Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Riley Way Late in Reporting Income

"Considering various efforts by Riley the Governor for 
at least some of  these  lobbying clients, it naturally 
would be interesting to see how much  if anything  they
 paid him so soon after he left the governor's office."

If former Alabama Governor Bob Riley ever gets around to
 filing his past-due ethics forms, his  reports will likely include 
payments from an Orange Beach condo developer.

               A suggested question for reporters who cover politics in Alabama:
               Why hasn't former Gov. Bob Riley filed his annual financial disclosure with the Alabama Ethics Commission for either 2010 or 2011?
               Some months ago I requested his form for 2010 from the Ethics Commission and was told he had not filed it, which I found surprising. Recently, the commission went "on-line" with a searchable database of ethics filings. The database includes annual reports for 2011, which came due on April 30. Riley's reports for 2008 and 2009 are there, but still no 2010, nor anything for 2011.
               For those not familiar with the process, each year, in late spring, local and state elected officials, non-federal public employees with salaries above $50,000 and members of certain boards must report their outside income from the previous year by completing a, “Statement of Economic Interest.” Among other requirements, officials must list sources of income and monetary ranges from those sources, starting at, “Less than $1,000,” and climbing to "more than $250,000."
               To make sure there wasn't an error, I called the Ethics Commission Monday and was told that if Riley had filed reports for 2010 and 2011, then the reports would be on-line.
               Here are some justifications for a story on Riley's apparent failure to file his annual reports.
               1. The law requires it. Riley was an elected public official for the entirety of 2010 and for the first few weeks of 2011, when his successor, Robert Bentley, took office. As such, the law requires that he file reports. The deadline for Riley's 2011 report is three weeks past. The deadline for the 2010 report was more than a year ago.
               As a comparison, in spring 2003, former Gov. Don Siegelman filed his annual report for 2002 (his last full year in office). The following spring, Siegelman filed his annual report for 2003, when he was governor for only the first few weeks of the year, until Riley's inauguration.
               For another comparison, I checked on former Attorney General Troy King. Like the governor, the outgoing attorney general serves the first few weeks of the year when his successor takes over. Last spring  King filed for 2010, and recently filed his report for 2011, the year when he served but a few weeks.
               2. Riley, to his credit, called a special session at the end of 2010 and, as a result, the Legislature passed laws that strengthened the ethics law and brought more transparency to state campaign laws. It is, then, surprising that Riley has not filed his annual reports. Doing so is a basic to say nothing of widely known requirement of the ethics law that existed long before the 2010 upgrade.
               3. Some six or seven months after leaving office, Riley raised eyebrows by registering as a lobbyist for the following clients: Mobile's Austal USA, EADS North America, VT Systems Inc.; Gulf Coast Asphalt Co. and Brett/Robinson Real Estate Development Co.
               As governor, Riley was heavily involved with some of those companies on economic development matters and perhaps other issues as well.
               The most startling client on the list was Brett/Robinson. In November 2010 -- near the end of Riley's tenure as governor -- news reports announced that BP had agreed to pay Brett/Robinson a whopping $37 million. This was to satisfy the company's claims of lost sales at its Phoenix West condominium development because of the oil spill.
              A story reporting the $37 million deal quoted Jim Thompson, a lawyer for Brett/Robinson, saying the settlement was pushed along by elected officials, including Riley and U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions.
               ''They stepped up to the plate and swung heavy bats,'' Thompson said of Riley and Sessions.
               Considering various efforts by Riley the Governor for at least some of these lobbying clients, it naturally would be interesting to see how much if anything they paid him so soon after he left the governor's office.
               Once that information is in hand -- as I have to assume it will be, since the law demands it -- it won't be unreasonable for the media to ask Riley what he's done for the companies in his role as lobbyist. He won't be compelled to answer, but certainly the questions aren't unfair. He sort of asked for the questions by seeking the business from these companies or agreeing to their requests that he lobby for them -- however the partnerships came about.
               It's understandable that someone who only served for a few weeks in 2011 could forget, some 16 months later, of his or her requirement to file his report. Still, they must file. And there is  zero excuse for Riley's failure to file for 2010.
               If Riley intentionally did not file, for 2010 or 2011 or both, well, I suppose there could be repurcussions for that.
            The suggestion at the beginning that the Alabama media should ask about this is not a criticism of the media. In fact, the Birmingham News has done an excellent job of "watch-dogging" Riley's fledgling lobbying career, with regular stories about his client situation on the state and federal level. In that first story, in August 2011, Riley told the News that he set up his lobbying firm, called Bob Riley and Associates, to "be a partner with, or help when I can, this administration, the governor, and the Legislature" especially in economic development and education reform.
               He made it sound like a charitable undertaking.
               I will confess that I was quite disappointed upon reading that story and the subsequent reports. Riley truly did, with his ethics and campaign reform legislation -- and before that, strong bid requirements and public reporting of state spending -- do much to clean up Alabama politics.
               I also was a fan of his courageous efforts against Milton McGregor's blatantly illegal "electronic bingo" operations and the sleaze cloud that enveloped Alabama as long as McGregor was allowed to operate.
               Riley, though, knowingly put his reputation in peril by becoming a lobbyist and signing up, as clients, companies that he had helped while governor.
               It seems as if more than his reputation could be in peril if he doesn't move quickly to file his ethics reports for 2010 and 2011 and convince anyone who might ask that it was an oversight, and not an intentional effort to bypass the law.

    (Note: This occasional blogger, when he blogs, does it for free, as in, as a charitable undertaking. However, you can help him feed his children by going Here or Over Here.)

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