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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Smitherman waited two months to assign PAC ban bill

Alabama Senate leadership allowed a bill banning the transfer of money between political action committees to sit in a basket for two months and did not assign it to a committee until Thursday after media asked about its fate.
The House passed the bill unanimously on Feb. 12 and it came to the Senate on Feb. 15.
Senate President Pro Tem Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, is responsible for taking bills from the basket and assigning them to committee. Assigning bills also requires the concurrence of Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr., but he does not decide when to take the bills from the basket.
Smitherman said he has not tried to delay the bill, but that there was a set of factors that led to the bill remaining in the basket.
He said the chairman of the committee, Sen. Pat Lindsey, died on Jan. 11 and they had to find a new chairman for the Constitution, Campaign, Finance, Ethics and Elections Committee. Sen. Quinton Ross, D-Montgomery, is now the chairman.
A different committee took up the bill last year.
Smitherman said filibustering in the Senate has kept the chamber from being able to conduct routine business.
Other House bills have been assigned during that two-month period.
Smitherman assigned the bill to Ross' committee on Thursday afternoon. He said most other bills had been assigned previously, but some have not.
Smitherman said a bill that has already passed the House only needs two days to pass. The Legislature has nine meeting days remaining.
Moving money between political action committees makes it difficult for people to determine the original source of the funding. Advocates believe voters should be able to determine who is giving money to candidates.
The House has passed the bill unanimously for years, but there has been little action in the Senate. The Senate passed a version last year, but most people considered the version to be watered down and create other loopholes.
The sponsor is Rep. Jeff McLaughlin, D-Guntersville.
Ross' Senate committee was scheduled to take up a different PAC ban bill on Thursday, but the committee did not meet because there were not enough members present for a quorum.
Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, sponsored that bill. He commended Ross for putting the bill on the agenda and said the committee rarely met under Lindsey’s leadership and his bills died in 2007 and 2008.
Ross said there was little chance of Senate bills passing at this point in the session, but it could happen.
Mary Lynn Bates, president of the League of Women Voters of Alabama, drove from Birmingham for the meeting and was disappointed the committee could not meet. She said she is a volunteer and it becomes difficult for people to come to Montgomery and participate in government if meetings fall through.
Bates said the league is a proponent of banning the transfer of money between PACs.
"It is more difficult for special interests to wield power behind the scenes," she said.
Orr said he supports McLaughlin’s bill, but said his own version "stops two holes" by not allowing campaign committees to transfer money between them.
Legislative leadership often receives large contributions from special interests and distributes the funds among members of their party.
"That concerns me greatly," Orr said of the McLaughlin bill not being assigned before Thursday.
Orr said most candidates campaigned on banning PAC to PAC transfers in 2006, but the Legislature is in its third year of the term and "nothing has been done."
"No bill is getting close to the point of passing," he said Thursday morning.
Orr said the situation is "reprehensible."
Smitherman said he has been a supporter of banning the transfer of money between political action committees since he was elected in 1994. He said he plans on voting for the bill if it comes up in the Senate.
Ross said the committee has been assigned a lot of bills, some of which need analysis. He said the committee has been meeting every two weeks, but might meet next week to try to take up legislation because time is dwindling in the session.
The members present in the committee on Thursday were Ross, Orr, Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, and Trip Pittman, R-Montrose.
Other members of the committee include Democrats Lowell Barron of Fyffe, Roger Bedford of Russellville, Zeb Little of Cullman, Myron Penn of Union Springs, Hank Sanders of Selma, and Smitherman; and Republican Ben Brooks of Mobile.

-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen

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South Union Street is the blog of Montgomery Advertiser political reporters Markeshia Ricks and Sebastian Kitchen. Always check here for the latest on the Legislature, elections and other activities and players in Alabama.

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