Georgia lawmakers made history, of a sort, two years ago when they imposed a $75 limit on the value of gifts that lobbyists may offer public officials.
But the devil’s in the details, and it’s never been clear exactly how the limit would be enforced. Now, the state ethics commission is considering an interpretation so broad that it would allow gifts of $1,000 or more in some circumstances.
State legislators say they welcome transparency regarding their personal finances — corporate and real estate holdings, government contracts and the like.But who decides what constitutes transparency? Who checks whether they’re telling us all that we’re entitled to know? They do. Just as war is too important to be left to the generals, transparency is too important to be left to the politicians.
Attorney General Sam Olens – who’s taking on a larger role in investigations of public officials, political action committees and lobbyists — has raised more than a third of his campaign money from public officials, PACs, lobbyists and their clients. Donors include parties in high-profile inquiries into possible misuse of campaign funds or receipt of improper contributions.“There is always a potential for a conflict,” acknowledged Josh Belinfante, vice chairman of the campaign finance commission, “but I don’t think … that means a conflict exists.”
Dawson County’s longtime court clerk admitted today to stealing $120,000 of court funds from 2006 through 2009. Becky McCord, 62, faces up to 10 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to federal tax evasion and bankruptcy fraud.
House Speaker David Ralston and other lawmakers learn today whether lobbyists’ spending on gifts for officials’ spouses and families must be disclosed publicly, when the State Campaign Finance Commission considers an advisory opinion on that point. An attorney close to the speaker requested the opinion Feb. 11, just a few days after a complaint was filed over a $17,280 trip to Europe for Ralston, his chief of staff and their families. A lobbyist promoting high-speed rail paid for the jaunt.
Business executives pushing a bill in the Legislature would still have to register as lobbyists even if they’re not expressly paid to do so, under a proposed opinion from the State Campaign Finance Commission. The Georgia Chamber of Commerce had asked the commission for an exemption — a position that would allow business persons to buy meals, tickets or other gifts for public officials without disclosing them.
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Former Unadilla Police Chief Leonard Smith was never told when a grand jury would consider indicting him for billing two different police agencies for work during the same hours. That oversight was enough to throw out his conviction and five-year prison sentence, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled today.