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ethics watch

Ethics codes always leave lawyers room to argue

What’s the difference between an apparent conflict of interest and the real deal? In the world of government ethics, it’s all about the language crafted by the lawyers and the wiggle room they’ve left for other lawyers to argue about. Ethics codes in Georgia vary from one jurisdiction to another. Many prohibit a public officer from trading on his or her position for personal benefit but, as they say, the devil’s in the details.

Powerless Ethics Commission looks to lawmakers

Powerless Ethics Commission looks to lawmakers

Enforcers of Georgia’s ethics laws are stuck in limbo, if not outright paralysis — a legacy of the Glenn Richardson years at the state Legislature. They’re wondering whether new leadership under the Gold Dome cares enough to set things right. In 2009, on Richardson’s watch, the Georgia House pushed through language stripping the State Ethics Commission of its rule-making power. Now the panel needs to adopt new rules to carry out subsequent legislative changes to ethics laws. But, says executive secretary Stacey Kalberman said, “It appears that we don’t have authority to do anything.”

‘Transparency’: Lawmaker’s $40K consulting deal undisclosed

'Transparency': Lawmaker's $40K consulting deal undisclosed

A powerful Cobb County legislator collected $40,000 last year to do research to help an advocacy group decide the best way to ask the Legislature for money. Rep. Earl Ehrhart and his client, Friends of Arts & Culture, say he did not help to write a bill that would have allowed local votes on arts funding, nor did he help move it through the Legislature. “I never consult on any type of legislation that’s going on here,” he said. Ehrhart did not disclose his client or his fee, which state law does not require. Nor did he disclose the name of his consulting business, which the law does require. This is what passes for transparency in the Georgia Legislature. UPDATE: An ethics complaint regarding this transaction was filed this week with the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee.

Profiles in courage: Funder of attack ads wants secrecy for donors

Profiles in courage: Funder of attack ads wants secrecy for donors

An advocacy group that spent $152,000 to help dump Georgia Congressman Jim Marshall wants to keep the identity of its donors secret. But it can’t, at least when it tries to influence state and local campaigns, under a draft opinion under review by the State Ethics Commission. The Center for Individual Freedom, led by CEO Jeffrey L. Mazzella, asked in August whether it could avoid disclosing donors for its political ads.

PAC money heavily favors incumbents

Pundits predict a wave of anti-incumbency — fueled by tea parties, voters’ disgust with Washington and other factors — will sweep the nation tomorrow. That could happen in Georgia, but the folks who finance much of the political campaigning here are gambling millions of dollars that it won’t. Business groups, labor unions and other special interests doled out $8.4 million to Georgia candidates this year. Incumbents collected the lion’s share.

Amendment 1 not personal, spouses say

Amendment 1 not personal, spouses say

Claudia Levitas serves as an officer of a business group pushing to enforce non-compete clauses in Georgia law. Her husband, state Rep. Kevin Levitas, has been pushing a constitutional amendment for years to do just that. Their relationship has bubbled up into the debate over Amendment 1, which Georgia voters will be asked to ratify next week at the polls. Critics suggest Levitas (D-Tucker) had a personal motive for proposing the amendment and a companion bill, a notion that he dismisses as “unfounded and ridiculous.”

Finally, 3 years later, trial set for alleged theft of public funds

Finally, 3 years later, trial set for alleged theft of public funds

Three years ago, a grand jury indicted Davetta Johnson Mitchell, alleging she used seven checks to steal $40,000 in public money. Now, after the case nearly slipped through the cracks, a judge says the former executive director of the Atlanta-Fulton County Recreation Authority will finally get her month in court.

Finalist for DeKalb housing chief could have a conflict

Finalist for DeKalb housing chief could have a conflict

The DeKalb County Housing Authority — already beset with questions about gifts of money or services from vendors — may be about to hire another vendor as its next executive director. If Eugene P. “Pete” Walker Jr. becomes DeKalb’s new public housing chief, he will oversee the job performance of his current employer, Mercy Housing Southeast, a non-profit paid to manage several of the authority’s properties. He’s currently Mercy’s president. Walker, one of three finalists for the housing job, also runs Millennium Development Partners, a for-profit company that does financial and bond consulting for the housing authority. Read on…

Summerhill non-profit sues founder after IRS audit

Summerhill non-profit sues founder after IRS audit

Infighting and tax troubles threaten the future of a citizens’ group founded to improve the Summerhill community near Turner Field. The Summerhill Neighborhood Development Corp. has sued its founder, former state Rep. Douglas Dean, alleging he secretly pledged the nonprofit’s property to back $2.4 million in bank loans — now in default — to benefit a private developer. The non-profit, according to the suit, “now faces the very real possibility of losing substantially all of its real property assets.” In addition, federal tax records list $470,000 in unsecured, interest-free loans from the non-profit to Dean and his wife, and $50,000 to the group’s new CEO. Dean says those payments were reimbursements of money he loaned the non-profit over the years. IRS auditors could find little or no documentation for those debts.

No fiscal accountability coming for state board members

No fiscal accountability coming for state board members

Joe Frank Harris served on the boards of both AFLAC and the state University System while the two were negotiating  to let the insurer sell policies on campus. Lasa Joiner lobbied for health care interests while chairing the state Board of Human Resources. And Kenneth Cronan, while sitting on a board regulating auto parts dealers, […]

Limits on campaign contributions could be gutted

Members of the State Ethics Commission are on the brink of gutting a key provision of Georgia’s campaign finance law. Their decision would allow politicians to funnel unlimited amounts of cash to other campaigns despite a law designed to limit contributions. And since most political money flows to the party in power, Republicans would be […]

Evidence flimsy in probe of ethics attorneys

Evidence flimsy in probe of ethics attorneys

Headlines trumpeted state Inspector General Elizabeth Archer‘s latest findings a few weeks back: “State’s ethics lawyers blasted for outside work.” “State attorneys ran private firm on public time.” “Moonlighting Ethics Commission lawyers violated state policies.” But look closer at Archer’s investigative files, as I did, and you’ll find fairly flimsy evidence behind some of her conclusions. Some “findings” are artfully worded to suggest impropriety without explicitly saying so. Not only that, there’s no sign that her office informed one of the attorneys of a key issue or asked for an explanation.

  • about this page

    This page covers financial disclosures by public officials -- including personal finances, campaign accounts and business transactions with public agencies.


  • do it yourself campaign investigation

    The State Ethics Commission's Web site provides the tools to analyze campaign funds for candidates for state office: 1) Click “Search by Expenditure” and enter a name in “Individual or Entity.” (This will find donations from political action committees or other candidates.) Print the results or download them into Excel. 2) Click “Search by Name” to view a candidate’s reports of donations received. These can also be downloaded. 3) Compare the results from steps 1 and 2 to match up donors’ names, dates and amounts. 4) To compare contributions made before 2006, visit the Georgia Secretary of State’s Web site. Most campaign reports here cannot be searched electronically. They must be printed out and compared visually.