GA Ethics Commission Nearing End Of The Road

Read this one for what it is.  Georgia’s method for enforcing ethical behavior among it’s elected officials and those who lobby them no longer pretends to work.  Greg Bluestein and Shannon McCaffrey report for the AJC:

The embattled state ethics commission has called a hastily-arranged meeting on Thursday where they will discuss whether to retain a receiver, which could mean an outsider takes control of all or parts of the agency’s operations.

The rest of the story deals with Deal, but this isn’t about him.  This is about a broken ethics process.  One that doesn’t work.  And one that now, caught in its own circular trap of its own making, must now look at a receiver as an option to get out of its own built in, inherent conflicts.

There’s a legal state that is often associated with receivership:  Bankruptcy.

Georgia’s process of managing ethics is Bankrupt.  But bankruptcy isn’t an end.  It’s the opportunity for reorganization and a new beginning.  Let’s hope that beyond the sensational headlines associated with this and other recent stories, Georgia’s leaders take this opportunity and use the 2014 legislative session to provide an open, honest, and enforceable process that maintains the trust of the public with how our officials conduct business.


    • Charlie says:

      My preference is a statewide grand jury system. A couple of advantages:

      1) Grand jurys with statewide authority exist outside of the direct political authority that current elected officials have over the current system (legislature via the appropriations power and executive over the appointment power). Critics argue that any enterprising DA could set up show trials, so not perfect from political influence or from those with political aspirations who like to grandstand.

      2) It has the benefit for the candidates that they are no longer subject to any campaign opponent having news cameras in tow as they go file an ethics complaint two weeks before an election. This happens too often, and with too many frivolous complaints. Grand Jury proceedings are secretive, and thus, no public disclosure of anything going on unless the Jury sees there is sufficient evidence for an indictment.

      I’m wide open to other suggestions. The key (and what we’ve missed on every other “reform”) is having something that is enforceable. We can have every good law on the books, but if there isn’t a practical method for enforcement, none of those laws matter.

      • Mike Stucka says:

        The problem with the grand jury is you lack a standing, staffed organization to do basic things like receive regular reports.

        My brief survey tells me the budget for the ethics commission had been around $1.2 million in recent years, at a level many people believe was dysfunctional. It also tells me the state’s budget had been around $19 billion in recent years.

        What about the political insulation of setting an agency budget that “shall” be set at $1 for every $10,000 of the state’s initial, unamended budget from the previous fiscal year? That gets you a predictable revenue stream year-to-year, and also allows for indexing to budget cuts and inflation. Tying it back to the initial, unamended budget of the previous year also doesn’t leave you with months of uncertainty about how things will finally shake out.

        Had that been the case, the ethics commission would have gotten around $1.9 million in funding, which may be reasonable. And there’s nothing magical about $1 in every $10,000, though round numbers may fair better than $1 in every $9,857.23 in state revenues.

        • Charlie says:

          That’s another option that I know has been and will be discussed, and I’m not opposed to it. I think you still have to have a functional ethics commission to monitor reports, disclosures, filings and non-filings, and compliance matters related thereof.

          I think the grand jury option needs to be available for complaints, as well as a bit of check and balance on the commission itself. If someone thinks the ethics commission is ignoring/stalling/under the influence of the appointment process, it’s an outlet outside of that system.

          • Mike Stucka says:

            The fixed financing for an ethics panel would also cure much of the problems — provided it’s appropriately proportionate.

      • There is no question that we need a statewide grand jury that can be convened to investigate crimes that happen at the Gold Dome, similar to what many other states have, and yes that could include ethics.

        But secrecy unless/until there is an indictment? Most of the matters the ethics commission hears aren’t really criminal in nature. I can’t even think of a candidate for office who was harmed by a last minute ethics attack that was frivolous who went on to lose. Running for office is supposed to be tough – I don’t know about you but at the end of the day I don’t really want the kind of people serving me who wouldn’t do it if they were worried they might get dragged through the mud a bit (even if it it did ultimately lack justification).

        Besides, can’t I go to the press and say “I’ve asked the Attorney General to empanel a grand jury to look into [insert politician here] because they have done [subject of ethics complaint].”?

  1. xdog says:

    To me, this is a very big story. You have a bi-partisan commission of 5, appointed by the gov, the speaker and a senate committee, all ostensibly experienced in legal, political and governmental affairs, throwing up their hands and saying ‘OK, we give up. How bout a little help over here.’

    I wonder who they expect this savior of a receiver to be. Another Deal and Ralston appointee no doubt who’ll give them cover while they continue not to do their jobs. The implication I get is that they don’t have the stomach to clean up the mess they’ve helped make.

    If I were Deal I’d ask for the immediate resignation of all commissioners and name someone like Hank Huckaby to go over there and tell everyone to sit down and shut up while he tries to straighten matters. The alternative is to remain open to even more surprises, all the while ceding authority to the federal grand jury.

    This is one of the worst Christmas presents Deal could get. At best he’s tied to the embarassment of the commission’s incompetency; at worst, he sees his second term going down the tubes.

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