Local Politics

Advocates say ethics bill is good step on path of reform

Posted July 10, 2010 3:04 p.m. EDT
Updated July 10, 2010 8:10 p.m. EDT

NC General Assembly 4x3

— Lawmakers hope that an ethics reform bill passed in the early hours of Saturday will clean up state government and reassure voters, but reform advocates are concerned it doesn't go far enough.

The 29-page ethics and government reform bill was approved unanimously by the House of Representatives and with just one dissenting vote in the Senate.

"We're putting out much more disclosure. It allows the public access to information so that they can make their own judgment call on who our contributors are and their influence on the Legislature," Sen. Martin Nesbitt, D-Buncombe, said.

"Hopefully, through that transparency, they'll feel better about their government," he added.

Political watchdog Joe Sinsheimer said that lawmakers were under pressure as a parade of high-profile politicians got prison sentences on corruption charges in recent years and former Gov. Mike Easley became the subject of a federal corruption investigation.

"There's been a feeling that state government is up for sale, and this ethics legislation chips away at that notion," Sinsheimer said.

The measure toughens penalties for illegal campaign donations above $10,000, requires board and commission members to report any campaign fundraising activities for elected officials who appointed them, and expands information about state employees that must be released publicly.

Ethics reform advocates said they were disappointed that a so-called pay-to-play provision didn't make the bill. The provision would have limited campaign contributions by contractors doing business with the state. Instead, the bill sets up a commission to study the proposal.

With elections in the fall, some lawmakers likely were leery of the proposal, Sinsheimer said.

"They're really reluctant to do anything that affects their own fundraising," he said.

Sinsheimer said that though work remains to be done, the passage of the ethics bill represents progress.

"A couple lawmakers deserve extra credit here. Senate Majority Leader Martin Nesbitt and Rep. Richard Glazier really pushed hard to get an ethics bill done," Sinsheimer said. "It's a step forward, but it's a half loaf."

Glazier, a sponsor of the House version of the bill, said he believes that with a little more education, lawmakers will support the pay-to-play measure in the future.

"I think more important than any single provision is the work that was done in a bipartisan way," said Glazier, D-Cumberland. "Both chambers, both parties have really realized the necessity to make sure that our conduct is of the highest level."