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Once again, critic tramples truth to attack Georgia’s “F” on ethics



If I didn’t know better, I’d be outraged by the allegedly shameful and irresponsible conduct of the Center for Public Integrity, which was called to my attention Thursday in the pages of the AJC. But I do know better, so please allow me to explain how Rick Thompson ignored CPI’s findings about Georgia’s limp anti-corruption laws while building a straw man that could easily be ripped apart.

Thompson, a consultant and former executive secretary of the State Ethics Commission, has become the designated debunker of the CPI’s State Integrity Investigation. He’s stepped up because legislators who are critical of the report (for which I did the Georgia reporting) refuse to go on camera to say so. Thompson’s Thursday opinion piece argues that Georgia had been doing so well on CPI’s previous scorecards — finishing 7th in the nation in 2009 — that its new last-place ranking must be wrong.

What Thompson did not say is that CPI’s reports in 2009 and 2012 measured two totally different things.

The earlier survey analyzed the details of financial disclosure requirements for state legislators. I too would rank Georgia’s disclosure law 7th best in 2009 and again in 2012, if that had been the goal of CPI’s new State Integrity Investigation.

But it wasn’t. The Integrity Investigation, released last week, looks at anti-corruption laws and practices in 14 aspects of state government, of which the Legislature is just one. Of 330 questions on the scorecard, just eight assess the disclosure standards that CPI graded in 2009.

I will discuss findings on the 13 other arms of state government in future posts. Let’s focus for now on legislative accountability.

Besides reviewing what disclosure laws require, CPI in 2012 looked at whether they actually work: Do legislators comply, and does anything happen to them if they don’t? I based my Georgia scoring, in part, on well-documented news reports about some lawmakers’ failure to disclose key business interests and real estate, and on others’ failure to even file a disclosure for months after the deadline — if at all.

Thompson also contends that CPI’s Georgia report cited old laws, rules and advisory opinions — not newer ones adopted since 2010 that “increased accountability, reporting requirements and penalties.” He makes that claim three times in the space of four paragraphs.

No examples of this alleged oversight were cited, because there are none. My scorecard, which anyone may peruse at, cited Georgia’s newer ethics laws or advisory opinions on more than 40 answers.

I couldn’t cite any newer disclosure rules, though. As Thompson knows better than anyone, legislators took away the ethics commission’s rule-making authority in 2009 over a rule — drafted by his staff — that they didn’t like. Lawmakers have refused to restore it ever since.

(Last week, Thompson erroneously claimed that “automated auditing” had all but eliminated the need for flesh-and-blood auditors at the ethics commission.)

CPI’s finding disappoints some legislators because it contradicts the “spin” about the 2010 ethics law, which was trumpeted as curbing the abuses of power that had just forced House Speaker Glenn Richardson to leave public office. Under that law, though, news reports show:

Members of the ethics commission even sought legal advice on what to do if they’re sued because they couldn’t enforce the law.

Thompson’s AJC piece notes, “The past CPI survey results have been utilized as a great resource to assist legislatures on which areas of the laws need to be strengthened.”

The 2012 survey does just that. It shows that a strong law won’t work without someone to enforce it — an agency that can resist political pressure and operate with a reliable funding stream that the Legislature can’t strip away in a fit of pique.

P.S.: Even as I was typing these words last night, literally at the 11th hour on the last day of the session, I got a call that legislators had tried to sneak through a bill to seal some of the commission’s records and delay reporting some violations in exchange for restoring limited rule-making authority. It might have passed, I’m told, but the votes in the House evaporated once an enterprising reporter tweeted the news.

P.P.S.: I declined to write a piece that would have run beside Thompson’s because I thought the AJC’s request — to defend CPI’s findings — wrongheadedly turned a story about weak ethics laws into a story about my credibility. Sleight-of-hand artists have used that sort of misdirection technique for centuries, and I saw no reason to be the volunteer called up on stage to help. But I did feel the need to write this response because some false statements simply cannot be left unchallenged.

It’s quite refreshing to have this much attention devoted to ethics issues. Could we please refocus the discussion now on the laws and their enforcement? That’s the path Georgia must follow if it is to improve its regrettable ranking.





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10 Responses to “Once again, critic tramples truth to attack Georgia’s “F” on ethics”

  1. Neal Smith says:

    Your efforts to report objectively on the state of ethics regulations and legislation are exemplary. You have shined light, once again, on a classic example of how selfishness and greed trumps all with most of our elected officials. Given the opportunity and the means, the true character of many shows through very clearly. I suspect that some in the state legislature have issues with the ethics laws as they stand, but they are too concerned about their own jobs and reelection to do anything. It does my heart good to see that Machiavellian self-interest trumps doing the right thing almost every time. Legislators should be proud of themselves for this textbook illustration of the potential dark side of human nature. I fear that most legislators find feeding at the trough of special interest too appealing to understand that individual self-interest must, on occasion, take a back seat to doing things that are for the good of society. CPI and Jim Walls 1, Georgia Legislature -50.

