(MONTGOMERY, Ala.) -- The Alabama state legislature begins meeting Wednesday to consider replacing ethics laws for state legislators that critics say are among the loosest in the country with strict limits that may be among the toughest.
Outgoing Gov. Bob Riley, long an advocate of ethics reform, called for the special session after the indictment of three gambling lobbyists and four state legislators for allegedly trading votes for cash, and after a November election in which Democratic losses may have been made still more sweeping by the party's perceived closeness to the gaming industry.
Under Alabama's existing rules, lobbyists can spend up to $250 a day on an individual legislator without disclosure, or more than $90,000 a year. The lax restrictions have led to cozy relationships between lawmakers and lobbyists, like those seen during an ABC News investigation earlier this year. At a national convention of state legislators, student journalists working for the Brian Ross Investigative Unit found four Alabama lawmakers golfing with a gaming lobbyist instead of attending a seminar on good government.
Gov. Riley's proposed changes would limit lobbyist spending on an individual legislator to $25 per occasion and $100 per year.
Ellen Miller, executive director of D.C.-based government watchdog The Sunlight Foundation, called Riley's proposed changes "good, solid steps forward." She had termed Alabama's current rules "outrageous" and among the worst she'd heard of at the state level.
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