Ala. Ethics: Trial had major impact on state politics

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The Director of Alabama's Ethics Commission says the federal corruption trial that recently concluded in Montgomery will have a far reaching impact.

"I don't think that there's any doubt in anyone's minds that the public corruption trial has changed the demeanor of everybody in terms of discussing even campaign contributions in the same conversation of any kind of legislative issue that might be pending" Jim Sumner said.

Sumner, the longtime director of the commission also explained that many of the state's new ethics laws passed during the December 2010 Special Session were likely due in part to the investigation into the Alabama State House.

One of the most mentioned events during the corruption trial was a February 2010 dinner at Garrett's Restaurant in Montgomery. During that dinner, the government alleged that Country Crossing developer Ronnie Gilley, lobbyist Jarrod Massey, and Sen. Harri Anne Smith (I – Slocomb) offered bribes to then Rep. Ben Lewis (R – Houston) and Sen. Scott Beason (R – Gardendale).

According to Sumner, the new ethics laws prohibit any single lobbyist from spending more than $25 at such an event or a principle spending more than $50.

"Obviously you can't go to the fine, white tablecloth restaurants and spend those amounts of money for a dinner for a public official or employee. It just can't be done" Sumner said.

He also said the notion of "under the table" payments for various purposes to lawmakers or state employees is something the Ethics Commission would look into if it ever received a complaint.

Federal prosecutors alleged that Victoryland owner Milton McGregor paid Legislative Reference Service Analyst Ray Crosby $3,000 per month for preferential treatment in drafting gambling legislation. McGregor's attorneys argued it was a consulting agreement.

Sumner said, "The entire culture has been changed by this, by the trial, by the testimony, the revelations that have come out of the trial."

Consulting work is permitted under the state's ethics laws, but they could not be linked to a public official's capacity within the state.

Federal prosecutors failed to convict any of the nine defendants on any of the 124 counts in the ten week trial. Jurors acquitted lobbyist Bob Geddie and Sen. Quinton Ross (D – Montgomery) of all charges.

Federal Judge Myron Thompson tentatively scheduled an October 3 retrial date for the remaining seven defendants. They include Sen. Harri Anne Smith, Ray Crosby, Milton McGregor, former Country Crossing spokesman Jay Walker, lobbyist Tom Coker, former Sen. Jim Preuitt (R – Talladega), and former Sen. Larry Means (D - Etowah).