  2. E. Denise Caldon, GA Whistleblower says:

    I have learned, firsthand, that the real facts have no bearing in most Atlanta reporting as there are more “critics trampling truth to attack Georgia’s “F” on ethics” behind the scenes as well. Judges in our state’s judicial system, the Board of Regents of the USG, and their attorney, Attorney General Sam Olens, all have an “F” in ethics – yet to be reported. Unfortunately, their “F” in ethics – along with our state government’s “F” disclosed in the CPI’s findings – have become the norm and acceptable by our elected officials, most media, and, now it appears, the Center for Public Integrity as well. They all have the strong misconception that by attacking the CPI’s State Integrity Investigation, AG Sam Olens’ recent filings of “Responses in Opposition” to the release of the truth of confirmed ethical misconduct by his defendants – the Board of Regents of the USG – and our state’s use of the “At Will” law to avoid the truth from being disclosed will keep the “truth” sealed and the increasing realities reported in the CPI’s State Integrity Investigation will all go away. They are wrong. Thank you, Jim, for, once again, reporting the truth…..and not just what most Atlanta media and our state government officials are trying so hard to make us believe. It is not working.

  3. sr says:

    Hello to the world:

    This report on Georgia’s corruption is soooooo on it! It’s so true and I am so glad that someone had the idea to put together agencies that hold states as a whole accountable for their conduct. My family and I have victims of corruption in Georgia and we have been “held in contempt” because I have struggled to get our story out to the public. All of the agencies and the governor ( at that time – perdue) did nothing to assist me and my family after we suffered emotional, psychological, financial and public damage. Being a part of the bible belt – HA! that’s a joke…This state is one of the devil’s gardens…
    I reside in the county where an infamous judge was removed from her position and so in saying that I will tell everyone that Glynn County – Brunswick Georgia is a leader in corruption. I know about the legal system, the social service system, the law enforcement system, I know about how it is to be mistreated and then to have all of the state agencies say…”UNFOUNDED.” I know how it is to have no hope and no escape from the snare that corruption has on people who do not have the means to have the legal muscle and even if you can afford it that still may not be enough because the TIES are so strong that it really depends on who you are… I know how it is to have your life and that of your family obliterated because the corruption in the state of Georgia is a living and breathing organism that procreates itself and because of the people involved with this report – it has now opened a new gateway to justice for everyone that NEVER existed before March 2012.

  4. sr says:

    I also would like to add that I have been a victim of whistleblower assasination and the horrifying things that have been done to me and my family would blow away anyone who thinks that Georgia is nothing but as sweet as a peach…

  5. sr says:

    Mr. Walls:

    I would really love to have an opportunity to talk with you, I hope to hear from you…

  6. sr says:

    My thoughts are on overload because I am so grateful to CPI and Mr. Walls for not being afraid of doing what they do and have done… I also would like to shed light on the fact that my family and I have been victims of threats, coercion, harrassment, blackmail, and other forms of intimidation on EVERY LEVEL imaginable, this defies our constitutional liberties and liberties even under the “Georgia constitution” I am so thankful to Mr. Walls for creating this site and allowing people to have their opportunity to share about the devastation that Georgia has had on its citizens because this is an epidemic of epic proportions, this is very serious and should never ever be overlooked or swept under the carpet and if things do get corrected – only by the hand of the public – it should always have a light shining on it guilty face…

  7. Jon Sinton says:

    It is precisely your dedication to the truth and your ferocity in defending it that made Common Cause recognize you with our Democracy Award. Your work is exemplary, and my only regret is that it is not more widely known. Thank you for continuing to work for ethics, honesty and transparency in our public life.

  8. Rick's Nemesis says:

    Rick Thompson is a paid shill for Governor Deal and other Georgia Republican politicians who like to play the game of “Unethical? Moi? Not me! I don’t see no unethical behavior, unless it’s coming from Jim Walls…HE’S the one who’s unethical…he’s mean! he’s nobody!….blah-blah-blah…”

  9. lynnbo says:

    Jim: Everyone I know is thinking and knowing that GA is truly run by the mafia republicans and their gatekeepers. Is the federal government the only ones to save us? If Romney wins then is it “open field day on graft”.
    My county commissioner is one of the most corrupt self serving human ever to be born in the USA.

  10. sr says:

    mr. walls – I have tried emailing you via the email on your site and it has come back as a failure… there is a lot going on down here in the south east region of Georgia – savannah, Hinesville, Brunswick, etc…