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    Loophole C: Credit card omissions just fine, Deal case shows

    Nov. 19, 2015 — Three years ago, Gov. Nathan Deal’s campaign admitted that an American Express payment didn’t add up because it included a top aide’s personal expenses. The aide reimbursed the $1,185, a campaign lawyer said.

    But what about the $69,000 in unexplained spending in 158 other credit card payments by Deal’s campaigns? Did they include personal expenses? No one’s saying.

    Since 1998, a review of Deal’s disclosures show, virtually every credit card bill paid by his state and federal campaigns has omitted the details of some purchases.

    Loophole B: 14 lawmakers’ undisclosed business with state

    Nov. 6, 2015 — Georgia’s disclosure laws for legislators who do business with the state, as we reported Wednesday, are a mess. It’s unclear what transactions should be reported and which of two disclosure forms should be used. Digging through data on state vendors, I came up with payments to 14 legislators’ businesses that weren’t reported on one form or the other, sometimes both. The lawyers can sort out whether the law required disclosure. I was more interested in the transparency than the legality of these types of transactions.

    Dawson County debates $500K expense for developer’s road

    Dawson County debates $500K expense for developer's road

    Nov. 5, 2015 — Dawson County officials will consider tonight whether to write a $500,000 check to partially cover a developer’s costs for road improvements — a proposal that detractors describe as an unwarranted giveaway of taxpayer dollars.

    (UPDATE: The commission took no action on the road project Thursday evening after a motion to approve it failed to get a second. More to come.)

    Public officials generally justify such expenditures as investments that generate jobs and tax revenue for their communities. Critics, meanwhile, question such outlays as examples of crony capitalism that cast government in the role of deciding which private enterprises will benefit from public funds.

    In Dawson County, though, officials are couching the expense, in part, as a legal obligation incurred once the county signed off in July on the site plan for Dawson Marketplace, a 425,000-square-foot planned retail center.

    Loophole B: Business disclosure rules baffling, often ignored

    Loophole B: Business disclosure rules baffling, often ignored

    Nov. 4, 2015 — Since Rep. James Beverly took office in 2011, his Macon optometry practice has collected more than $132,000 in taxpayer dollars for eye exams and treatment.

    A consulting firm whose owners include Sen. John Albers earned $284,000 to help with reorganizing a state agency.

    And several state institutions forked over $419,000 over two years to Rep. Jimmy Pruett’s middle Georgia air-conditioning business.

    None of those transactions turn up on the three lawmakers’ personal financial disclosures. The reason: Georgia’s disclosure laws are confusing, subject to varying interpretations and routinely ignored.

    Loophole A: ALEC scholarships top $350K, go undisclosed

    Loophole A: ALEC scholarships top $350K, go undisclosed

    Sept. 24, 2015 — Deep-pocketed special interests have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on junkets for Georgia legislators — including airfare and rooms in four- and five-star hotels — without reporting a penny.

    Most of those special interests employ lobbyists in Georgia, who would have had to publicly disclose that spending if they’d been the ones picking up the tab. But the payments instead have been channeled through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an inside-the-Beltway advocacy group with no registered lobbyists in Georgia, so the sources and beneficiaries of the payments remain, officially, a secret.

    Atlanta Unfiltered, though, has obtained documents showing Georgia legislators collected just over $350,000 for ALEC travel expenses from 2004 to 2012.

    Donors to ALEC’s Georgia Scholarship Fund, 2004-2012

    Donors to ALEC’s Georgia Scholarship Fund, 2004-2012 All but six of the 72 donors listed below are lobbyists or corporations registered by lobbyists in Georgia. $31,000 Altria $28,500 Georgia Electric Membership Corp. $22,000 Novartis Corp. $18,500 Georgia Hospital Association $17,000 Coca-Cola Co. $16,000 Georgia Chamber of Commerce $15,000 Crown Cork & Seal Co. $15,000 United […]

    ALEC scholarship recipients, 2004-2012

    The following legislators received about $350,000 in travel reimbursements from the American Legislative Exchange Council that have not been disclosed under Georgia’s lobbyist disclosure law, documents obtained by Atlanta Unfiltered show. Most donors to the reimbursement fund are corporations with registered lobbyists in Georgia.


