Will SOMEbody Please Fund The State Ethics Commission?

December 20, 2012 10:32 am

by Mike Hassinger · 10 comments

Look, you can keep calling it by the ridiculous name of “Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission” if you want to, but can you please, please give it a)some money to buy a decent computer system and b) maybe a little rule-making authority while you’re at it? The upcoming legislative session will no doubt include some serious budget cuts, but the State Ethics Commission needs to be funded at levels that show that Georgia is serious about running an open and honest government. That’s not “aspirational.” It’s not a “goal.” That’s not a “gee-wouldn’t-it-be-nice-to-have” element of government -that’s table stakes. Table stakes, as in, “you don’t get to play the game if you don’t have ‘em.” It’s just basic.

You’re going to hear some talk, when the Legislature convenes on January 14, of lobbyist gift caps, maybe even a ban on all lobbyist gifts. There are some proposals floating around (a full-time salary for legislators, anyone?) indicating some possible high-level reforms. But to assure the voters and taxpayers of Georgia that those reforms are anything more than PR gimmicks, legislators need to step up.

Here’s why:

Do you see that? The “ethics” commission is closed for maintenance over the holidays. Good thing there are no elections scheduled during that time! But of course, there ARE elections scheduled for January 8. And reports are due on December 24th. If you are one of the seven candidates seeking election to State Senate District 11 or one of the two candidates running in the Special Election in State Senate District 21, or one of the 6 five candidates running in the Special Election for House District 21 and want to file your reports on time, tough noogies! Use the grace period. Or break the law, and pay a $125 fine. It’s all “disclosed” -and we all know that “disclosure” is far more important than anything else, right?

Most Georgians don’t care what has already happened with the Ethics Commission. (You could write a novel about the budget cuts, salary reductions and never-ending game of musical chairs played with the staff at the place. It would be a fantastic reality show.)  But they do care about what’s going to happen next.

If Georgia’s leaders are serious about restoring public trust in their State government, they’ll fund and empower the Transparency and Finance Commission at a level that demonstrates that. Yes, everybody’s going to get cuts. But don’t whine about budgets and expect any credit as honest elected officials. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21

Surely if State leaders can find the funding mechanism for a new stadium in their hearts, they can find an adequate budget for open and honest government as well.

Surely.

Josh McKoon December 20, 2012 at 10:37 am
Dave Bearse December 20, 2012 at 10:53 am

Basic expenses of the Commission ought to be funded by candidates. The General Assembly should direct a cut of the qualifying fees, or increase qualifying fee accordingly, to fund the Commission. If the G.A. would do so and actually stick to it (unlike the tire fee and a multitude of so-called other fees, which given the disposition of the funds, are actually taxes), the G.A. may begin to earn trust.

Ed December 20, 2012 at 11:24 am

Qualifying fees are paid to the political parties before the primary because primaries are intra-partisan affairs.

Also, the Commission regulates more than elections so you ought to have funding come from places other than minuscule amounts of already-small qualifying fees.

I’ve been saying this a lot lately but YMMV on that.

Dave Bearse December 21, 2012 at 8:55 pm

I didn’t mention it, but likewise fees should be levied on lobbyists—the basis for the fee is the requirment to file reports with the Commission.

The fees should compensate the Commission for its expenses in connection with reports in making the information publicly available, auditing it, basic enforcement, and the reporting component’s pro-rated share component of the Commission’s overhead.

I doubt such fees would be miniscule as the idea is to work backward from Commission expenses in doing a thorough job. The fee for elected office could be based on the number of voters (registered, voted in last election, or some other criterion) as a general measure of the size and hence effort in processing reports.

Baker December 20, 2012 at 12:45 pm

Lest you don’t follow through on Rep. McKoon’s link, his proposal would direct a percent of a percent of the Gen Fund to it.

“An amount equal to 0.00025 percent of the total state funds appropriated shall be
10 appropriated in each appropriations Act to the Georgia Government Transparency and
11 Campaign Finance Commission”

Dave Bearse December 21, 2012 at 9:04 pm

I appreciate McKoon’s effort, but the allocation of a fixed percentage of the budget is ridiculous, and I doubt 0.00025 percent of $15B, $375,000, would be sufficient.

Baker December 21, 2012 at 9:10 pm

Why is a fixed percent ridiculous? Make it .0025, that might be what he meant. I think that seems fine

Dave Bearse December 22, 2012 at 6:33 pm

I figured 0.0025 is what was intended.

My understanding is that the legislation is an amendment. Commisssion funding would be disconnected from expenses that may change with technology, and especially Commission responsibilities that are subject to change with legislation.

Baker December 20, 2012 at 12:51 pm

I would also encourage folks to check out the NYDEO from the Georgia Alliance for Ethics Reform meeting via Nydia Tisdale of aboutforsyth fame:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CGj8_CslVWU#

I went to this meeting and it was pretty encouraging really. I remain very skeptical because apparently you’d have to kill someone to not get re-elected here, but we’re definitely moving in the right direction.

Joseph December 21, 2012 at 7:31 am

Amen and Amen…

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