Earlier today I was listening to Sam Olens discuss his race for Attorney General. One of the points he brought up really got me thinking.
Olens brought up two sections of the Georgia Code, O.C.G.A. 45-10-1 and 45-10-3. Both of these laws are found under the state’s ethics code
The first one applies to both elected officials and non-elected officials in government:
There is established for and within the state and for and in all governments therein a code of ethics for government service which shall read as follows:
CODE OF ETHICS FOR GOVERNMENT SERVICE
Any person in government service should:
I. Put loyalty to the highest moral principles and to country above loyalty to persons, party, or government department.
II. Uphold the Constitution, laws, and legal regulations of the United States and the State of Georgia and of all governments therein and never be a party to their evasion.
III. Give a full day’s labor for a full day’s pay and give to the performance of his duties his earnest effort and best thought.
IV. Seek to find and employ more efficient and economical ways of getting tasks accomplished.
V. Never discriminate unfairly by the dispensing of special favors or privileges to anyone, whether for remuneration or not, and never accept, for himself or his family, favors or benefits under circumstances which might be construed by reasonable persons as influencing the performance of his governmental duties.
VI. Make no private promises of any kind binding upon the duties of office, since a government employee has no private word which can be binding on public duty.
VII. Engage in no business with the government, either directly or indirectly, which is inconsistent with the conscientious performance of his governmental duties.
VIII. Never use any information coming to him confidentially in the performance of governmental duties as a means for making private profit.
IX. Expose corruption wherever discovered.
X. Uphold these principles, ever conscious that public office is a public trust.
This code is almost verbatim to the Federal Code of Ethics passed by the Congress in 1980 (a copy of which hangs framed on my wall in my home office).
45-10-3 deals with service on Boards and Commissions:
Notwithstanding any provisions of law to the contrary, each member of all boards, commissions, and authorities created by general statute shall:
(1) Uphold the Constitution, laws, and regulations of the United States, the State of Georgia, and all governments therein and never be a party to their evasion;
(2) Never discriminate by the dispensing of special favors or privileges to anyone, whether or not for remuneration;
(3) Not engage in any business with the government, either directly or indirectly, which is inconsistent with the conscientious performance of his governmental duties;
(4) Never use any information coming to him confidentially in the performance of governmental duties as a means for making private profit;
(5) Expose corruption wherever discovered;
(6) Never solicit, accept, or agree to accept gifts, loans, gratuities, discounts, favors, hospitality, or services from any person, association, or corporation under circumstances from which it could reasonably be inferred that a major purpose of the donor is to influence the performance of the member’s official duties;
(7) Never accept any economic opportunity under circumstances where he knows or should know that there is a substantial possibility that the opportunity is being afforded him with intent to influence his conduct in the performance of his official duties;
(8) Never engage in other conduct which is unbecoming to a member or which constitutes a breach of public trust; and
(9) Never take any official action with regard to any matter under circumstances in which he knows or should know that he has a direct or indirect monetary interest in the subject matter of such matter or in the outcome of such official action.
The difference starkest difference between the two is O.C.G.A. 45-10-4, which allows for an investigation and removal from office for members of boards, commissions and authorities.
There is no similar provision for 45-10-1. In other words, while the law tells elected officials what is ethical and what is not, the law has no teeth to act.
Now it should be noted that each legislative chamber has an ethics committee with the power to expel a member, but that is only within the legislature.
Many times the philospophy is to let the political process work itself out, hope that the voters will reject the candidate who has shown poor judgment in their dealings, especially if they have racked up ethics charges and fines.
However, there are some situations where the political atmosphere is such that it is difficult, if not impossible, to get the local authorities to investigate, charge, arrest, indict, or put on trial a local official.
It is far too often the unfortunate task for the Feds to become the actors in order to clean up the corruption.
Part of the role of the AG’s office should be to indict when the local system is unwilling, or too involved, to act, long before a federal case has to be made.
Millions of taxpayer dollars are wasted each year by corruption and/or the lawsuits that may arise from those who were harmed. An active AG’s office could very well save taxpayers money by cracking down on corruption before it starts.