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ethics watch

Politicians win by playing ‘stall’

Most of us would get in a whole heap of trouble for spending tens of thousands of dollars that don’t belong to us. But for politicians, the world is often kinder, gentler and more forgiving. Case in point: Former state Rep. Pam Stanley, who paid for an apartment, cable TV service and a car rental and withdrew $38,000 in cash from her campaign account from 1999 to 2002. Stanley agreed to $65,100 in fines and restitution, but she hasn’t paid a nickel. A judge last week ordered Stanley to pay up.

Should ‘incumbent protection’ help Dems defeat other Dems?

Should 'incumbent protection' help Dems defeat other Dems?

Literature denouncing candidate Graham Balch greeted voters as they opened their mailboxes in recent weeks in Georgia’s 39th Senate District. Voters were told Balch is a Republican, that he called Atlanta’s Grady High a “ghetto” school and deserved an “F” for his positions on education. In the fine print: Re-elect Sen. Vincent Fort. Tactics like these are common, if not predictable, before a contested election. The difference: Balch ran as a Democrat, and a state Democratic organization paid for the attack ads. Continue reading my Ethics Watch column in the AJC…

Incumbents thrive by donating their dollars

Incumbents thrive by donating their dollars

The top three Republicans in the Georgia House — all now going or gone from their seats — held on to power in part by giving $1.4 million since 2005 to other GOP candidates and causes. Then scandal brought down Speaker Glenn Richardson. Several dozen Georgia legislators from both parties want to cap donations from one candidate to another, but they may have an uphill battle.

Simons lobbies lawmakers, raises $$$ for them, too

Simons lobbies lawmakers, raises $$$ for them, too

Lobbyists, more than anything else, sell access to politicians. Political fund-raisers sell candidates on their ability to generate boodles of campaign cash, frequently from donors that want, well, access to politicians. Put the two jobs together, and you get Dave Simons.

Local ethics boards get no respect

Local ethics boards get no respect

Twice a year, members of the Cobb County ethics board meet to deal with housekeeping matters. Then they go home. For a time last year, DeKalb’s ethics board couldn’t even muster a quorum. And in Fulton, a state legislator contends the ethics board cannot impose fines or sanctions because its members were appointed improperly. Bottom line: Local ethics boards get no respect.

Lobbyists treat lawmakers’ spouses, don’t always report it

Lobbyists treat lawmakers' spouses, don't always report it

Each year, lobbyists organize and pay for lunches at hot spots like The 191 Club, day trips and other events – some costing thousands of dollars — to entertain the spouses of Georgia legislators. No one knows the total price tag. Or, at least, the ones who know aren’t always saying.

Law, ethics agencies kiss & make up over case backlog

Law, ethics agencies kiss & make up over case backlog

In 2003, Fulton County Sheriff Jackie Barrett accepted three $10,000 campaign contributions – far exceeding the legal limit — from donors in Florida. Each had received loans from a $2 million investment of public funds by Barrett. A broker who steered the investment, and the chief deputy who took $10,000 from him, both went to federal prison. But Barrett still awaits the outcome of a 6-year-old ethics investigation. In 2008, dozens of disputed ethics cases like Barrett’s were backed up. Today, officials say, the backlog is almost cleared up.

Ethics board gains work; staffing stays the same

Four powerful Georgia lawmakers each reported getting a $2,300 campaign donation from one of Georgia’s largest title-pawn lenders in 2008, but the donor never disclosed giving the money. The lender disclosed a $2,300 donation to then-state Rep. Stan Watson – but the lawmaker never reported getting it. For that matter, Watson never disclosed what happened with $45,000 from his […]

Scrutiny, economy limit 2010 lobbyist spending

If your local legislator looks like a winner from “The Biggest Loser,” there’s good reason: He has definitely been off his feed. Even though the 2010 session lasted nearly a month longer than last year, lobbyist reports show they plunked down 15 percent less than the $981,000 they spent on wining, dining and entertaining Georgia lawmakers in 2009.

Outside groups funnel cash into 9th District race

Outside groups funnel cash into 9th District race

What do a homemaker from Charlotte, a manufacturer from Wisconsin and a retiree from San Diego have in common? None can vote for Tom Graves, but all want him in Congress. With the help of the Washington-based Club for Growth, hundreds of non-Georgians are bankrolling Graves’ run for the U.S. House, while the American Dental Association has stepped up for his opponent. Those groups have funneled more than $400,000 into the 9th District, raising the question: Why should a voter from Minnesota or Texas have anything to say about who North Georgia sends to Congress? Read on…

Lawmaker’s campaign cash pays the rent, all year long

Lawmaker's campaign cash pays the rent, all year long

Elected officials, under Georgia law, can use campaign money for the “ordinary and necessary” expenses of holding office. So is it “necessary” for a south Georgia lawmaker — Rep. Bob Hanner — to drop nearly $100,000 on renting an Atlanta apartment year-round? That, it seems, depends on who you ask. Read on …

Ga.’s ethics reform: Look a little closer at the fine print

Georgia lawmakers hail their 2010 ethics bill as a much-needed reform that toughens ethics fines and shines a brighter light on money flowing from campaign donors and lobbyists. But it always helps to read the fine print. The bill’s “reforms” including raising fines that are rarely imposed and fees that are never collected. Two sentences on local candidates’ disclosure directly contradict each other. Take a closer look at the winners and losers in this year’s bill…

  • 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.