In dismissing a complaint against Senate President and Republican gubernatorial candidate David Williams, the Legislative Ethics Commission made clear that from now on lawmakers must disclose all sources of income, including gambling.
The commissioner who cast the deciding vote in the 5-4 decision, former appeals judge David Barber, said he thought it would be unfair to hold Williams to a standard that had never been clearly defined.
The commission voted unanimously to give lawmakers a clearer definition in the future.
From now on, legislators are on notice that what the Internal Revenue Service considers income should be reported on the financial disclosures required of them by the ethics law.
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Williams' casino gambling income was publicly documented earlier this year when some of his tax returns were released with the unsealing of his divorce record. Although he reported winnings and losses to the IRS, he excluded the gambling information from the financial disclosure filings that are available to the public.
Whether Williams should have known to disclose the gambling income is debatable, as the narrow vote attests.
What's not debatable is the public's legitimate interest in the finances of elected officials.
Disclosure laws help protect public offices from being used for the officeholder's private gain and help free public decisions from influence by undisclosed private or financial interests. They reveal conflicts of interest. And, most important, they increase the public's confidence in government.
Williams' argument that he thought only regular, recurring sources of income were subject to disclosure is lame, indeed.
It's good the Legislative Ethics Commission is clearing up that little misunderstanding.