Tom LoBianco, writing for the Associated Press, reports that:
House Speaker Pro Tem Eric Turner earned nearly $8 million selling nursing homes in the last two years and stands to earn between $1 million and $2 million on projects now being developed, thanks in part to legislation he helped block this year.
Turner, of course, is now under an ethics investigation for his lobbying efforts against a construction ban on new nursing homes. During the legislative fight over the ban, the company in which Turner (and his son) have significant interests, said that the ban would affect five properties it had under construction. Two of those, for which information was available to the AP, would have – if the ban was passed – cost Turner $3.9 million.
This brings a couple of things to mind. First, I’m a chump for working a job that pays me based on the labor I put into the work. Second, the line between being a citizen-legislator who contributes his expertise and using your inside position for self-serving enrichment is not necessarily a clear one. But, given the amounts involved, Turner seems to be well on the wrong side of it. I wonder if he told his colleagues — “I don’t think this ban is good policy, but keep in mind that I stand to lose $3.9 million if you pass this thing.”
If I were in the legislature, I would expect to speak up a great deal if there was legislation concerning, say, the courts, local government, or debt collection. (Oh, who am I kidding — I’d probably spout off on everything: look what I do for a hobby.) But, if I was being sued in a private lawsuit, I’d expect to have to disclose an awful lot and probably recuse myself if the proposed legislation had to do with civil immunity for lawyer-legislators being sued in private lawsuits.
The question of when expertise becomes conflict has to do with how directly your interests are being affected by the issue at hand. In Turner’s case, the answer appears to be very directly. And that’s something the General Assembly needs to take very seriously if they wanted to avoid being tainted by association.