Josh McKoon: Observations on Ethics Reform

The following is a guest post from Senator Josh McKoon, last year’s seemingly lone voice on ethics reform.  He now has others joining him – somewhat – and there are ongoing negotiations between the House and the Senate.  Below are his thoughts, and I’ll be back with more of my own later this afternoon. – CBH

Let me begin by saying that passage of the Senate substitute to HB 142 will not solve all of the problems with existing Georgia ethics law but it is a strong first step in restoring faith in government. Charlie’s comment on Buzz’s post is on the money. We must have a Commission with adequate resources to achieve its mission. Even more importantly, we must have an independent enforcement mechanism to pursue allegations of corruption and see that they are properly disposed of by state government. That is why I offered SR 6 and SR 7 to address those components of ethics reform. While it is clear they are not going to move this year, I hope that we can get action on those items in 2014.

We do however have a chance to take a real step forward in reducing the corrosive impact of unlimited gifts of unlimited value. The original HB 142 continued to allow, under 9 separate exceptions, unlimited gifts of unlimited value. The Senate substitute imposes a $100 cap on all gifts except events to which the entire General Assembly is invited and domestic travel. But travel for staff and family has been prohibited. This measure, along with the rule making authority being restored to the Commission is a big step in the right direction.

Gift cap language is not new. Governor Perdue offered it in his first term. Many states have adopted gift caps (most recently Louisiana) and they are working in limiting the amount of money spent on legislators. We have seen an impact this session in the Senate Rule that was adopted on Day 1 of the session regulating gifts to State Senators.  It has been said that the overwhelming result in the July primary election on question two can be discounted because it was not multiple choice. For those of us who participated in the floor debate at the May 2012 Republican convention in Columbus we remember that an amendment was offered to the resolution calling for a $100 gift cap to reduce it to a total ban. That amendment was defeated by a vote of the 2,000 or so Republican delegates at the convention. Repeatedly the people of this state and organizations concerned with ethics in government have endorsed a $100 gift cap.

The Senate substitute also does away with the expanded registration requirement for uncompensated persons who come to advocate in what they believe to be the public interest. The need for this provision of HB 142 was never brought up in the over 30 town hall meetings I held on this issue around the state. It seems to be a thinly veiled jab at the precious few citizens who spend their own hard earned money to ask for a little time to advocate for the public interest. There are those that believe these folks should only be heard from when volunteers are needed for campaigns.  Fortunately the Constitution makes it clear they enjoy the right to advocate at all times and in all places.  So eliminating this obstacle to public input is the right policy and also is in line with the constitutional protection of that activity.

The House has an opportunity to agree to the Senate substitute and keep faith with over 800,000 Georgians who asked for a $100 limit. Lets hope they do that. For if we get a watered down conference committee report or one that attempts to illegally restrain the first amendment right to petition the government, we will be better off voting that down than declaring victory on this issue in yet another act of duplicity with the voting public. Agreeing to the substitute on the other hand would show that the legislature is actually listening to the people on this issue.


  1. Nonchalant says:

    “The House has an opportunity to agree to the Senate substitute and keep faith with over 800,000 Georgians who asked for a $100 limit”

    I am neither wrapped up about zero dollars nor $100 dollars, for it is the ego stroking of legislators I consider the greater corrupting influence—but the blunt fact is that I’m not sure a high school debate judge would say that fighting for zero dollar gifts was logically “breaking faith” with the people, nor that the people “asked” for $100 dollar gift limits, and I thus conclude there might be an argument integrity issue going on here.

    • Charlie says:

      We’ve explained to you many times before that we don’t host this site so you can have rambling conversations with yourself. Your follow up comment to the above comment has been deleted. Should you wish to continue to comment here, you are now subject to the same rules of The Last Democrat In Georgia: Two sentences or 50 words, and you’re not allowed to answer your own comments.

      The only acceptable response to this is that you will get the damn chip off your shoulder and make some attempt to conform to the very light rules we impose on this community so that we can in fact have a sense of community. Anything else makes you part of our soon to be distant memory.

