Hooray. We have ethics reform.
Color me unimpressed.
At this year’s Wild Hog Supper (fresh on the heels of the Glen Richardson implosion), I was talking to two state Reps. One is one I’ve known and respected for a while. The other was one I had just met, but respected what i knew of him. And the new acquaintance ask me this question:
“How little do we have to do on ethics reform to get you guys to shut up?”
No, that’s not how he phrased it, but I knew that’s exactly what he meant. And then he went on to tell me a familiar refrain. One that I have heard from the least senior member of the General Assembly to the top leadership:
“We’re not all like that. Most of us are good people. Please don’t lump us all together with a few bad apples.”
And frankly, most of them are good people. I know and understand this. They are good men and women. Most actually started out with a noble intention of actual public service. Many still toil away with long hours, low pay, time spent in committee meetings in Atlanta listening to crazy women who claim someone put an RFD device in her hoo-hah, in the hope that they can make the state a better place.
But there’s also the saying that “politics is Hollywood for ugly people”, and that saying helps underscore the point. There is tempation built into the system. There is much power that is ripe for abuse. And with the combination of power, vast amounts of money, and unlimited amounts of temptation, there has to be checks, and balance must be restored.
Yet I have routinely been told that we don’t need more ethics laws, we just need to elect ethical people. I spent my early career as a banker, and there were strict rules in place about how money could be handled, dual controls for everything, daily counts, and strict audits.
Never once did I hear bank management say, we don’t need to have all these controls, we need to just hire honest people. In fact, they said the opposite. The controls were in place because they did hire honest people, and the controls removed the temptation of easy money via theft. Thus, honest people remained honest, despite the temptation of the money they handled and processed every day.
Yet our General Assembly doesn’t want tigher controls to remove obvious temptations. They wish to rearrange deckchairs and continue the course of the ship.
The same Rep I mentioned above was asked at a town hall if it was wrong for a legislator to sleep with a lobbyist. He stumbled through an answer, would not say it was necessarily wrong, and finally concluded something to the effect of “well, it’s not illegal that I know of.”
No sir, you’re not all like that. But you also just missed the only opportunity you will have to make those who are like that either leave the General Assembly or face heavy punishment if they continue their well documented behavior.
So as you review the “new and improved” ethics bill that is fresh on its way to the Governor, please ask yourself these four questions:
1) Is it still legal for a member of the General Assembly to have sexual relations with a lobbyist? Including one representing clients with business before the committee which the GA member either chairs or serves on?
2) Is it still legal for a member of the General Assembly to take money from municipal taxpayers (or any other government entity) without a single documented contract, or any record of any work product performed?
3) Can a member of the General Assembly still profit from an organization that sells lobbying and consulting services based on its premium contacts within Georgia government?
4) And when there is a suspected violation of the few ethics rules that actually exist, is it still the responsibility of the General Assembly to police themselves, given their history of pretending to ignore what is now known as “common knowledge“?
If the answer to any of the above 4 questions is yes, then not only is this ethics reform a failure, but it is also proof that the members of the General Assembly just don’t get it.