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Ethics panel seeks dollars, gets pennies — maybe
By JIM WALLS
State senators this week agreed to give the State Campaign Finance Commission a fraction of the sum needed to meet new requirements for enforcing ethics and disclosure laws.
Now it’s up to the Georgia House, whose leadership authored several of those new requirements earlier this month without appropriating more money to help the commission comply with them.
Just two weeks ago, the commission asked the Senate for $130,000 so it could collect fines and late fees from candidates, lobbyists and political organizations that file contribution and spending reports. The extra expense became necessary under a new law requiring that all violation notices be sent by certified mail.
The Senate’s version of the budget, released this week, would give the commission $30,000 for those mailing expenses. That’s enough if pro-rated to last for the first 84 days of FY 2012, or through Sept. 23.
The Senate included no additional money to cover the cost of processing and posting online thousands of campaign disclosures expected to come in this year from candidates for city and county office. Another new provision allowing those candidates to file disclosures on paper rather than electronically could cost the commission $290,000 in 2010, executive secretary Stacey Kalberman told Senate budget writers.
Without that funding, Kalberman said, the commission might not be able to make candidates’ disclosures accessible online until after elections are held. Until a 2010 ethics law took effect, those disclosures were available in city halls and courthouses across Georgia.
Gov. Nathan Deal had recommended a 2012 budget of slightly more than $1 million for the commission, which employs 10 people.
So far this year, the commission has had to put complaint investigations on hold so the staff could focus on complying with other aspects of the 2010 law. That situation could continue indefinitely if the latest demands on the commission remain an essentially unfunded mandate.