Georgia Receives Deserved Dubious Distinction For Ethics Laws

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

Last. Dead Last.

A new report which compares each state’s ethics laws has determined Georgia’s laws are the absolute worst in the country for preventing a culture which incubates public corruption.  The Center For Public Integrity, Global Integrity, and Public Radio International joined forces to form the State Integrity Investigation.  Their findings give Georgia a grade of “F”, but it is the grade against all other peers placing Georgia at the bottom final ranking that really leaves a mark.

Georgia lawmakers have long touted high rankings from the Center for Public Integrity as why ethics reform were not needed.  And on paper, Georgia does have some of the most stringent requirements for transparency.  At least on the surface.

Digging deeper, as the State Integrity Investigation does, it quickly becomes clear that these requirements are easily skirted and ignored.  Georgia has virtually no resources for audit or enforcement of existing laws.  The system is designed for self-reporting, with little fear of being caught or fined if the responsible party fails to file a report, omits key items from a disclosure, or files purposely false information altogether.

In the last 4 years, Georgia has had a House Speaker who had an affair with a lobbyist for whom he sponsored a bill that would have granted her employer hundreds of millions of dollars for a natural gas pipeline.  We had a candidate for Governor with 10 Political Action Committees set up in Alabama to illegally launder campaign funds from a single donor whom he regulated as insurance commissioner.  We had a state legislator who dated a lobbyist and got her client a new building at the University she represented, and then threatened the University when they later fired her.  He now is the State Labor Commissioner.

We have a Governor who had to file and re-file required disclosures throughout his campaign because critical information was either omitted or incorrect.  When the director of the ethics commission prepared subpoenas to serve on the Governor and sought help from the FBI for forensic accounting, her staff was gutted and she was replaced.

We have a Senate Rules Chairman who has traveled to Israel with a lobbyist whom he listed on the official program as a Senate staffer.  He uses his campaign account to fund a $2,100 per month condo just 30 miles from his home, yet continues to bill taxpayers for per diem for over 100 days when the legislature is in session.  He bills for mileage to and from his home every working day, including the days he is not even in the state.

And we have a current Speaker, elected by his peers after scandal brought down the entire former House leadership team, who took his family on a Thanksgiving vacation to Europe at the expense of lobbyists which went unreported for months.  The $17,000 expenditure – roughly the same amount of a base legislator’s pay – was so that the Speaker could learn about trains and transit. 

 The coup de grace of demonstrating how toothless and unimportant the state ethics commission has become comes from the commission itself.  During Mark Burkhalter’s brief tenure as speaker, he appointed Atlanta Attorney Robert Proctor to the commission.  Proctor had an outstanding fine from the commission of $6,000.  When asked about the fine, he indicated that he did not have to pay it.  He acknowledged that he had known of the fine for years, but argued that he had not been properly served notice, and the commission could not enforce their demand for payment.  That’s the same commission he was serving on. The completely toothless one.

The research done to determine Georgia fails with ethics was done by former Atlanta Journal and Constitution investigative reporter Jim Walls, among the best in the business.  He now runs his own website, AtlantaUnfiltered.com, and I encourage you to read his full report here.

The reaction from the legislature is typical of a hit dog. They’re hollering.

Unable to defend Georgia’s unenforceable ethics laws or their refusal to do anything about it, legislators are attacking the messenger.  They are attacking the report as one done by a “blogger”, and suggesting they prefer rankings done by “experts”.

Georgians are well aware of reports done by experts used by the legislature.  They are usually the ones that justify a large economic benefit for public expenditures, which often fail to materialize after the taxpayer money has been spent. (see, Gwinnett Braves Stadium; see, Go Fish Georgia; see, every state funded hall of fame…)

Georgia’s government is a system designed by the insiders, for the insiders.  From the Yazoo Land Scandal to Eugene Talmadge stealing the money “for you” to modern day, Georgia’s government has always been set with a default setting of taking care of the elected officials and the well connected first, and taxpayers if convenient.

Republicans once ran on changing this system.  The current speaker was elevated to his position to change this system.  Now all profit from this system, and pronounce it good and just. 

There are no problems with ethics in Georgia if you ask members of the legislature.  There is only a problem with bloggers who keep bringing up unfortunate details that they would prefer you not dwell upon.

 So please do not dwell on the above. Please don’t share it with a friend. Please do not take any anger about the current system to the polls during this July’s primaries.  It is the only way to preserve the system’s status quo.  And there are a lot of Georgia’s leaders who are quite comfortable with the status quo.

40 comments

  1. griftdrift says:

    Anyone who doesn’t respect Jim Walls or thinks they are clever by saying he’s just some blogger deserves every inch of the rhetorical lash.

  2. Andre says:

    I read Jim Walls’ report for the Center for Public Integrity. It’s a scathing indictment of both major political parties who routinely find ways to circumvent Georgia’s ethics laws.

    I don’t see any way to end Georgia’s culture of corruption , when Democrat and Republican leaders talk ethics but do little or nothing to strengthen ethics.

    On ethics, Democrats and Republicans are N.A.T.O. — No Action, Talk Only.

