blow the whistle
$show the love

Sen. Tonya Anderson (SD 43)

Sen. Tonya Anderson (SD 43)
October 23, 2016 --

Oct. 23, 2016Ex-Rep. Tonya Anderson plunked down the $400 qualifying fee for her 2016  Senate race in March, but she didn’t file the campaign disclosure that was due a couple weeks later. Not until July 5, that is — after Atlanta Unfiltered had called her twice to ask where it was.

With the late filing, Anderson had accrued $1,250 in unpaid late fees, according to the state ethics commission. All have now been paid.

Ex-Sen. JaNice VanNess (SD 43)

Ex-Sen. JaNice VanNess (SD 43)
October 23, 2016 --

Oct. 23, 2016 — JaNice VanNess’s father and his business have given $14,500 to her campaigns since 2010. One donation, though, may not have been strictly legal. The business gave her $2,500 in July 2014 for the primary election held two months earlier. In Georgia, candidates may only accept donations for an election after the fact if they’re retiring a debt — a restriction that Van Ness said she was unaware of. She returned the money after losing the 2014 general election.

SD 43 candidate Tonya Anderson: March disclosure 3 months late

SD 43 candidate Tonya Anderson: March disclosure 3 months late
July 6, 2016 --

July 6, 2016 — Ex-Rep. Tonya Anderson plunked down the $400 qualifying fee for her 2016 Senate race in March, but she didn’t file the campaign disclosure that was due a couple weeks later.

Not until July 5, that is — after Atlanta Unfiltered had called her twice to ask where it was. (She didn’t return our calls, though.)

Sen. Steve Gooch (SD 51): Road builders pave way with $93K

Sen. Steve Gooch (SD 51): Road builders pave way with $93K
May 22, 2016 --

Steve Gooch’s most generous bloc of campaign contributors reflect his service since 2011 on the Senate Transportation Committee, which he chaired in 2013 and 2014. Highway contractors have donated more than $93,000, while railroads, billboard companies and other transportation interests have kicked in $18,000 more.

Gooch’s campaign raised $147,000 in 2013-14 as Senate Transportation chair. After trading that job for Senate majority whip in late 2014, he’s on track to double that amount in 2015-16.

‘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.

Senate GOP PAC raised $276K over 20 months without disclosure

Senate GOP PAC raised $276K over 20 months without disclosure
February 10, 2015 --

Feb. 10, 2015 — A 2005 amendment to Georgia’s campaign finance law was meant to give smaller donors a break on filing public disclosures. A decade later, though, Senate Republicans applied the law to their own PAC, raising $276,000 over a 20-month period before disclosing even a penny of it.

“It’s incredibly disappointing that the law is so weak that $250,000-plus can be raised without being reported for so long,” said William Perry, executive director of the good-government advocacy group Common Cause Georgia. “This is a glaring example of how far we have to go in Georgia for fairer disclosure.”

Sen. Jesse Stone (SD 23): What’ll it be, judge or senator?

Sen. Jesse Stone (SD 23): What'll it be, judge or senator?
November 1, 2014 --

Jesse Stone is a candidate for both the Senate and a Burke County judgeship — a quandary that’s raised questions as to how open he was with constituents when he qualified for re-election. In early March, Stone qualified for re-election to the Senate and denied reports that he was seeking appointment to a State Court vacancy. Later, just hours after qualifying for the Senate closed, Stone announced he’d decided to seek the judgeship after all. He remained ambivalent about whether he’d accept the judicial post until recently stating, after it became a campaign issue, that he’d withdraw his name from consideration if re-elected to the Legislature. (UPDATE: Stone withdrew his name from consideration for the Burke County State Court judgeship a week after winning re-election.)

Senate candidate Diane Evans: Unpaid late fees

Senate candidate Diane Evans: Unpaid late fees
November 1, 2014 --

Diane Evans owes $500 in late filing fees as of October 2014, according to the state ethics commission’s website. The commission does not routinely notify candidates that they owe late fees.

Sen. Ellis Black (SD 8): Undisclosed homes, farmland

Sen. Ellis Black (SD 8): Undisclosed homes, farmland
November 1, 2014 --

At first, Ellis Black’s 2014 personal financial disclosure omitted 491 acres of farmland, including his home, that he transferred to a limited partnership two years earlier. He amended the disclosure in October to include the property after we asked about it. He did not, however, include partial ownership of six single-family homes that he transferred from his own name in 2012. A 1998 attorney general’s opinion holds that a candidate must disclose corporate real estate holdings if he has “a legally enforceable right to use the land for his own personal enjoyment or profit.” Black said he saw no need to disclose the homes because they’re not producing income.

Ex-Sen. Don Balfour: Georgia’s $100K senator

Ex-Sen. Don Balfour: Georgia's $100K senator
November 13, 2013 --

Nov. 13, 2013 — Don Balfour was suspended from the Georgia Senate today over expense account discrepancies first reported by Atlanta Unfiltered in February 2012. Our examination of the senator’s 2011 expense account found Balfour had claimed per diem and mileage reimbursements for several days when he was out of state and therefore ineligible for them. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution later dug up similar examples from prior years.

The Senate Ethics Committee order Balfour to pay a $5,000 fine over the discrepancies, and a Fulton County grand jury indicted him in September for 18 counts of making false expense claims. Records show Balfour’s campaign committee last year paid nearly $80,000 in legal fees to defend him in those cases.

Click here to read our original report on Balfour’s expenses and here to see our Transparency Profile of Balfour posted a few days later.

Juvenile Justice secrecy bill fizzles at sine die

March 29, 2013 --

March 29, 2013 — A bill to seal allegations of misconduct inside Georgia’s juvenile prisons remained stuck in committee when the Legislature adjourned last night. Senate Bill 69, sponsored by Jack Murphy and others, would have exempted reports of “abuses or wrongdoing in the juvenile justice system” from disclosure under the Georgia Open Records Act and authorized dismissal of whistleblowers leaking such allegations to the news media or advocacy groups.

Ethics reform for dummies, Part 2: Campaign finance

March 28, 2013 --

March 28, 2013 — Sen. Jeff Mullis wants to level the playing field regarding campaign fund-raising for legislative races (because incumbents are at such a disadvantage). A worthy goal, but I’d do it a little differently. Five ideas to improve Georgia’s campaign finance laws:

1) Bar incumbent legislators from accepting political contributions if they don’t draw opposition at qualifying time.