    • $21,686 Ex-Rep. Calvin Hill
    • $19,328 Sen. Judson Hill
    • $17,363 Rep. Tom Rice


    Staffing, mental health care cited at teen suicide’s prison

    Staffing, mental health care cited at teen suicide's prison

    Aug. 26, 2015 — Severe understaffing and failures in training and mental health procedures appeared to be factors in the Easter Sunday suicide of a 14-year-old at an Atlanta area youth detention center. A state Department of Juvenile Justice probe, while drawing no direct connection, found dozens of violations of DJJ policies in a 78-page report on the death of Jimariya Davidson. The findings illustrate what some observers see as a frequently found gap between carefully considered policies and everyday practices in youth prisons across the country.

    Response slow to apparent youth-detention suicide

    Response slow to apparent youth-detention suicide

    April 20, 2015 — The GBI is investigating the apparent Easter Sunday suicide of a 14-year-old boy at an Atlanta-area youth detention facility, reportedly after a guard did not respond to calls for help.

    Two juvenile witnesses said they warned a correctional officer beforehand that the youth was threatening to kill himself, but the guard did not respond, according to documents released this afternoon by the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice.

    The unidentified youth “was calling me & telling me to tell the officer he was going to kill his self. But the officer wouldn’t go see what he wanted. At 11:45 [a.m.] they put us up & seen the body hanging.”

    Another juvenile, asked what the staff could have done differently, responded: “Listen when a youth says something.”

    ‘Incumbent-protection’ plan dies with 2015 ethics bill

    April 3, 2015 — It was a simple little bill, meant to offer local politicians relief from a dysfunctional state ethics commission. In the end, though, lawmakers added enough baggage, stripped it out, then restored it that the bill died Thursday in the Georgia Senate.

    So which is the more dysfunctional arm of state government?

    The Legislature’s inaction underscores the dangers inherent in its reliance on last-minute backroom deals. Thousands of political candidates will remain in limbo over payment of more than $1.5 million in late filing fees, and the ethics commission — given the likelihood that lawmakers will revisit the issue in 2016 — has no incentive to press for collection.

    The bill’s demise also spells the end, at least for now, of two controversial add-ons: Letting House and Senate party caucuses spend unlimited amounts to protect incumbents, and making outside agitators like Grover Norquist register and report their spending.

    Lawmakers down to wire on ‘Incumbent Protection Act’

    Lawmakers down to wire on 'Incumbent Protection Act'

    UPDATE: Early this afternoon, the House Rules Committee amended the Senate bill (SB127) to delete any changes in early-voting procedures. The House then passed the amended bill on a 167-7 vote. The Senate stripped this language from a similar last week and now must decide whether to stand firm or let the House have its way. After dinner tonight, senators voted to stand firm. 

    March 31, 2015 — Once again, Georgia enters the final week of a legislative session with the prospects for an ethics bill up in the air.

    The Georgia House and Senate have two business days left – today and Thursday – to act on a bill that would allow waivers of late campaign disclosure filing fees for thousands of local candidates.

    Both chambers have passed similar versions of the bill. Twice, though, the House has tacked on a controversial amendment that could help re-elect legislators facing primary challenges from within their own party — earning it the nickname “the Legislative Incumbent Protection Act.”

    New transparency rules: A little more, a little less

    Georgia lawmakers made history, of a sort, two years ago when they imposed a $75 limit on the value of gifts that lobbyists may offer public officials.

    But the devil’s in the details, and it’s never been clear exactly how the limit would be enforced. Now, the state ethics commission is considering an interpretation so broad that it would allow gifts of $1,000 or more in some circumstances.