    • Baker says:

      The only way to fix it, I think, is to have real redistricting reform so that these people don’t know they’re going to win before it even starts. I know we just did it. So we now have eight years for some group like Americans Elect or something to push for real, maybe Iowa-esque, redistricting reform. That’s the only way I can see at holding these people accountable.

  3. NoTeabagging says:

    Can I please have my “No Ethics, No Problem” car tag sticker now?!
    (fits nicely on the “In God We Trust” slot)

  4. Calypso says:

    The lack of ethics laws would become problematic only if the legislators and/or governor were given to unethical behavior. If that scenario ever arises, then we can be concerned about a lack of laws governing ethics.

    /sarcasm/

  5. CobbGOPer says:

    Term Limits.
    Term Limits.
    Term Limits.
    Term Limits.
    Term Limits.
    Term Limits.
    Term Limits.
    Term Limits.
    Term Limits!

  6. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    But, but, but, Charlie, what had happened was that the reporter behind the report is corrupt and himself has a sinister ulterior motive.

    Everybody knows that there is absolutely no basis or truth to any of these allegations in this clearly biased report.

    There’s nothing wrong with a group of concerned citizens (highly-profitable mega-corporations) sending very-concerned patriots (highly-paid lobbyists) to the State Capitol to steer the discussion on public policy by persuading (bribing legislators with money, gifts and even sex) government representatives to act in the public’s best interests (selfish corporate ends).

    Move along folks as there is clearly nothing to see here in what is clearly one of the most ethical statehouses in the nation.

  7. saltycracker says:

    Charlie,

    Guess you ran out of ink before you got to the Committee chairs & members. Start with Jack Murphy & follow wth those that have stiffed or been sued by a bank and on to those pushing for absolution from personal guarantees.

    • Ken says:

      Hi Salty,

      Sadly, Charlie has to worry about column/inches. Fortunately, it’s published in a newspaper as well. They go together so there is a finite space limitation.

  8. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    BREAKING NEWS: The Georgia General Assembly has decided to respond to the allegation that it is the most ethically-challenged state lawmaking body in the country.

    The OFFICIAL response from the Georgia General Assembly is:

    Look, over there! ABORTION!

      • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

        Not like there was ever any shortage of cartoon material from this shameless group of clowns that actually has the temerity to call themselves a lawmaking body in the Georgia General Assembly.

  9. Rick Day says:

    1. Why is this surprising?

    2. Why do you keep re-electing GOP politicians and their ilk?

    3. How many incumbents are you going to vote for come November?

    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      “1. Why is this surprising?”

      I agree with Three Jack: It’s not at all the least bit surprising, yet increasingly disappointing.

      “2. Why do you keep re-electing GOP politicians and their ilk?”

      Because of the goldmine of endless comedic material the GOP keeps increasingly providing! The Democrats may be supergoofy, but the GOP is really making a concerted effort to take the gusto this year, and that’s REALLY saying something…You can’t get this stuff just anywhere, you know?

      “3. How many incumbents are you going to vote for come November?”

      However many incumbents keep the comedy hits coming and keep me doubled over in stitches, especially in an election year!

      The GOP-controlled Georgia General Assembly:
      The WORST governance, the BEST comedy!

      And courtesy of the State Integrity Investigation we’ve now got the official rankings to confirm just what kind of prehistoric goo our state government has totally degenerated into.

  10. CobbGOPer says:

    “Georgia’s government is a system designed by the insiders, for the insiders.”

    I don’t think this can be re-iterated enough.

  11. The Colonel says:

    “The current speaker was elevated to his position to change this system. Now all profit from this system, and pronounce it good and just.” Brilliant. When are we going to embrace the idea that Ralston neither ever has been nor ever will be the man that he pretended to be a few short years ago?

  12. Bull Moose says:

    I don’t understand how Don Balfour gets away with robbing the people of GA so forthrightly without facing any repercussions from his constituents. This type of thievery would get most people in jail but because he’s an elected official the graft from his public service seems to be just fine and dandy.

    His constituents must like getting taken advantage of is all I can think.

      • saltycracker says:

        The trick is to deliver to your constituents at the expense of all others. Not many are like Calypso & pay attention.

    • Calypso says:

      As one of the poor souls who happens to be a constituent of this abhorrent, rotund weasel of a man, I can assure you I don’t like being taken advantage of and have supported his opponent in the last primary.

      The biggest obstacle to his defeat is his current campaign chest of more than three-quarters of a million dollars. That, and ignorant voters.

    • debbie0040 says:

      If the Senator has a strong opponent are you guys willing to help with campaign contributions?

  13. Ken says:

    We Republicans can keep saying, “The Democrats were worse and they did it for over 100 years,” or we can actually make it better. Option 1 has grown stale, folks.

    Yeah, the Democrats WERE worse, but expecting people to continue to accept corruption and/or the appearance of corruption is stupid. At some point, some legislative members will begin to push real ethics reform and if a scandal breaks at the right time they will sail to victory without regard to party.

