Alabama was given a 73 score in the Ethics Enforcement Agency category in the Center for Public Integrity’s State Integrity Investigation, ranking it fourth in the country.
A series of changes to the Ethics Law beginning in 2010 have heavily influenced that score. Since that time, the Ethics Commission has been given a guaranteed budget, which reduces the effect of political pressure on operations. It also has been given subpoena power, which allowed it to conduct more effective investigations.
Some ethics rules have been tightened or more explicitly defined in the law, and public officials now are required to undergo ethics training regularly. The commission has filled that education role, broadening its sphere of influence. Having more explicitly defined rules and widespread ethics law training also has cut down on minor or accidental violations of the ethics law, including limits on gifts employees and officials may accept.
One of the issues that brought down the score in this category is that the Ethics Commission is barred from issuing reports about its investigation.
The commission essentially operates under the same rules as grand juries. If the commission investigates allegations and finds no probable cause, officials can say nothing more than that the case was dismissed.
If the commission issues a finding of cause, the case is referred to either the attorney general or a district attorney, and commission minutes describe the action. The minutes are available to the public, but no other reports are publicly issued in these cases.