My thoughts on the Senate Ethics Reform bill

I’ve just returned from the Senate, where I was proud to deliver my maiden speech as State Senator on the ethics reform bill, which in my mind is the most important reform bill the Senate has taken on this session.

Next up is finalizing the amendments to the State Senate  I will be filing before tomorrow’s noon deadline, so I will keep this post brief!

There has been a lot of discussion in this blog and in the news about the ethics bill before the Senate today, as well there should be on this important topic.

On the whole, I believe it to be a very good bill – the strongest of the three proposed bills (House, Senate, Governor), particularly with regards to campaign finance. It strengthens the integrity of our political process by closing loopholes to capture all “lobbyists,” enhancing campaign finance restrictions and reporting requirements, and increasing penalties for those who break ethics laws.

I was particularly pleased that the bill prohibits lobbyist contributions, a measure I pressed hard to have included. I believe it’s an important step in reforming the way we finance our campaign system, and in demonstrating to the public that our votes are won only with persuasive arguments and good grassroots organizing, and not donations.

We were also able to amend the bill to include many of the concerns raised on this site and others: to ensure confidentiality for whistleblowers, restore the right of the Ethics Commission to continue a civil investigation even if the Attorney General is investigating the matter, and ensure an appropriate statute of limitations for ethics complaints.

We did not change everything I would have liked to have seen changed. I was proud to offer up an amendment that would have banned all gifts to legislators given because of our official positions, a step further than the House bill or the current Senate bill. I received the support of some of my colleagues, but unfortunately not a majority.

I also offered an amendment, supported by Common Cause, that would have kept the ethics adjudicatory and investigatory powers with the State Ethics Commission, among other things.  Although pieces of this amendment made it into the bills in other ways, I was disappointed that we weren’t able to fix every problem it sought to address.

For those reasons, I would say it’s not a perfect bill – but we shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good here. This legislation is a very strong step forward. The bill now goes to conference committee, and I have hope that the final version will take the best elements of both the House bill and the Senate bill, giving us a solid bill we all can be proud of.

This post isn’t as brief as I’d intended (!), but I hope it gives you a better sense of the ethics bill we passed today. Although it’s very easy to focus on the things left out, we should take a moment to appreciate all this bill does accomplish.

And if you get a chance, I hope you’ll check out the text of my maiden speech and let me know what you think.

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