      • Charlie says:

        Nonchalant would like the rest of you to know that I am a jerk, that he won’t be bothering us much here anymore because he’s looking for work out of state, that he hopes I’m not the future of the GA GOP because that would turn him off, that in no way have I made him feel insignificant – and before he posted those four comments after he asked me to delete his account.

        Thus, he won’t be with us anymore. Please take at least 3 minutes to mourn his passing before you move on with your lives.

        What I would like the rest of you to know is this:

        We welcome you here so long as you are here to participate in a civil discussion on today’s issues. We ask that you keep your comments generally concise and informative. We demand that you keep them germane to the thread topic on which you are posting. (Every “Morning Read” is an open thread, and you may add and discuss any topic of your choice there, at any time.)

        But if you show up with a chip on your shoulder (as he did – and given his use of proxy servers leads me to believe he’s been here before…and will be again under another name), then think twice before making every comment a battle, or taking any bit of suggestions from a moderator as an open invitation for combat.

        I love differing opinions. I loathe people who confuse their right to free speech to the right to enter private property and leave a turd on the rug, then demand that we thank them for their visit.

  2. Three Jack says:

    This entire debate over how much elected prostitutes can accept from lobbyists ‘Johns’ has been incredible to watch. In the end, no matter which form of tweaking passes, nothing is likely to change.

    For this issue to be the most significant debate during Georgia’s 2013 legislative session shows just how bad our political system has become. Georgia has high unemployment, traffic problems throughout Metro Atlanta (thank God for fewer vehicles caused by so many unemployed), an antiquated revenue/spending system that begs for an overhaul and so many other real problems. Yet here we are 3 days from Sine Die debating how much a volunteer public servant can have spent on him/her by hired guns in support or opposition to a given issue.

  3. Greg S says:

    I can’t figure out why legislators need to get free lunches, tickets to entertainment events, free alcohol and a host of other freebies to do their jobs. I work in a busines where forming relationships is important but my company will not let me accept gifts of any kind from current or potential vendors because over time human nature “might” allow for a bias. Even if no bias exists it would appear to be that way to others.

    Don’t run for office if you can’t afford to buy your own lunch and dinner or pay for your personal entertainment.

      • Charlie says:

        Dr. Jay was replying to a comment from Nonchalant, who as Dr. Jay notes was being so chalant that he is no longer with us.

        Also, Jay’s son was a page today. Give him props.

  4. polpol says:

    Following this debate on ethics reform on PP has been interesting at best, but it is not moving the needle one inch under the Gold Dome. At the end of the day money is the mother’s milk of politics and money follows influence and power. Thus, if money cannot be spent to gain access and develop relationships via soft means (meals, gifts, travel, etc), then that hard money will flow to those individuals in the guise of political contributions. The use of money to gain influence will not stop, the venue will change, and those with power will gain more power, and those with political money to spend will gain more access and influence. Having said that, there is no simple answer to the “problem” that legislators are trying to solve. An outright ban on individual entertaining as proposed by the Speaker, with exceptions for Caucus, delegation, and Committee dinners, works in other states, and with some tweaking would work here as well. On the other hand, the $100 gift cap proposed by the Senate also presents a workable solution, however knowing the appetites and drink preferences of many members, and favorite restaurants, this cap would be very restrictive and would require lobbyists to team up to take certain folks out. At the end of the day, one of the most valuable parts of the legislation is the ability of the Ethics Commission to once again draw rules and regulations that could put more meat on the Ethics Bone. And I, for one think that a “five bites of the apple” and then you must register, with no fee, levels the playing field, so that legislators know if they are looking at folks who are visiting the Capitol for Girl Scout Cookie Day, or someone who volunteers daily for an organization, or someone who is there representing a group, organization, or business that enlists their services. Registration and a name tag not the “Scarlet Letter” but is more a way to let legislators know if they are dealing with a “Day at the Capitol” volunteer, or a more seasoned paid or not “Lobbyist”.
    Regardless of the outcome of this recent debate, the money will continue to flow, directed to those in the know, by those in the know.

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