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‘Incumbent-protection’ plan dies with 2015 ethics bill

April 3, 2015 --

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.

5 questions the Nathan Deal ethics investigation never answered

October 24, 2014 --

Oct. 22, 2014 — Ethics complaints against Gov. Nathan Deal were officially resolved in 2012, when he paid $3,350 in administrative fees for filing defective campaign and personal finance disclosures. But a review of the state ethics commission’s files shows the investigation leading to that settlement was never really completed. Staffers abandoned inquiries into tens of thousands of dollars spent on air travel and credit card charges, and questioned no one but lawyers for the campaign accused of wrongdoing. Rather than ensuring transparency in a state with a legacy of graft and corruption, the ethics commission settled for the easy answers, and sometimes none at all. Read the full story.

A thousand foxes, a thousand henhouses …

A thousand foxes, a thousand henhouses ...
February 8, 2013 --

Feb. 8, 2013 — Another consequence, perhaps unintended, lurks in an ethics bill moving through the Legislature. Enforcement of some aspects of campaign finance law, under a bill sponsored by House Speaker David Ralston, would shift to city clerks and county election superintendents. They would be expected to collect late fees from local candidates, recall committees and the like — a task now assigned to the state ethics commission. The question is: How diligently will local election officials rat out incumbents who are, in many cases, their bosses?

Speaker’s bill embraces scorned ethics opinion

Speaker's bill embraces scorned ethics opinion
January 31, 2013 --

Jan. 31, 2013 — Two years ago, legislative leaders squawked mightily at the notion that Georgians might have to register as lobbyists when they visit the Capitol. Today, some of those same leaders may embrace the very same position — and more — that they once deplored. A House subcommittee will consider Speaker David Ralston’s 2013 ethics package, which would make people pay $320 in lobbyist registration fees if they want to talk policy with legislators on behalf of any organization, whether it’s Georgia Power Co., the Tea Party or the Girl Scouts.

UPDATE: House members made it abundantly clear before today’s hearing that there’s no way that the final language of the ethics bill will abridge anyone’s First Amendment rights. No details yet, but it seems likely that the revised bill will try to exempt the average citizen who visits the Capitol only occasionally.

A look back: Pressure, dysfunction at GA ethics commission

A look back: Pressure, dysfunction at GA ethics commission
August 29, 2012 --

For a decade, infighting, vitriol and litigation has been business as usual at Georgia’s state ethics commission. Three executive directors have resigned or been fired since 2006. Two other employees collected $405,000 in damages for allegedly wrongful termination. Lawmakers stripped the agency of 40 percent of its funding, its power to make new rules, even its name. Much of this has come to pass, critics say, because the commission answers to the very politicians it’s supposed to regulate and investigate. Legislative leaders set its budget, control its powers and, along with the governor, decide who its five members will be. It’s time, former ethics chief Teddy Lee says, for a truly independent commission. “It’s got to be set up in a way that it can’t be manipulated,” says Lee, “by people who have no desire to be overseen or second-guessed.”

Once again, critic tramples truth to attack Georgia’s “F” on ethics

March 30, 2012 --

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.

State can’t explain ‘unexplained’ purchase by ethics agency

March 21, 2012 --

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 …

Feb. 17

February 17, 2012 --

Senate Rules Committee: The road to kill the ethics bill? Legislators level mismanagement claims at ethics commission Panel investigating 6 to 8 Georgia judges on ‘very serious charges’ More pets died on Delta than any other airline Tenants claim N. Ga. pastor is a slumlord Rural phone subsidy on the block Opinion: Breathtakingly bad approach […]

Little back-up found for waste charges leveled at ethics panel

Little back-up found for waste charges leveled at ethics panel
February 17, 2012 --

Rep. Ed Rynders charged the state ethics commission last week with wasteful spending even though he and House budget officials knew little or nothing about some of the details, interviews with state officials show. Nevertheless, the agency’s critics did not retreat, while acknowledging that they really didn’t know enough in some cases to render an opinion. “Until you have the detail, it’s kinda hard to say whether it was a good or bad management decision,” House Budget Director Martha Wigton said.

Jan. 25

January 25, 2012 --

Ethics bill gets cool reception in Ga. House Ga. senator wants independent ethics commission UGA loses recruit over immigration policy Losing bidder wins challenge to ATL airport currency exchange contract Ex-Augusta YDC captain of security speaks out after firing for contraband accusation

Nov. 25

November 25, 2011 --

Ethics commission deals with challenges of change TSA says no security violations at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport

Nov. 17

November 17, 2011 --

Sunday sales and the power of lobbyists Counties & state among GA’s biggest polluters ATL airport bid controversy Governor names Marietta attorney to ethics commission Glynn Co. drug court opens without its founding judge Low pH, possible kaolin mine runoff cited in October fish kill Gwinnett approves new ethics rules