Watchdogs ruled correctly on gift-giving

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 6, 2007

The issue: The State Ethics Commission

rules on gifts involving Alabama Power Co.

Our opinion: Restrictions regarding public

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officials should apply.

Tis the season of peace on Earth and giving


Some people might believe the State Ethics

Commission members acted more like Scrooge

than Santa Claus after its four member voted

unanimously Wednesday to tell Alabama Power

co. that restrictions on gifts and entertainment

for public officials apply even when friends and

neighbors are involved.

It&8217;s the first opinion given by the commission

on the issue. People hadn&8217;t thought much about

it prior to the issue coming up Wednesday.

And Alabama Power Co. just happened to be

the case. But Hugh Evans, the commission&8217;s attorney,

pointed out the opinion would apply to

any company or individual that entertained

public officials, public employees or their families.

Alabama had asked for the opinion because

the company had entertained Attorney General

Troy King and his family in the Alabama Power

Co.&8217;s skybox at an Atlanta Braves game in 2006.

One thing led to another and questions began

to mount. The power company used an interesting

example: What if power company employees

went to the beach for a week and the child of

the employee asked the child of a public official

or public employee along? Would that constitute

a violation?

Evans said yes.

The idea of something as extreme as having

your children&8217;s friends toe the line because of

your work might grate on some feelings, but not

Too many times, questions have come up

about relationships between industries regulated

by government and officials. And too many

times, shadows have been cast on important

projects because of the appearance of impropriety,

whether the intent was there or not.

The best rule of thumb is to not to place doubt

in anyone&8217;s mind. Rules are made for a reason.

Our public officials, like it or not, and their families

are held to a higher standard than the rest

of the population. That&8217;s one of the responsibilities,

if you will, of throwing a hat in the ring

and seeking the public&8217;s endorsement of their


The commission hasn&8217;t cut off anybody&8217;s fun,

not even the children&8217;s in the hypothetical.

The law tells people to report to the Ethics

Commission when they spend more than $250

per day on hospitality for a public official, public

employee or family member. That spending

is limited to three consecutive days.

Additionally, the law limits seasonal gifts,

such as Christmas, to less than $100 in value. A

single donor can&8217;t give a person more than $250

in gifts during a year.

That&8217;s pretty reasonable in our view.

Oh, and as far as the children in the example.

If the child of the power company employee

wanted to go, the parents of the public official

or public employee would have to reimburse the

power company employee for the cost.