Irvin to GOP lawmakers: Ethics was ‘our core creed … until we took over’
By BEN SMITH
Former House minority leader Bob Irvin chastised Republicans in the Georgia Legislature on Monday for failing to make good on the GOP’s longstanding promise of sweeping ethics reform in state government.
“Ethics was part of our core creed for 30 years,” Irvin, now chairman of Common Cause Georgia, said in testimony before a joint House and Senate Ethics panel. “It was our core creed, it seems, until we took over.”
Irvin, an Atlanta Republican, served as House minority leader for seven years before the GOP’s post-millennial takeover of the Georgia Governor’s Mansion and the General Assembly after 130 years of Democratic control. He stepped down in 2002 to run for the U.S. Senate seat held by Max Cleland.
Irvin urged lawmakers to toughen Georgia ethics laws by:
- Strengthening the State Ethics Commission, or creating an independent panel with broader powers,
- Creating a process to investigate allegations of conflict of interest against elected officials,
- Capping the amount of money that lobbyists can spend to wine and dine legislators,
- Limiting the amount of donated campaign cash that one candidate can transfer to another,
- Stopping annual increases in the limit on campaign contributions from a single donor.
(A 2000 law pushed by former Gov. Roy Barnes raised those limits and provided for future automatic increases tied to the Consumer Price Index. A statewide candidate who could raise no more $5,000 from a contributor in a four-year election cycle can now accept as much as $19,400 from that same donor.)
Irvin said Georgia Republicans had championed ethics reform since 1975. The GOP took up ethics issues to repair the party’s image after the Watergate scandal, he said, and to distinguish themselves from Georgia Democrats, who then were as conservative, if not moreso, than Republicans.
“We were for ethics and openness and transparency before we were for low taxes, before we were pro-life, before we were for gun rights,” said Irvin. “For 30 years we said, ‘Elect us, we’ll be different.’
“That, sadly, is an unredeemed campaign pledge.”
House Ethics chairman Joe Wilkinson (R-Sandy Springs) bristled at Irvin’s remarks.
“With all due respect, we did not stray from our cause,” said Wilkinson, visibly irritated by Irvin’s criticisms.
Wilkinson cited the passage of ethics legislation in 2005. The law, championed by Perdue, increased penalties for ethics violations, required anyone vying for a state contract to register as a lobbyist, prohibited public officers from using their positions to get jobs for relatives and expanded disclosure requirements for elected officials and lobbyists.
The renewed push for ethics reform is a result of a scandal that ended the political career of House Speaker Glenn Richardson, who succeeded Irvin as House minority leader. Richardson resigned Jan. 1 over accusations he’d had an affair with a utility lobbyist.