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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, August 08, 2017 1:00 am

Lawmakers should just say no

Alcohol and driving don't mix, but alcohol and politics surely do.

As The Journal Gazette's Niki Kelly reported on Sunday, lawmakers chosen to serve on the Indiana Alcohol Code Revision Commission have received at least $200,000 over the years from the industry whose regulations they are preparing to review.

Commendably, House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long have prohibited members of the two-year commission that begins work this summer from owning an alcohol license or receiving gifts or entertainment from lobbyists.

But commission members who are legislators will still be able to accept campaign contributions from those interested in the group's possibly wide-ranging recommendations.

Bosma and two lawmaker/commissioners told Kelly those campaign contributions don't make a dime's worth of difference in how legislators come down on issues.

Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, and Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, told Kelly their votes on such questions as Sunday alcohol sales aren't influenced by who gives them money.

Of course, campaign contributions cast a shadow over a wide range of legislative deliberations. After legions of pro-solar-power witnesses pleaded with lawmakers not to pass an anti-renewable-energy measure last session, it was fair to wonder whether perennially generous contributions from the big electric companies helped push the measure into law.

Though federal law limits contributions for candidates for federal office, there is no limit on the size of contributions for Indiana races.  

But in this case, legislators have the opportunity to dispel lingering doubts about their objectivity as they embark on a review of the state's antiquated alcohol code. They don't have to accept Bosma's and Long's laissez-faire attitude toward special-interest campaign donations that obviously conflict with the commission's job.

GiaQuinta, Lehman, Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn, and five other legislators have been named to serve on the alcohol commission, which also includes four other members. Like many other lawmakers, all eight legislators have received donations from the industry.

But these eight representatives and senators, who will be playing a key role in shaping the future of a highly regulated industry, could inoculate their deliberative group against even the appearance of conflict of interest.  They could individually declare they will not accept any donations from individuals or organizations affiliated with alcohol interests during the two-year life of the commission.