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SUNDAY, JUNE 26, 2005
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EDITORIAL

Senators give a little 'help for their friends'

"Everybody always likes to help their friends if they can."

So said Sen. Jim Preuitt, D-Talladega, in explaining to The Birmingham News the influence of a 2004 trip to a Bahamas resort for him and his wife funded by the Community Bankers Association of Alabama.

Mr. Preuitt continued the explanation with "Nobody owns Jim Preuitt, has ever controlled my vote."

Nearly as bad as a bought politician is one who lacks sensitivity, and it's not just Mr. Preuitt.

Closer to home, Sen. Zeb Little, D-Cullman, went with his wife on the same trip. His observations about the trip, which he recalled including golf and dinner outings with bankers, demonstrated the same obtuseness.

"Those trips don't influence the way I vote, other than they're very informative and provide information on issues," said Mr. Little, an intelligent man who knows better. When a politician absorbs information from one player — the banking industry, for example — without also absorbing information from those with adverse interests, he has been influenced. Saying "those trips don't influence my vote" on the one hand and "other than they're very informative" on the other is difficult to understand.

The bankers got their money's worth if they created an environment in which Mr. Little was a member of their captive audience.

Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, possibly the most adept auctioneer of political services in the Legislature, received lavish trips to Australia and St. Paul, Minn.

Lobbyists hit a triple when they succeed in renting a politician's attention. They hit a home run when they convince the politician he is their friend. Suddenly a politician supporting a single issue becomes a long-term ally. That's when businesses advance their legislative assets from one-issue rentals to permanent ownership. After all, "everybody always likes to help their friends."

Lawyers like Mr. Little and Mr. Bedford are subject to an ethical code that regulates their legal practice, including their dealings with judges and with clients who have opposing interests. The code includes numerous provisions, one of which is to "avoid the appearance of impropriety." The intent of the rule is two-fold. One, it protects the legal profession as a whole from losing the trust of those it is designed to serve. Two, it recognizes that conduct that looks bad usually is, even if the lawyer is too dense to realize it.

By nursing from the corporate teat, lawmakers present their constituents with a glaring appearance of impropriety. It is time to uproot those who know they have sold out and those who have sold out but lack the sensitivity to know it.

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