Don McKee: Ethics reform still hitting brick wall in Republican-run state Legislature
March 14, 2012 01:05 AM | 2541 views | 8 8 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Don McKee
Don McKee
You might think that Common Cause Georgia, the Georgia Tea Party Patriots, the League of Women Voters and Georgia Watch would have influence on the state legislature.

You would be wrong when it comes to ethics reform. All the above groups — joining together as the Georgia Alliance for Ethics Reform — have not cracked the anti-reform armor of the Republicans in control of the General Assembly. Two bills introduced this session are languishing in committees controlled by the Republicans. Senate Bill 391 by Sen. Joshua McKoon (R-Columbus) was sent to the Senate Rules Committee on Feb. 7. House Bill 1105 by Rep. Tommy Smith (R-Nichols) has been reclining in the House Rules Committee since Feb. 23.

The bills are similar, ending the unlimited spending by lobbyists on our legislators. HB 1105, the stronger measure, would set a $100 limit on such spending and would include family and staff members of public officials. This bill also would require members of state boards, commissions or authorities and the heads of state agencies to file annual financial disclosure statements.

Georgia holds an embarrassing distinction as the only state in the Southeast without a limit on lobbyist spending on legislators. Moreover, Georgia is one of only three states without such limits. And this flies in the face not only of reform efforts by the Georgia Alliance for Reform but the wishes of the people of this state. Georgia Watch cites a Mason Dixon poll that showed that 72 percent of registered Georgia voters favor a limit on lobbyist gifts to legislators.

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, who promised ethics reform when he won the speakership, has blocked any meaningful reform. Instead, he made headlines by accepting a seven-day, lobbyist-paid $17,000 trip to Europe with his family in November 2010. He defended the trip as “an opportunity to look at high speed rail and how it related to economic development.”

Ralston’s idea of ethics law is to require lobbyists to report what they spend on legislators. His approach, as he told this columnist more than a year ago, is this: “We’ve got ethics laws in place in Georgia that give openness and transparency to people so they can look and see who’s spending money on us and how much, and then make a determination when appropriate if it causes us to be influenced by those expenditures.”

So it’s up to the citizens to dig through lobbyist reports to find out who spent how much on legislators — and then decide if they’ve been influenced. Meanwhile, Ralston and his fellow legislators go merrily on their way accepting meals, trips, tickets to sports events, and whatever else they choose to accept from lobbyists, never mind what the people want.

Executive director Angela Speir Phelps of Georgia Watch got it right when she said, “If our lawmakers choose to not place a cap on gifts, it will be clear that their sense of entitlement far outweighs their sense of duty to the people they serve.”

And so it does.
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March 19, 2012
I just saw a report by the Center for Public Integrity that ranks states based on their propensity for corruption in their state legislatures.

No states received an "A". Not Good, but not surprising.

Five received "B's". New Jersey got the best grade which immediately calls into question the validity of the survey.

Nineteen received "C's"

Eighteen received "D's"

And eight received "F's".

Guess what grade Georgia received?
Smyrna Joe
June 11, 2012
It's issues like this that make it so clear that we need Josh Belinfante in the State Senate.

He brought this issue up last year when he started running for Senate District 6 in Cobb/Fulton.

Ethics will be front and center the rest of this political season and we need Josh Belinfante in the State Senate!
West Cobb Resident
March 15, 2012
I generally like David Ralston, but am disappointed in his stance on this issue.
March 14, 2012
--thievery is thievery, no matter the color of the coat of the thief.

I am proud of most of the aspects of Georgia and its folks.

ethics = moral prionciples

Obviously, as a body, the otherwise good group of Georgia politicians are lacking in moral principles.

Kevin Foley
March 14, 2012
H.L. Mencken said it best:

"People deserve the government they get, and they deserve to get it good and hard."

As long as you keep putting this embarrassing collection of cretins back in the state house and governor's mansion, Georgians should expect no better and they'll probably get worse.
March 14, 2012
Mencken lso said:

" Criticism is prejudice made plausible."

Seems apt in this case.
March 14, 2012
Sadly, the republicans in Georgia have shown us all just how little distinction there is between them and the democrats. The main difference seems to be that the democrats cater to the thieving welfare queens, while the republicans cater to the thieving chamber of commerce...either way the taxpayers pay for it all.

David Ralston is becoming the symbol of everything wrong with the republicans in Georgia.

Chip Rogers, we will remember how you caved to the chamber of commerce and made sure that the state of Georgia did not provide employees with the right to carry/store guns in their automobiles on employer owned parking lots/property.
Last GA Democrat
March 14, 2012
I don't know if our lawmakers necessarily feel as though they are entitled so much as they just simply don't want to give up all of the high-dollar gifts, meals, tickets to sporting events, nights out on the town with escorts, etc.

Heck, many legislators get into state politics just so that they can come to Atlanta and be showered by all of those high-dollar gifts supplied by lobbyists. For quite a few of them, serving the people of this state wasn't even necessarily in the equation, just getting the high-dollar gifts from lobbyists was basically all that they were thinking about from the moment they decided to run for the Legislature.
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