News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion
MONDAY, JULY 10, 2006


Siegelman case should bring ethics crackdown

The corruption trial and conviction of former Gov. Don Siegelman provide an opportunity for other politicians, and it's not just a chance to crow that they're above the kind of behavior that got Siegelman into trouble.

Both Republican Gov. Bob Riley and Democratic Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley, who will be facing each other in the Nov. 7 election for governor, have benefited from being compared favorably with Mr. Siegelman. They cast themselves as clean and honest — leaders who would not sell favors and jobs.

Let them go beyond that now, and try to outdo each other in proposing ways to prevent corruption in the future.

This means strengthening state laws and enforcement.

It means limiting campaign contributions, regulating political action committees, strengthening the ethics law, and — as a fallback measure that will deter wrongdoing even when other laws fail — making all information about these matters readily available to the public.

Mr. Siegelman and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy were convicted of exchanging $500,000 in campaign contributions for a seat on a hospital regulatory board. The Associated Press notes that Mr. Siegelman's conviction comes only 13 years after former Gov. Guy Hunt was convicted and removed from office for misusing inaugural funds. Several lesser officials have been caught breaking the law.

"If Lucy Baxley or Gov. Riley really wanted a good campaign plank, they'd just say here's where the ethics law is weak, and if I'm elected, I'm going to do everything I can to try to prevent episodes like we've just seen," said Melvin Cooper, retired director of the State Ethics Commission.

It's good advice for them and for people running this year for other state offices, including state representative, state senator, lieutenant governor and attorney general.

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