Ethics Commission Calls For Special Investigation

Given the multiple controversies surrounding the “State Ethics Commission” (Not it’s real name), this is welcome news.  Aaron Sheinin has the details:

The state ethics commission on Monday called for an independent investigation in response to a pair of lawsuits pending against the agency as well as its deepening personnel problems.

The commission wants Attorney General Sam Olens to appoint a special, outside attorney to lead the investigation. The commission faces whistleblower lawsuits by its former director and deputy, both of whom claim they were forced out for pressing an investigation into Gov. Nathan Deal’s 2010 campaign.

The AJC reported earlier in September that current and former commission employees have accused agency director Holly LaBerge of interfering into the investigation, ordering documents removed from the file and bragging about how Deal “owes” her for making the cases go away.

Here’s the problem that we’ve evolved into.  The current setup allows for trials in the press.  The current setup is within the sphere of both political and appropriations pressure.   A politician can go through the entire process, have his/her name cleared and or pay a reasonable fine for the transgression, and still have those within the system call foul.

In short, this system does not work.  It does not ensure “justice”.  It has little effect on ethics.  And when the process is done, people are not either guilty or not guilty.  The public is left to decide on their own.

This process is broken.

B.R.O.K.E.N.

Let’s hope when the legislature returns to revisit the ongoing discussion of ethics reform, that the focus will be on creating an independent process for ethics charges.  It needs to be one to ensure that the process is free of political pressure.  It must also ensure that when someone has completed the process, those who were named don’t have to still continue to battle over their name.

15 comments

  1. DeKalb Wonkette says:

    Any reason why the Ethics Commission shouldn’t be structured within the Attorney General’s office? It would be consistent with AG’s role in defending the state’s constitution and laws.

  2. BryanLong says:

    The process was broken before Gov. Deal took office. He made it worse — and apparently for his own benefit.

    When Gov. Deal took office he slashed the ethics budget and cut the staff from 26 people to just nine.

    Gov. Deal also changed the rules, making it tougher to even file a complaint. In a radical change from previous law, the person who files a complaint is responsible for the governor’s attorney’s fees if the complaint doesn’t rise to the standards of his hand-picked commission.

    When the previous ethics director, Stacey Kalberman, and her deputy director attempted to investigate complaints filed against the governor and his campaign, Gov. Deal promptly fired her.

    Kalberman’s replacement is now accused of destroying documents and orchestrating a cover-up of the governor’s activities within the ethics office.

    All of these current allegations involve Gov. Deal. They stem from campaign finance violations and have now taken a turn toward an alleged cover-up.

    • DeKalb Wonkette says:

      Bryan the current system makes it very difficult to discern what is and is not a salient issue. When I read the most recent staff attorney complaint against Holly LaBerge I dismissed it as a cat fight. Even if all the allegations against Deal are sustained, then what? We trade in a governor who can actually govern right of center for someone who can’t govern at all? Having the ethics commission in the direct line of report to a governor is just problematic however you cut it.

      • BryanLong says:

        In Holly LeBerge’s own sworn testimony she said the governor’s office started calling her to ask if she was interested in the ethics job in mid-May 2011. That was before the ethics commission met and “discovered” the budget problems that led to the previous ethics chief’s salary being cut by $35,000.

        That was before any “cat fights” started. The governor’s office was trying to replace the ethics chief at the exact same time he was under investigation and facing a subpoena.

        That’s not a broken process. That’s a governor’s administration trying to hide key facts.

    • Just to set the record straight: The commission’s budget was whacked under Perdue, not Deal. The 2009 budget was nearly $1.8 million. Sonny asked for $1.5M for 2010 and $1.17M in 2011 (cut to $1.11 in Jan 2011 in the amended budget). Deal requested $1.04M, $1.14M and $1.3M for 2012-14.

  3. Baker says:

    I think this has legs, Olens may indeed follow up here…but dang would it be nice if Georgia voters wouldn’t keep electing people that are on the edge of indictment or already have been.

    Are we breaking records? What’s the number of local or state legislators that have had charges filed? And then the number that won election anyway?

  4. seenbetrdayz says:

    Seems to me about 2 years ago, every other day there was a post about ethics reform on PP. I hope we’ve moved beyond that and just accepted the fact that we have one of the most unethical state governments in the nation.

    • Dave Bearse says:

      I’m uncertain that Georgia is one of the most unethical state governments, though I expect we’re in the bottom half. It’s that we want to be in the first quintile.

  5. Dave Bearse says:

    It’s an election year so first things first—deal with the Georgia income tax ramifications of the feds recognizing gay marriages for federal income tax filing upon which Georgia income taxes depend, campus carry, and further abortion restrictions.

    It only took what, nearly two years, for criminal charges that Balfour chiseled on per diem to be lodged? Earnest public dialogue on ethics oversight changes may be the best we get. What we’re likely to get is a study Committee that won’t produce anything until the 2014 session is over.

  6. Bull Moose says:

    I’m not going to pass judgment on what I think Deal and his staff may or may not have done, but I will say that with an abundance of caution and with respect for transparency and to ensure full confidence of the people of Georgia, the Governor should welcome a full review of this entire situation with no exceptions. If there is nothing to hide, than they have nothing to worry about.

    I hope that Sam Olens will do his job and allow this to move forward in a way that is fair to all Georgians.

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