BCA Testifies Before Alabama Ethics Commission that Withdraws Expanded ‘Principal’ Opinion

The Alabama Ethics Commission on Wednesday withdrew its September “Friends of McCalla” Advisory Opinion (the McCalla Opinion) that had broadly expanded the scope of the term “principal” under the Alabama Ethics Law.

The McCalla Opinion issued in September interpreted the state Ethics Law’s definition of a principal – an individual or organization that hires a lobbyist – broadly to include not only a firm that hired the lobbyist but also anyone in the organization with authority, including executives, officers, and members of boards of directors.

Advisory Opinion No. 2016-24, or the “Friends of McCalla Opinion,” was issued in response to a non-profit group in McCalla trying to raise money for a sports complex.

Fortunately, the Commission had delayed the effectiveness of the McCalla Opinion in order to solicit commentary from the public, which was provided by the Business Council of Alabama and others.

BCA President and CEO William J. Canary wrote the commission on Dec. 1 stating that Alabama law describing who is a principal has essentially remained unchanged since 1995 and that the Commission had never required quarterly principal statements to be filed by all who under the McCalla Opinion would be considered a principal.

“The BCA believes that the McCalla Opinion incorrectly expands the Ethics Act in a manner inconsistent with the plain language of the statute and contrary to the intent of the Legislature,” Canary wrote. “As such, we ask that the opinion be withdrawn or amended to bring it in line with the law as written.”

Testifying very effectively at Wednesday’s Ethics Commission meeting on behalf of the BCA was Ethics Law expert Ted Hosp, a partner with Maynard Cooper & Gale. Hosp respectfully challenged the broad interpretations by the Alabama Ethics Commission of legal definitions that, until recently, appeared to be settled law for nearly 20 years.

Other groups testifying included the Alabama Association of Non-Profits, the NFIB, and the Alabama State Bar.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the Alabama Ethics Commission voted 3-2 to withdraw the McCalla Opinion in its entirety.