There is almost certainly room for widely varying interpretations of conclusions based on responses to a 330-question survey of “corruption risk indicators” from open-records laws to campaign finance rules to state government finance procedures.
However, when any survey finds that the state fails to measure up in nine of 14 areas of inquiry — Georgia earned an “F” for its lobbyist disclosure rules, public access to information, political financing and legislative accountability, among other areas, according to media reports — there are right ways and, well, not-so-right ways, for elected officials to respond.
The right response to the CPI survey is illustrated by state Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus). An advocate of ethics reform and a member of the Senate Ethics Committee, McKoon told The Telegraph newspaper that the study “raises very troubling questions about changes we need to make.”
The not-so-right response is illustrated by state Rep. Joe Wilkinson (R-Sandy Springs), chairman of the House Ethics Committee. He complained to the Atlanta newspaper about being blindsided by the study and went on to criticize the person who gathered information on Georgia for the CPI report — a former AJC editor who now operates a website. Wilkinson complained that Georgia was “judged by a blogger instead of a regulatory official, as has been done in the past.” He went on to note that “previous discussions with the Center for Public Integrity” created an “assumption that the 2012 rankings would show Georgia in the top five states.”
With all due respect to Wilkinson, any assumption about the 2012 ranking rings particularly hollow in connection with what the legislature failed to do this year in the arena of ethics reform. A legislative proposal from McKoon that would have limited lobbyists’ gifts to legislators to $100 died in the state Senate.
As reported by Georgia Public Broadcasting, last year’s lobbyist largess totaled $1.8 million, an average of more than $7,500 for each of the state’s 236 legislators. The fact that lawmakers couldn’t bring themselves to consider a $100 limit on lobbyist gifts — and that’s a $100 “per event” limit, not an absolute per-legislative-session limit — is, begging Wilkinson’s pardon, more than ample evidence that Georgia might have deserved the poor CPI ranking in terms of public corruption and government openness regulations.
It’s important to note, as Caitlin Ginley, project manager for the CPI report, did that the surveys were “not measuring actual corruption. This is a look at the opposite: the laws, policies and procedures in place to prevent corruption and how effective they are.”
While it’s certainly too late in the current Georgia General Assembly session for the conclusions in the CPI report to be translated into specific legislative initiatives, it will be interesting to see whether lawmakers remember those conclusions as they prepare for next year’s session.