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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Be Careful of what you Wish For!

As the saying goes: "be careful of what you wish for; you just might get it."

Much can be said about the current "special session" of the Louisiana Legislature. It has been dubbed "The Ethics Session." That's nice. Here in Louisiana we know a thing or two about unethical behavior. But those atrocities of the days of yore are now behind us. We have fresh faces. We have new ideas. And we have a 36 year old whiz-kid, Rhodes Scholar, "conservative" Governor who received the mandate of the people to wield the meat ax against the stogie smoking stooges who epitomize all that is evil in government. The Louisiana of today is going to be corruption free forevermore. If the legislature doesn’t get it right the first time, Governor Jindal plans to call them back in again and again and again. (Oh, yeah HB2, in case you're wondering, is a basic reiteration of HB1, just in case HB1 didn't pass the muster.)

Wow, what a mandate can do for one's ego! You would almost think that Huey Long was breezing back through Baton Rouge between stints at the United States Senate (oh that's right, Jindal just vacated his seat in Washington, D.C., too hard for him to be in two places at the same time). Well, Huey is not too far away. He's tucked away in a tomb about a hundred yards from the elongated edifice which dominates the skyline of the little town of Red Stick. We should wonder whether or not he has been exhumed as the passage of HB1, the bill to amend the Ethics and Financial Disclosure laws of Louisiana, sailed through committee and across the floor with more grace than a paper-airplane, silently gliding along with little protest from anyone who occupied one of the 105 seats.

Earl Long once remarked about Oscar K. Allen (Huey Long's henpecked successor to the Governor's office): "a leaf blew in the window, and Oscar signed it." Well, HB1 is not a leaf, its a thirteen page document amending serious laws, and it passed with the mindlessness of O. K. Allen scrawling his name upon a foliole.

Has anyone looked critically at HB1? Has anyone considered the ramifications down the line? It will be very interesting to see who decides to become a candidate after this measure zips through the Senate and becomes law. Yes, the new financial disclosure laws apply to even those who "think" they want to run for public office. "Any person who becomes a candidate shall file a financial disclosure..." even "...if he is undecided as to the office he will seek."

Now, we should believe that financial disclosure is a good thing. Yet somewhere a sensical limit must be draw upon what financial transactions need to be disclosed by those who aspire to serve the public. The candidates, elected and appointed public officials (and their spouses no less) now are required to list and briefly delineate the employment, any businesses which they own over 10%, any income generated from such businesses, any income source greater than $1000.00, any real property having a value over $1000.00 they own, purchase, sell, donate et cetera, any creditor to which an excess of $10,000.00 is owed; ah, you get the point here, the list goes on and on.

Just exactly are we trying to prove here? Seeming that a candidate or public official must bear everything in the name of "true transparency" should we make them parade around in the buff while on the campaign trail and on the legislature floor? We should hope that the Senate doesn't tack such an amendment to the bill. We have gone well beyond what is reasonable. The pendulum has swung so far over that the clock is about to come crashing to the floor. The greater portion of HB1 is unnecessary. Who cares if your legislator owns an oilfield that nets him $100k a year? Who cares how much his wife makes for a living? Who really cares to know if he has mortgaged the farm? This is not Ethics Reform, its window dressing; a long tapestry woven out of the fear that someone might not be honest.

Honest people don't make the backroom dealings which are not going to get reported on any spreadsheet anywhere. Dishonest individuals have already broken the law what in the world would behoove them to go on and report their ill-gotten gains to the Ethics Board? There is not one thing which will be reported on the financial disclosure forms which will amount to anything worthwhile. Louisiana government will just be collection billions of sheets of paper and hiring an additional army of bureaucrats to perform the skulldrudgery of rooting out errors.

Errors are exactly what they are, they are mistakes; there is no intention when an error is made. If there was no intent there cannot be a violation of Ethics. Intent is what is important in Ethics reform. That's where the focus should be.

But the focus got lost. It appears that the legislature and our young scholar Governor have misinterpreted exactly what Ethics is about. Ethics is about doing what is right. Ethics is not about how much money one earns from legitimate sources. HB1 is a gross misapplication of the definition of Ethics.

In the effort of upholding our public officials to Ethical standards we must first raise an all important question: how does such a bill like HB1, with consideration paid to every debt and credit, get drafted in such a short span of time? HB1 covers the gamut of income sources and considers every avenue to place the finances of public officials on parade. Could this revision of the ethics code been drafted well before the ideal was raised publicly? We should be questioning who REALLY crafted this legislation and what their INTENTION really is, as HB1 shoots arrows all along the dartboard while missing the bullseye completely.

What is frightening is what the reaction will someday be. Once people who decide to run for public office realize the microscope they are placing themselves under, it will be safe to say that a majority will not run. HB1 is a sham. And once people realize that what they wished for has come true, they will be wishing it to be undone.




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