If I didn’t know better, I’d be outraged by the allegedly shameful and irresponsible conduct of the Center for Public Integrity, called to our attention Thursday in the AJC. But I do know better, so please allow me to explain how Rick Thompson’s opinion piece ignored CPI’s findings about Georgia’s limp anti-corruption laws while building a straw man that could easily be ripped apart.
Former state ethics official Rick Thompson says Georgia doesn’t need all the auditors and investigators it once had because auditing of politicians’ financial disclosures is now automated. This would seem to refute some of my recent findings about weak ethics enforcement in Georgia.
Except, of course, that it’s not true.
Tying Up Loose Ends: The Georgia Secretary of State has no record of an allegedly “unexplained” purchase for $4,965 that was said to suggest financial mismanagement at the state ethics commission. Without documentation,
we may never know what that purchase was for, or whether it really happened. Here’s why …
Washington avoided a government shutdown last month, but ethics enforcers in Georgia soon will face the prospect of shutting down their key function — enforcing ethics laws. In fact, members of the State Campaign Finance Commission are already planning their legal defense in case someone sues them for failing to do their job.
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 laws. The Senate recommended a $30,000 bump for the agency’s certified mail expenses, rather than the requested $130,000, and none of the $290,000 sought for processing and posting thousands of local candidates’ financial disclosures online.
The State Ethics Commission today opened a two-week window for job applicants who want to be the state’s new top ethics enforcer. The commission hopes to interview three finalists in public at its Oct. 15 meeting. When Rick Thompson was chosen in 2006, candidates were interviewed in closed session. Senior assistant attorney general Stefan Ritter described that today as “not the best practice.”
Gov. Sonny Perdue took office in 2003 vowing to push “comprehensive ethics reform” and reverse 140 years of entrenched, Democrat-controlled good-old-boy cronyism. Now, as the governor’s final year in office approaches, a legislative smackdown suggest tougher ethics enforcement is an idea whose time has yet to come: The State Ethics Commission was stripped of its rule-making authority, took a 30 percent budget cut and lost a bid for tougher penalties for candidates who file financial reports late, or not at all. Now, executive secretary Rick Thompson is stepping down. He says it’s time to go. “I just believe in my own life it’s time to move on,” he said.