Rickey L. Cole, Mississippi Democratic Party chairman has written a letter to the state ethics commission raising concerns about whether Gov. Phil Bryant is attempting to influence the decisions of the commission regarding the six Republican legislators who have conflicts of interest in votes involving the Medicaid Program.
The text of his letter is below.
May 30, 2013
Mr. Tom Hood Executive Director
Mississippi Ethics Commission Post
Office Box 22746 Jackson, MS 39225
Dear Mr. Hood:
I am writing to express my alarm and dismay at recent public statements by Governor Bryant and other officials and commentators about matters allegedly pending before the Mississippi Ethics Commission, specifically whether or not six Republican members of the House of Representatives may alter a position they have long maintained and cast a vote on the appropriations bill for the Division of Medicaid. It appears there is a concerted effort to influence the decision of the Commission, and that is cause for concern.
For example, WLOX-TV is reporting that on Monday Governor Bryant said, “There are six members of the House of Representatives all Republicans that are asking as to whether or not the ethics commission will allow them to vote. They have some concern. So we feel like it's important for every member to have the opportunity to vote.” It appears to us the Governor is sending the Ethics Commission a strong signal as to how he wants it to rule.
Then there is Alan Lange, a well known Republican blogger, who, on April 8, 2013, made clear in advice to the Republican Party that ethics should take a back seat to partisan politics when it comes to funding Medicaid: “In legislative leadership, you only have so many opportunities to say, 'this is a vote that the party has to have and this vote is the price you pay for having an ‘R’ by your name.' This is one of those times. There are some pretty squishy Republican votes that should have gotten drug across the line that didn’t. Most of the sideline votes are Chairman or Vice Chairman. Some are claiming that they may have a conflict on the vote, but whether or not an Ethics Commission opinion has been requested is not known. Like the other representatives, they’ve got an election coming up in two years. Medicaid reauthorization is a key deal for the Governor, the Lt. Governor, the Speaker and the people of the state.” (my emphasis)
All of these public comments, plus others, both public and private, are taking place in the context of the recent partisan dinner hosted by the Speaker of the House at his office in the State Capitol, a dinner that included Billy Powell, a member of the Ethics Commission.
I can assure you the average person looks at all of this and figures, “the fix is in.” I know I don’t need to remind you that the Legislative Declaration for the Conflict of Interest states that, “The legislature declares that elective and public office and employment is a public trust and any effort to realize personal gain through official conduct, other than as provided by law, or as a natural consequence of the employment or position, is a violation of that trust. Therefore, public servants shall endeavor to pursue a course of conduct which will not raise suspicion among the public that they are likely to be engaged in acts that are in violation of this trust and which will not reflect unfavorably upon the state and local governments.” (emphasis added)
The goal of the Mississippi ethics law is to bolster confidence and trust in the operation of government. As the declaration states, creating that trust depends as much on deterring any act that might create a “suspicion” of unethical behavior as it does on prosecuting actual violations of the code of ethics. If the Ethics Commission creates a loophole for these six legislators to change course and begin voting on the Medicaid appropriations bill, then we’ll know the Declaration is meaningless.
I look forward to your reply.
Rickey L. Cole Chairman