Nov. 13, 2013 — Today, Georgia’s beleaguered Campaign Finance Commission decides just how badly it wants to learn about itself and its 2012 ethics settlement with Gov. Nathan Deal. On the table when the commission meets at 9:30 a.m.: A motion to formally ask State Auditor Greg Griffin to conduct a performance audit of the agency. Then the question will be: Should the commission do more to address allegations that Deal’s office dictated the outcome of an investigation into his 2010 campaign finances? “I’m certainly not taking anything off the table,” chair Kevin Abernethy said.
Oct. 22, 2013 — State Auditor Greg Griffin, rather than the attorney general’s office, will try to sort out charges that a 2012 ethics investigation of Gov. Nathan Deal was compromised. Griffin agreed to investigate allegations that the director of the state ethics commission, after talks with key staffers in Deal’s office, ordered the case closed with a minimal penalty. The commission, which announced Griffin’s role late today, had voted last month to ask Attorney General Sam Olens to name a special assistant to review its handling of the case.
Olens, as it happened, had been mentioned
as one possible factor in Deal’s resolve to settle the case in 2012 rather than let it reach a public hearing. A commission attorney has testified she was told that the governor didn’t want Olens, a potential rival in the 2014 governor’s race, to play any role in the proceedings.
Oct. 8, 2013 — Georgia lawmakers touted their 2013 ethics bill as historic, noting that they’d restored rule-making authority to the Campaign Finance Commission. Now, though, House Speaker David Ralston’s lawyer, Doug Chalmers, contends the commission can’t enforce a key disclosure rule on campaign spending. That interpretation, if it prevails, could muzzle the watchdog charged with policing campaign finance and disclosure in Georgia. Politicians could obscure details of countless dollars in campaign spending simply by using a personal credit card and getting reimbursed with campaign funds.
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.”
By JIM WALLS Sherry Streicker was told her job at the state ethics commission went away last year because of budget issues, not her performance. But when a new position opened there with nearly identical duties, she says in a new whistleblower suit, she couldn’t even get in the door for an interview. Streicker and […]
Rep. Ed Rynders charged the state ethics commission last week with wasteful spending even though he and House budget officials knew little or nothing about some of the details, interviews with state officials show. Nevertheless, the agency’s critics did not retreat
, while acknowledging that they really didn’t know enough in some cases to render an opinion. “Until you have the detail, it’s kinda hard to say whether it was a good or bad management decision,” House Budget Director Martha Wigton said.
Georgia legislators last week took back an extra $30,000 budgeted to enforce ethics laws in 2012, leaving the State Campaign Finance Commission yet again to do more paper-shuffling and less investigating. “We really only have time to go after the most egregious of cases,” executive secretary Stacey Kalberman said.
Allegations that Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle overpaid a campaign aide with whom he was having an affair were dropped today by the State Campaign Finance Commission. Members said complainant Ray Boyd had no evidence to support his claim, which the chairman described as a “clear abuse” of the complaint process.
Catching up with the State Ethics Commission: The Atlanta Development Authority has agreed to pay a $1,000 fine for promoting passage of a 2008 ballot question, but attorney Randy Evans said the city’s public housing agency disputes a similar complaint. Also last week, the commission backed down from requiring more financial reporting by so-called independent committees, demonstrating yet again the limits on its powers.
The other shoe dropped Tuesday at the State Ethics Commission, as the agency’s lone remaining full-time attorney resigned. Tom Plank, a lawyer there since 2007 and the agency’s top administrator earlier this year, quit to take another job. Colleagues said Plank dropped off his resignation letter and left without saying what that job would be.
Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine’s much-awaited ethics hearing was postponed today, but it may still be held before the July 20 Republican primary.
The State Ethics Commission voted today to reopen applications for its top administrative job and to interview three finalists at its Dec. 16 meeting. The commission interviewed three candidates last week but decided to solicit more applicants for the post. “We uniformly thought they were of very high quality,” commission member William Jordan said, “but there were none right now that we were ready to extend an offer to.”