    If we’re too stubborn, too stupid and too damned greedy to recognize that reform needs to occur then we will get what we deserve. The Democrats now have an issue that makes them relevant – and it’s on an engraved silver platter.

    • Calypso says:

      “…but expecting people to continue to accept corruption and/or the appearance of corruption is stupid.”

      Ken, I wish I could believe you are right, but I sincerely think that most folks in the majority party are ok with the concept that “at least now it is our corruption that’s going on and not the corruption of the other guys”.

  14. debbie0040 says:

    Well said, Ken. Look at the way they rammed the tax bill through in less than 24 hours after the final bill was presented. These same people soundly criticized Pelosi and company for doing the same thing with ObamaCare. With some Republican legislators their philosophy seems to be do as I say not as I do..

  15. SB says:

    Hello Georgians, don’t feel so bad; Florida isn’t much better. In fact Florida has you beat when it comes to public corruption according to a February report. I thought I’d share the below message with you (it’s from a previous post). Some of you may enjoy reading it…particularly because it relates to the geographic region known as “Gator Country”. Cheers

    —————–

    First the corruption report last month that showed Blagojevich’s own Illinois (and Chicago) leading the pack, and Florida trailing not far behind…now this State Integrity report. I’m sure the previous month’s “winners” are glad to have not taken the crown this time around. But seriously, I truly hope these reports lead to much needed change. If the public takes these findings seriously and subsequently starts demanding that our leaders be held accountable then I’m sure some long-lasting improvements may result from the harsh truths revealed by the data presented in these reports. The corruption, lack of integrity, and lack of accountability is both sad and endemic. On a related note, a jurisdiction in Florida is now inadvertently setting itself up for an election fiasco that involves a corrupt judge who has several co-conspirators. You can’t make this stuff up…unfortunately it’s 100% true and corroborated by two reports and extensive irrefutable evidence that is in the possession of agencies, including those within Florida’s 8th Judicial Circuit (and Chief Judge Martha Lott and Chief Investigator Spencer Mann). The judge, and former prosecutor, at the heart of the issue is David P. Kreider. Take a look at

    http://www.complaints.com/2012/march/14/Corrupt_Judge_David_P._Kreider_now_taints_the_ele_264712.htm

    for more information. I say prison sentences for all those who think they are above the law, especially public servants whom we should be able to trust. Then and only then will the governmental paradigm undergo the shift that is so dearly needed. Unfortunately the lack of ethics, lack of honor, and lack of concern for one’s fellow man has infected governments worldwide on both an institutional and cultural level.

  16. xdog says:

    I’m curious; what’s changed this week to get all you GOPer and lib free-marketers so outraged? There’s nothing new going on in the state. Didn’t you read Charlie’s litany of recent mis- and malfeasance? I could add ‘Oaky Woods’ to the list. Did it bother you when Sonny Perdue was the only Georgia citizen to avail himself of the pleasures offered by HB488? Or when Larry O’Neal was both the accidental governor’s personal attorney and the originating representative for the bill? If so, you sure kept your objections muted. It’s almost enough to make an outsider wonder how serious your recently discovered ethical concerns are.

  17. SB says:

    This is an important update to all that have knowledge of the “Gibson Case” and criminally-corrupt Judge (and former prosecutor) David P. Kreider. During recent months concerned parties who desire to see corruption stamped out and to see justice served have been the source of intense pressure upon various “insiders”. One of those key “insiders” involved in the aforementioned matter is Martha Lott who, until last Thursday (04/05/2012), served as the Chief Judge of Florida’s 8th Judicial Circuit.

    This message has been shared in order to announce that the scandal related to the “Gibson Case” has taken yet another big step towards it’s complete unraveling. Yesterday (04/09/2012) at 05:34 p.m. EST it was officially announced that Martha Lott had resigned from her post as Chief Judge on 04/05/2012. Were it not for her resignation Martha Lott’s current term as Chief Judge would have expired on 06/30/2013. To review the official resignation announcement, which ran in Alachua County’s largest newspaper (“The Gainesville Sun”), visit the following url:

    http://www.gainesville.com/article/20120409/ARTICLES/120409606

    Robert E. Roundtree Jr. is now the Chief Judge of the 8th Judicial Circuit of Florida. Judge Roundtree has now inherited the problems related to criminal/judge David P. Kreider and Judge Kreider’s various co-conspirators; and it is now Judge Roundtree’s responsibility to promptly carry-out the duties passed on to him regarding resolving those problems. For more information visit the url:

    http://www.complaints.com/2012/march/14/Corrupt_Judge_David_P._Kreider_now_taints_the_ele_264712.htm

    This is a testament to the positive impact that determined people can have in the fight against public corruption.

    For the record, everything stated here is 100% true and corroborated by two reports and extensive irrefutable evidence that is in the possession of various agencies. Some of those agencies are within Florida’s 8th Judicial Circuit (within the circuit, included in those entities that are in possession of the aforementioned reports and evidence are the Chief Judge’s office and the State Attorney’s Office Chief Investigator Spencer Mann).

    This message follows my previous post on 03/21/2012 @ 12:45 p.m.

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