The Official Website of Josh Gillespie

Schoolhouse Rock Forgot the Lesson in Ethics

Growing up, you probably remember Saturday mornings watching cartoons with the occasional lesson from Schoolhouse Rock.  And, if you’re a political/government junkie like me, then “I’m Just a Bill” is a song that sticks with you.  We all know that’s an oversimplification of how a bill actually becomes law, but there are parts of each and every one of us that held on to the belief that it was that simple.  The role that lobbyists and other interests play, remind us that there are plenty of other steps that go into making a bill become law.  In fact, the chart below most likely spells out sausage making in a more realistic manner.

(Image hat tip to the Sunlight Foundation)

And this is AFTER the so-called landmark ethics reform legislation was passed in 2007.  And now, the Indianapolis Star is running stories about how the so-called landmark ethics reform legislation for the Indiana General Assembly, that they and the rest of the media lauded and practically through a parade for upon its passage, has giant gaping holes that a team of lobbyists can build a casino or two in and not be worried about space.

…a section of the bill that says lobbying-activity reports “may not report expenditures or gifts relating to the performance of a legislative person’s official duties.”

“That seems to be the exception that essentially eviscerates the entire law,” said Ed Feigenbaum, a Noblesville attorney who publishes the Indiana Legislative Insight newsletter. “It’s extremely troublesome.”

The intent was to allow committees, including the State Budget Committee, which travels the state frequently, to accept such things as a bus ride, lunch or informational materials as they explore issues. But the broad language, Feigenbaum said, doesn’t match the intent.

So how DO you bring sunlight to this kind of process? Simple. Report everything. Every Colts game reserved and coke purchased, even the M&M’s purchased at the vending machine retrieved as a favor. Report it. Similar legislation has been proposed at the federal level. Congressman Steve King introduced H.R. 170, the Sunlight Act of 2007.  This bill took the legislation that was eventually passed even further.  According to Congressman Dan Burton’s website (he also supported the legislation) this bill:

…members of Congress and staff would have to report exact dollar amounts in their annual financial disclosure statements, and then those reports, including all gifts and travel-related information, would be posted on the internet by the House Clerk for public consumption. Any constituent could read about every gift or trip their Congressman had taken.

Instead of introducing “legislative fixes” to bad legislation, how about introducing legislation that wouldn’t just fix a problem, but would eliminate the possibility of any loopholes. Just report everything. Sure it would be time consuming on the part of the legislator and the lobbyist, but why let a little paperwork get in the way of good government?

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