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Opinion: W.Va. Statehouse Beat – Some suggestions for beefing up the state Ethics Act

By Phil Kabler, Charleston Gazette-Mail

Phil Kabler

Having covered it from its inception in 1989 to the present day, I have a special regard for the state Ethics Commission, so it is good to hear lawmakers calling for tougher ethics laws in light of the Gazette-Mail/ProPublica investigation into Gov. Jim Justices myriad potential conflicts of interest involving The Greenbrier.

Given my position as sort of the unofficial institutional history of the commission, I’m probably in a unique position to offer some proposed changes I would hope to see enacted to really give teeth to the state Ethics Act:

1. Increase funding for the Ethics Commission. From city hall to Washington, the oldest trick in the governmental playbook is to create some commission or agency with lofty and significant purposes, and then underfund it to the point of dysfunction.

The Ethics Commission has always operated on a relative shoestring budget, currently $719,844 this budget year.

Most of that, $606,969, is for salaries and benefits for a staff of seven. The current expenses line item is $104,501 this year — an amount that doesn’t stretch far if the commission is attempting to undertake a number of extensive investigations of alleged ethics violations. …

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