A bill that went largely unnoticed during the Sine Die proceedings on Thursday night could save Georgia taxpayers tens of dollars. Sponsored by House Ethics Chairman Joe Wilkinson, (R-Sandy Springs) HB 4112 would allow private companies to submit bids to operate Georgia’s Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission for a fee. Wilkinson said the legislation would “finally get Georgia out of the ethics business, prevent us from trying to pick ethical winners and ethical losers, and save Georgia taxpayers the aggravation associated with trying to figure out whether or not their Representatives and Senators were honest.”
HB 4112 passed both the House and the Senate unanimously, and is expected to be signed by Governor Nathan Deal, who said in a statement late Friday afternoon, “There are 180 Representatives and 56 Senators, and I’m just one guy. I couldn’t stop this if I wanted to!” In order to encourage bid submissions from call centers based in India, HB 4112 was written in Hindi, a departure from Georgia’s tradition of debating legislation written in English, so all of the details of the measure are not known. But some highlights have emerged.
The process of filing a complaint has been simplified. Rather than filling out a form and sending it by mail to the GTCF, Georgians who wish to file a complaint alleging a ethical violation against a legislator or State government official would simply need to call an 800 number between the hours of 3 and 4 AM on a Tuesday, state whatever it is that has ticked them off, cite the code section they claim has been broken, tap the relevant details in Morse code using their touch-tone phone, email all associated documentation and provide the name of the lobbyist sponsoring the complaint.
“The lobbyist sponsor provision was developed in the House, and we thought it was a good idea too,” said State Senator Jeff Mullis, a Republican from Maglev, Georgia. “A complaint about ethics is important, and it should be important enough that somebody is willing to back that complaint with their own money,” he added. “If nobody wants to sponsor an ethics complaint, it’s probably not worth investigating.”
Lobbyists supported the measure wholeheartedly. “I’ve lost more money in my sofa cushions than I could possibly spend on sponsoring ethics enforcement,” said Calvin Cash, a veteran lobbyist with the firm of Dewey, Screwemover and Howe. “They sponsor our bills, we’ll be happy to sponsor their ethics complaints,” he added.
House Speaker David Ralston opposed the privatization measure until the bills’ supporters included a provision that barred red tape from being attached to any any complaint. “We know the Speaker doesn’t like red tape, so we specified that all complaints would have to be bound in grey duct tape, the kind you can get at any Home Depot, who by the way is a good corporate citizen here in Georgia,” said Wilkinson.