House leaders found Mike Glanton did not violate ethics rules in 2015 when he appeared to be leveraging his public role as a legislator to generate some private business. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t come close.
Glanton denied any ill intent, and the House Ethics Committee dismissed a complaint against him because Glanton’s employer didn’t wind up benefiting from his actions.
The case prompted Ethics chair Joe Wilkinson, though, to send out a three-page warning to House members: “Linking your legislative service with your private business endeavors will often create an appearance of impropriety or improper conduct whether one is intended by the member or not. … The best rule to follow is to not link your legislative position in any manner with your private business activities.”
I am not making this up. The House Ethics Committee’s chairman says a privately commissioned study shows Georgia’s ethics laws are the third-best in the country, not the worst. This study will form the basis of an ethics bill that Joe Wilkinson says he’ll introduce soon. But he will not make the study public, won’t say who conducted it or how much it cost. “It’s mine,” he said in a telephone interview. “It’s a working document.”
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.”