Nothing Rhymes With Ethics

It’s confusing to be a elected official, so let me help you out. Georgia may be last in ethics laws , but we still technically have them.

Speaking broadly the test, whether for Georgia or Federal law, is whether an expenditure  is “ordinary and necessary” in seeking public office. If it is ordinary and necessary, then a campaign can spend money on it, but third parties cannot for your benefit, unless it is disclosed and treated as an in-kind contribution and stays beneath the contribution ceiling (more on that in a minute).

If it is not “ordinary and necessary” than a campaign cannot spend its own money on it. Confused? Let’s walk through some real life examples:

John Edwards was alleged to have violated campaign finance laws by directing maxed-out donors (those that had already given the maximum allowable contribution) to instead send money to the mother of his child in order to prevent her from coming forward and ruining his 2008 presidential campaign.

The money was not sent to the campaign for its use, but the violations were based not on generally poor behavior, but the allegation that these payments benefited the campaign and therefore should have been disclosed and subject to max limits. The question really is not whether the campaign benefited, but whether the expenditures were “ordinary and necessary” for a political campaign. They certainly were both for Edwards in 2008.

So, I know what you are thinking. You can pay off your paramour as long as you disclose it and use campaign funds to do it! Now you are thinking like an Illinois Senator! Mark Kirk (D-Ill.) did just that, paying an entity that employed his mistress at least 150K in the 2010 campaign, according to a FEC complaint filed by his ex-wife (who was also paid by the campaign, natch). Just to give you an incentive to click through, the mistress has the award-winning mistress name of “Dodie McCracken”. The poorly-named Dodie aside, the test is whether she was paid for campaign work, or for more meretricious reasons, in determining a violation.

Closer to home and much less fun, State Representative Steve Davis recently found himself on the wrong side of the explanation in an AJC article detailing campaign payments made to Athletic Clubs. It seems the payments, though listed as “sponsorship”, were in fact merely the participation fees for his child to play volleyball. So, “ordinary and necessary”? Probably not, so not an acceptable use of funds (Davis has recently reimbursed his campaign, the next volleyball season is coming up after all). But points for the disclosure, without which the AJC wouldn’t have found it.

So what have we learned? Disclose the expenditure and then figure out a way to make it semi-legitimate, say by actually sponsoring the volleyball team, paying for its uniforms and travel, and maybe your child just gets to play? Everybody wins, you help the community, and actual team sponsorships, though way less “necessary” than paying off a mistress, are considered “ordinary” and a totally reasonable campaign expenditure!

(Oh, and as an update, strawman giving, 441f, is still illegal)



  1. Calypso says:

    Well, I know ‘Georgia Senate’ damn sure doesn’t rhyme with ‘Ethics’. The closest grammatical link I can think of for those two is ‘Oxymoron’. Heavy on the moron.

  2. Calypso says:

    “Nothing Rhymes With Ethics”

    Oh, oh, I got one! How about ‘pathetics’? Close enough in this case, right?

  3. benevolus says:

    The process is really screwed up. We pretty much invite corruption. Asking people to serve for $17,000 is ludicrous. And it’s not like they don’t have to work all year round. That is all left over from when we were an agrarian state. The farmers could show up in January because they weren’t doing much else anyway.
    I’m not saying everyone is crooked, but really, not many people can forgo their regular life and income to do that job. Some legislators might actually be good at legislating, but if they are going to make any kind of a career of it, they have to either move on or find “supplemental” income (unless they are independently wealthy).
    I am not excusing it, but I don’t think it’s going to get fixed until we alter the playing field. Full time? More pay? Maybe fewer districts/smaller legislature?

    • Dave Bearse says:

      I’m all for a pay increase, but I oppose full time representation. There aren’t enough informed citizens keeping part time crooks in check as it is. (And clearly it’s now on the citizenry, because legislative peers don’t act even if when unethical behavior is common knowledge.) Full time crooks may well take it to a whole new level.

  4. benevolus says:

    So who has better government? How do they do it? How do you even measure better government?

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