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.”
Lobbyists, more than anything else, sell access to politicians. Political fund-raisers sell candidates on their ability to generate boodles of campaign cash, frequently from donors that want, well, access to politicians. Put the two jobs together, and you get Dave Simons.
More than 90 state lawmakers — and one newcomer — collected $530,000 in campaign contributions this spring even though they will coast to election in November without a fight,an analysis of campaign records shows. More than half of that cash flowed to just 10 of them.