By Quin Hillyer, a Mobile-based Contributing Editor for National Review Online. His new novel, Mad Jones, Heretic, is available now at

Despite media sources caterwauling to the contrary, there are good, honest reasons for some current legislative attempts to tweak Alabama’s ethics laws.

Indeed, the worst problem with some of those attempts isn’t that they would “weaken” ethics laws in order to make corruption easier, but that they don’t expressly include campaign-finance laws along with ethics laws as targets of revision. Right now, a strict reading of the interplay between the ethics and campaign-finance laws serves as a deterrent against good people running for office.

Make no mistake: Alabama should keep most of its laws on these two inter-related fronts. But that doesn’t mean the laws should be exempt from review or from clarifying changes.

Regarding campaign finance, one provision that desperately needs changing is the definition of “candidate” in state law 17-5-2. Right now, it says that somebody is officially a “candidate” if he spends even $1,000 “with a view to bringing about his or her nomination or election to any state office or local office.”

The problem is that somebody who takes a scientific poll merely assessing how familiar he is to voters, and how well he is liked by those who do recognize his name, is by law immediately considered a candidate – even if he never eventually files qualifying papers to put his name on any ballot. As no truly scientific poll can be conducted for less than $1,000, this means that the very act of considering a future run for office puts someone squarely within the requirements of campaign finance laws.

Not only would this require that he report the specific “campaign” expenditure, thus alerting the whole world to the fact that he even toyed with the idea of running for office, but it also requires that eventually he must file a time-consuming and quite revealing “statement of economic interests.” That “statement” is, to put it plainly, invasive….

[The rest is here.]