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Prospects for ethics reform and cleaning up the ‘pay to play’ scandals took a blow in the State Senate last week.

Senator David Hoyle told the Senate committee considering reform bills that “the issue is too complicated to take up this late in the session” (The News and Observer, 7-13-06). Other senators said the financial disclosure requirements and conflict-of-interest standards in the proposed bills are too tough.

Former Superior Court Judge Robert Farmer, the chairman of the N.C. Board of Ethics, also commented on the ethics bills the legislature is considering. But he doesn’t think they are tough enough. Farmer said:

“That’s just pretend ethics.”

According to The News and Observer, Farmer said that “lawmakers shouldn’t bother moving forward with ethics and lobbying reform bills without making substantial changes first.” And that “lawmakers need to ban lobbyists from raising campaign money because it creates the appearance that lawmakers’ votes are tied to campaign

The House took that provision out of its reform bill.

The News and Observer also reported another surprise in the House bill – which the bill’s sponsors say they didn’t even know was in it. The House ‘Ethics Reform Bill’ allows legislators to hire private lawyers to defend them at public expense.

Late last year, House Speaker Jim Black asked the state to pay “his office’s legal costs in complying with federal subpoenas” in the pay to play scandal. Black’s office estimated the private lawyers would cost $200,000. Governor Easley and the Attorney General said no to all but $30,000. Next time, if the House bill passes the Senate, Black won’t have to ask.

So to clean up the ‘pay to play’ scandals the Democrats in the House have passed a ‘Reform Bill’ that’s “just pretend ethics” and a provision to let taxpayers pay the politicians’ legal bills.

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