FRANKFORT — All three candidates for governor generally favor proposed changes in state ethics laws for legislators.
The changes the Legislative Ethics Commission will seek in the 2012 General Assembly that begins in January include prohibiting a lobbyist from buying food or drink, even a cup of coffee, for a state lawmaker.
Also, companies that employ lobbyists would not be able to contribute to the campaign of a legislative candidate while the General Assembly is in regular session, and no legislator's spouse could be employed as a lobbyist.
With support from the gubernatorial candidates, the proposed changes — several of which have been been on the legislature's agenda since 2009 — seem to be gaining momentum.
Senate President David Williams, the Republican nominee for governor, said last week that the Senate State and Local Government Committee, led by Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, will hold a meeting at the end of this month to inform members of the proposed changes.
"Kentucky already has one of the strongest statutes on the books regarding legislative ethics. Many of these recommendations are worth considering," Williams said.
Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, who is seeking re-election, said through a spokeswoman that he "supports efforts to make ethics standards more clear in order to enhance accountability and transparency to taxpayers."
Independent candidate for governor Gatewood Galbraith, a Lexington attorney, said, "Ethics reform as recommended is long past due in the state of Kentucky."
He said he agrees with all the ethics commission's recommendations except one: prohibiting lobbyists from directly soliciting contributions for an election of a legislator or legislative candidate.
"We cannot support any legislation which stifles an individual's free speech," Galbraith said.
State Sen. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington, said she plans to file legislation for the ethics panel in the 2012 session, as she has done previously.
It's too early to say whether the panel's recommendations will win legislative approval in 2012, said the commission's executive director, Tony Wilhoit.
"Sometimes it takes a few years to get legislation through the legislature, but we believe all these measures are sound," he said.
The recommendation prohibiting lobbyists from buying any food or drink for legislators is dubbed the "No Cup of Coffee" rule.
Currently, each lobbyist can spend up to $100 a year on each legislator on an individual basis.
But Wilhoit said that is rarely done because lobbyists have to report such expenditures.
The change would not affect popular Frankfort receptions hosted by lobbyists and their employers for large groups of legislators at which food and drink are served and entertainment sometimes is provided.
Another proposed change would authorize the Legislative Ethics Commission to dismiss a complaint if the person who filed it talked about it publicly.
Some people have abused the system by filing ethics complaints right before elections and then announcing the complaints in campaign materials.
Wilhoit said the change would not prohibit the filing of a complaint close to an election, but if the complaint is publicized during the confidential initial proceedings, it could be dismissed.
Another recommendation would prohibit lobbyists and their employers from paying for out-of-state travel and lodging expenses for legislators or legislative candidates.
Other recommendations from the commission include:
Prohibiting lobbyists from directly soliciting contributions for an election campaign of a legislator or legislative candidate.
Prohibiting mass mailings by a legislator at public expense for 60 days before an election.
A complete list of the recommendations can be found at the commission's Web site, Klec.ky.gov.