Alabama scored 75.2 in the Legislative Accountability category of the Center for Public Integrity’s State Integrity Investigation, ranking it fourth-best in the country in that regard.
That is not to say Alabama hasn’t faced the prospect of corruption in the ranks of legislators in recent years; it has.
Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard is set to go to trial in March on 23 felony ethics charges. Most of the charges allege that Hubbard used or attempted to use his legislative office to benefit clients of one of his private companies or used his position when he was chairman of the state Republican Party to secure business for his private companies. He also faces four charges that he lobbied the governor’s office and the Department of Commerce under the auspices of his private business for two clients.
Hubbard’s case is just the latest in a string of Statehouse scandals. In the past few years, at least eight legislators have faced corruption charges. One legislator pleaded guilty in a case that alleged legislators were bribed to vote for a bill to legalize electronic bingo, while four others stood trial and were found not guilty. Three other legislators were either convicted or pleaded guilty in connection with an investigation into corruption in the state’s two-year college system.
Rather than giving the state a lower score in the study, those cases illustrated that the state has laws prohibiting corruption and the political will to take cases to court.
Alabama got points for having specific laws against legislators using state property for personal gain, accepting gifts and voting on issues that present a conflict of interest. The state also requires legislators to file statements of economic interests each year that include information about income, investments and debt for the officials, their spouses and their dependent children. However, most of that information is reported in broad ranges rather than specific amounts, and it is not routinely audited. The forms are filed with the Ethics Commission, though, and are available for public review online.
Alabama had mixed scores on questions involving public access to information and the legislative process. Much information is available to the public. The Legislature’s website contains up-to-the minute information on the progress of bills through the Legislature, including amendments and votes. It also gives the public access to schedules of meetings, rules by which the chambers operate, and information about the members of each chamber and of committees.
But the Legislature does not make transcripts of discussions held on the floor or in committee meetings, so they are not available to the public. Summaries of debates, as such, also are not available. So although the public can get a lot of information, it can’t always tell from that documentation what political forces were at play in the Legislature’s decisions.