The director of the state Ethics Commission says a bill before Alabama lawmakers could weaken ethics enforcement in the state. “Considerably,” chairman Tom Albritton says of the potential damage. The House of Representatives approved a bill to exempt economic developers from the definition of “lobbyist” under the state ethics law.
Supporters argue it is needed to help Alabama compete with other states for projects and factories by keeping developers' activity confidential. Critics said it opens up an exemption in the ethics law that governs interactions with government officials.
Albritton is concerned over how these economic development people might interact with lawmakers outside of the watchful eye of ethics officials. The term “economic developer” is also considered a “catch-all” term for people who want to conduct business in the legislature. Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield says his department and professional economic developers asked for the legislation because of confusion that began arising in 2015 on whether developers should register as lobbyists. Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall says he opposed the bill at first but was pleased with changes to the bill, before its House passage.
Albritton says a better way would be to keep the developers under the state ethics law, but allow the reports on their activity to remain confidential for a period of time so deals in the making are not publicly disclosed. The bill now moves to the Alabama Senate, where Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh says he won’t move on the measure unless the ethics commission is on board with it.