Reporting rules exist for a reason

Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, says he reported expenses paid on his behalf out of "an abundance of caution" after other lawmakers were fined for failing to report expense-paid trips to Hawaii. That's commendable, but Richardson's contention that he received no benefits from any group with an interest in bills before the Legislature falls a little flat.

Richardson may not have accepted expenses from Oregon beer and wine distributors, or some other lobbying group, but he did attend at least one conference sponsored by a group with a political agenda. When he belatedly reported that, it prompted an investigation by a state government ethics panel.

Among other trips, Richardson attended a policy summit in Phoenix, Ariz., sponsored by the American Legislative Exchange Council. The group's Web site says its mission is "to advance the Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government, federalism, and individual liberty, through a non-partisan, public-private partnership between America's state legislators and concerned members of the private sector, the federal government and the general public."

Its "Operational Strategy," in part, is "to enlist state legislators from all parties and members of the private sector who share ALEC's mission," and "to engage in an ongoing effort to promote Jeffersonian principles among elected officials, the private sector, and the general public, for the purpose of enacting substantive and genuine legislative reforms consistent with the ALEC mission" (emphasis added).

What kind of legislative reforms? Among a huge quantity of "model legislation" available to members are measures to eliminate capital gains taxes, privatize child support enforcement and repeal the minimum wage.

That certainly sounds like an organization with an interest in affecting legislation at the state level.

The point here is not this group's specific political philosophy or the kind of legislation it supports. Plenty of liberal groups put on conferences on issues they care about — and probably pay the expenses of legislators who attend.

There is nothing particularly sinister about that. But there is no denying that such organizations have an interest in legislation that advances their agendas.

Groups such as ALEC don't pay lawmakers' expenses to conferences without expecting something in return. That's why Oregon law requires legislators to report those payments.

We don't think Richardson committed any egregious acts, but we do think the ethics investigation is warranted, if for no other reason than to underline the need for all public officials to follow the reporting laws to the letter.

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