On Tuesday, PolitiFact weighed in on a statement made by House Ethics Committee Chairman Joe Wilkinson. Politifact declared Wilkinson’s statement that Georgia’s Ethics laws are among the toughest in the nation is “false.” Of course the only source claiming Georgia is weak on ethics is one of the people pushing new ethics measures (his comment appears to be the only basis for the “false” ruling) .
Today former Senator (and Senate Ethics Chairman) Dan Moody responded with the following letter which hopefully will be published in the AJC very soon.
Why allow Eric Stirgus to write a mis-named “Truth-o-meter” story (Jan. 25) when it is an opinion piece belonging on the editorial page? To paraphrase Admiral Farragut,” his mission was “Damn the facts and full speed ahead.”
Stirgus claims Rep. Joe Wilkinson is wrong to state that “a national organization says Georgia has one of America’s toughest ethics laws.” But Wilkinson is right. Sturgis twists information around to define “ethics” his own way.
To imply strict financial disclosure laws are not the foundation of ethics reform is absurd. Financial disclosure is where legislative ethics start. Otherwise, there’s nothing to build on. Georgia in 2008 was ranked seventh nationally by the Center for Public Integrity based on its ethics/disclosure law. So no matter how Stirgus defines it, Georgia has one of the toughest ethics laws in the nation.
Last year penalties were increased for elected officials and lobbyists who fail to comply with the law. Reporting requirements were strengthened so expenditures have more public visibility, making lawmakers more accountable.
Also consider that placing caps on expenditures is problematic. Several lobbyists could easily split the cost of an expenditure on a lawmaker to keep it below the reporting level. The Legislature’s solution was full disclosure, not a patch here and there.
The new law just took effect, coinciding with the legislative session. This is certainly too short a period to judge, by any measure, the effectiveness of a good law that was made better.
Incidentally, aside from the Center, no other organization does ethics rankings nationally. The Center will initiate a study of all 50 states again, and I believe Wilkinson should be vindicated again when that report concludes that Georgia, indeed, has one of America’s toughest ethics law.