Doing the right thing - or more importantly, appearing to do the right
thing - can be tough for
a state legislator.
Ask Sen. Martha Yeager Walker, D-Kanawha. When she became a candidate
for state senator in
1992, she quit her job at her husband's company,
Jarrett Printing, to avoid the appearance of
any conflict of interest.
Jarrett Printing had published materials for the Legislature for
than 50 years.
But when the West Virginia Supreme Court said quitting wasn't enough,
- ask her husband's company to drop its
lucrative contract with the state, or withdraw from the
Walker came close to giving up her dream of becoming a state senator.
"We decided to give up the printing job," said Walker. "One of us had
to make a sacrifice."
Last week, the Center for Public Integrity released a study of all 50
focusing on potential conflicts of interest
among lawmakers. West Virginia ranked 43rd in
disclosure laws for state
legislators - laws that require lawmakers to tell the public
their employment income and financial assets.
The CPI study flunked West Virginia's disclosure laws for not asking
for information commonly
required by other states, such as real estate
holdings, positions on corporate boards and
spouse's income. Also, many
disclosure forms is accurate or complete.
Despite these loopholes in disclosure laws, CPI was able to determine
that a high percentage of
West Virginia legislators are in a position
to benefit financially from their office.
The CPI study has been criticized as an attack on the part-time
legislature. "The center's
assumption on conflict of interest is
oversimplified and exaggerated," said William Pound,
director of the
National Conference of State Legislatures, a nonprofit,
organization in Washington.
Far from being a liability, a legislator's experience in an industry or
profession makes for
better laws, said Pound. "Who better than a farmer
to work on agricultural legislation or a
doctor to assist in the
development of state medical policy?" he said.
Of West Virginia's 34 senators, six reported financial interests in
real estate. Five are
lawyers and five are retired. Four senators have
interests in oil, gas and timber concerns. The
interest categories are: restaurant, financial consultant, education,
health business, contractor/engineer, 2; farmer, water company
employee, small business owner,
insurance agent, chemical employee, 1.
Peter Eisner, CPI director, said the study is not an attack on a
part-time legislature. "CPI is