March 22, 2013 — Under the ethics bill and $100 gift cap that Georgia senators will debate today, lawmakers could continue accepting tens of thousands of dollars a year in travel expenses from corporate interests. Not only would the bill let them keep traveling to posh resorts on special interests’ tab, you often won’t even know about it. The conservative American Legislative Exchange Council makes these jaunts possible. Big business and trade associations give the money to “scholarship funds” controlled by ALEC, which doles the cash out to legislators attending ALEC events.
House Speaker David Ralston, staff and family enjoyed a $17,000 working holiday last Thanksgiving. So much for the idea of a $100 gift cap. Or for transparency. Lobbyist Chris Brady, representing Commonwealth Research Associates LLC, picked up the tab for hotels and airfare. A few weeks later, Brady took Ralston and staff to a $403 dinner. Other than that, official disclosures tell us nothing.
If House Speaker David Ralston’s ethics bill passes as written, Sen. Don Balfour and friends will have 562,000 reasons to thank him. Balfour, who’s said he won’t seek re-election, started 2010 with that many greenbacks in his campaign account. Georgia politicians such as Balfour would have been severely restricted in spending leftover campaign cash under a bill with broad bipartisan support. Now that proposal is all but dead, swept aside by Ralston’s substitute ethics bill.
Since 2001, Georgia has asked local political candidates who raise $10,000 or more to disclose the details — who gave it to you, how much, how you spent it — by “electronic means.” So what exactly does that mean? It definitely does not mean making it easy for the public to find them. Check out my Ethics Watch column for this week in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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.”