Georgia law books are chock-full of statutes written to curtail undue influence on political activity and public policy. So utilities and insurance companies can’t give to a candidate seeking an office that regulates them. Legislators can’t take political donations while in session. Politicians can’t use campaign money for personal benefit. State workers can’t accept gifts from vendors or lobbyists.
Except when they can.
Time and again, Georgia journalists and watchdog groups have found that money finds a way to flow around those laws. These and similar findings underscore what can sometimes be a gaping divide between Georgia’s legal standards for public accountability, on the one hand, and everyday practice. In a new, state-by-state analysis of ethics and accountability practices, Georgia ranks 50th with a grade of F from the State Integrity Investigation.
The Joint Legislative Ethics Committee has rejected a complaint about a possible conflict between a lawmaker’s public duties and private work. A spokesman said the panel will not consider complaints based solely on news articles, in this case my recent piece on a $40,000 contract between Rep. Earl Ehrhart’s consulting business and an advocacy group seeking public funding for the arts. That standard makes it next to impossible for citizens to get the committee to investigate a lawmaker’s conduct.
Aug. 13, 2009 — Several Georgia lawmakers have gotten deeper into tax trouble this year, even as legislative ethics panels investigate some members’ failure to pay income taxes, property records show. The biggest unpaid bill belongs to Rep. Willie Talton of Warner Robins, who owes $39,197 for local property taxes.