The 2014 Kentucky General Assembly adopted a new law (House Bill 28) strengthening our state’s Code of Legislative Ethics for the first time since the Code’s adoption in 1993.
With these improvements, Kentucky solidifies its stature as the state with the most effective and comprehensive legislative ethics law in the nation.
Kentucky’s ethics law was enacted in 1993, in the wake of the BOPTROT scandal, and has long been viewed as one of the nation’s strongest laws regulating the conduct of legislators and lobbyists.
For over 20 years, while many states have experienced serious bribery and corruption scandals, Kentucky’s ethics law has helped prevent those kinds of episodes.
This year, the General Assembly strengthened the ethics law in several important areas:
• During sessions of the General Assembly, legislators and legislative candidates will be prohibited from accepting campaign contributions from political action committees and from businesses or organizations that employ lobbyists;
• The ethics code will now include a “no cup of coffee” provision, meaning lobbyists and their employers will be prohibited from buying a meal, or even a cup of coffee, for an individual legislator, legislative candidate, or a legislator or candidate’s spouse or child;
• Lobbyists are already prohibited from giving campaign contributions to legislators and candidates at any time, and the new law prohibits lobbyists from raising and bringing other people’s contributions to legislative campaigns;
• The new law prohibits lobbyists and their employers from paying for out-of-state travel for legislators; and
• The new law will require businesses and organizations which employ lobbyists to report all spending on advertising during legislative sessions which supports or opposes legislation. Advertising is a growing and expensive part of lobbying, and citizens will be better informed about who is paying for this type of “grass roots” lobbying.
Kentucky’s current ethics law prohibition on lobbyists making campaign contributions to legislators and candidates is one of the strongest and most effective ethics statutes in the nation. The law draws clear lines between state legislators and the political influence of lobbying interests.
The changes adopted in House Bill 28 will enhance those boundaries and help our state avoid much of the perception that plagues the U.S. Congress – that special interests’ campaign contributions and other spending are influencing legislative actions.
This is a significant step in building public confidence in the integrity of Kentucky’s law-making process. While we may have disagreements from time to time about the General Assembly’s policy decisions, it’s vitally important for the legislative process to work without inappropriate influence from businesses or organizations that have a financial stake in the outcome.
Look no farther than our neighboring states. In recent years, six of the states surrounding Kentucky have seen legislators convicted on charges such as bribery, extortion, and mail fraud.
In several states, including Alaska, New York, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee, numerous legislators of both parties have gone to prison. Imagine how that undermines the public trust.
By adopting these new ethics law provisions, the Kentucky General Assembly has reinforced its commitment to ethical decision-making in the legislative arena. The new law is based on recommendations developed by Legislative Ethics Commission members, former State Rep. Pat Freibert and former Court of Appeals Judge Paul Gudgel.
The Commission believes these changes will create a clear bright line between legislators and candidates, and the businesses and organizations that have interests before the Legislature. The advertising reporting requirement will provide significant new information to the public about an increasingly important form of lobbying.
The 2014 General Assembly has made a strong statement, and Kentucky continues to provide an ethical roadmap for other states and Congress to follow.
George C. Troutman of Louisville has served on the Legislative Ethics Commission since 1994.