More work to do on ethics reform
Friday, December 23, 2016 3:00 PM
Indiana’s ethics reform law, passed last year in the wake of several scandals, was supposed to address some of the state’s problems.
Based on recent developments concerning two former legislators, there’s more work to be done.
Last week, the Indianapolis Star reported that retired Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford, who voted in favor of a vaping bill that allowed a handful of Indiana companies to make and sell e-liquid, has a new job: Steele has signed on as executive director of the Vapor Association of Indiana.
In his new position, Steele will represent the few companies licensed to manufacture electronic smoking device liquid under Indiana’s new law — you know, the one Steele cast a vote in support of.
During the upcoming legislative session, the vapor association will be actively lobbying at the Statehouse. Which raises concerns about the newly retired Steele adhering to the rule that prohibits lawmakers from lobbying their colleagues for one year after leaving office. Turns out that rule isn’t as ironclad as it should be, as it makes a distinction between those who register as lobbyists and employer-lobbyists, who pay others to do the lobbying. According to the Star, Steele will honor the one-year rule by hiring an outside lobbying firm to represent the association at the General Assembly. Steele insists there are no ethical issues with his new job.
Also not registering as a lobbyist is former Sen. Carlin Yoder, R-Middlebury, who chose not to run for re-election this year and instead will join a lobbying firm based in Indianapolis. His new employer, in a press release, says that that Yoder won’t be providing legislative lobbying services for his one-year “cooling off period.”
But such reassurances miss the point. The one-year rule should be obeyed in word and in spirit. It should prevent lawmakers from trading on their public service for personal gain — whether or not they register as a lobbyist.
Lawmakers should fix the law so that it does just that. It’s not just the right thing to do. It’s the ethical thing to do.