can really quarrel with that,” Byrne said. The opinion was suspended for 60 days to allow public comment.

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