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.
What’s the difference between an apparent conflict of interest and the real deal? In the world of government ethics, it’s all about the language crafted by the lawyers and the wiggle room they’ve left for other lawyers to argue about. Ethics codes in Georgia vary from one jurisdiction to another. Many prohibit a public officer from trading on his or her position for personal benefit but, as they say, the devil’s in the details.
Robert “Mack” Crawford was named a Griffin Circuit Superior Court judge last week despite a blistering eight-page critique of his management of Georgia’s system of public defenders. Criminal defense attorney Stephen Bright wrote the Judicial Nominating Commission trying to block Crawford’s appointment, describing his three years as director of the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council as an “unmitigated disaster.”
Twice a year, members of the Cobb County ethics board meet to deal with housekeeping matters. Then they go home. For a time last year, DeKalb’s ethics board couldn’t even muster a quorum. And in Fulton, a state legislator contends the ethics board cannot impose fines or sanctions because its members were appointed improperly. Bottom line: Local ethics boards get no respect.
Ralph Hudgens‘ bid for Georgia insurance commissioner has returned $106,600 in contributions that were transferred improperly last year from his state Senate campaign fund. Hudgens said he’s signed a consent order to resolve an ethics complaint on the matter that would not impose a financial penalty. “No fines, no anything,” he said. UPDATE: Maria Sheffield, another Republican running for insurance commissioner, today attacked Hudgens for his handling of the improper transfer.
A North Georgia bank is accusing congressional candidate Tom Graves of attempted fraud for trying to escape a $2.25 million debt. The complaint, filed last week by Bartow County Bank, alleges Graves transferred his home and adjoining properties worth $657,000 into a trust last year to protect it from the debt. For that, the bank would like punitive damages.
Glenn Richardson‘s political action committee registered as tax-exempt Tuesday, but it’s not clear whether that will defuse an investigation into his transfer of $219,915 in leftover campaign cash to the committee. The State Ethics Commission is looking into the payment of that money from Richardson’s campaign account to the MMV Alliance Fund on New Year’s Eve. The question is: Would a tax-exempt filing in February allow MMV to accept a couple hundred thousand dollars in campaign money five weeks earlier?
A potential conflict of interest involving a MARTA vendor and a state legislator could turn out to be a $45 million headache. Or, if it’s not worked out, state Sen. Doug Stoner could be out of a job.
MARTA officials will meet Tuesday to talk about waiving the transit agency’s conflict-of-interest policy for a vendor that hired a state legislator earlier this year. But for the lawmaker, state Sen. Doug Stoner of Smyrna, his job with the vendor may be just one of the potential conflicts.
Hugh Floyd, a state legislator from Norcross, filed a disclosure of his personal finances a week ago, two months after the deadline set by state law. That still leaves 15 legislators who haven’t filed their 2008 disclosures, which were due July 1; five of them have not filed their 2007 reports, either. Why is this important? It’s not, unless you want to know whether your elected officials are keeping a proper distance between the public interest and their own private interests.
A conflicted committee of the MARTA board today recommended hiring a company that employs the daughter of one of its members. Edelman Public Relations is clearly the best choice to run a marketing campaign aimed at marshaling public support for MARTA during the 2010 state legislative session, agency staffers said. The problem: Board member Barbara Babbit Kaufman‘s daughter is a senior VP at Edelman.
Duly noted: Former state Rep. Dean Alford (right), who earned hundreds of thousands of dollars in stock dividends from a for-profit affiliate of a non-profit Cobb County utility, was elected chairman of the board of the Technical College System of Georgia on Thursday. Court records show Alford paid $750,000 in 2001 for stock in the […]