Rule Changes Proposed From State Ethics Commission

OK, they’ve been in the news “a lot” lately.  And yet, our friends Jeremy Berry and Stefan Passantino at McKenna Long & Aldridge have directed us to the fact that the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission (the commission’s real name) have proposed the first rule changes since their rule making authority was restored.  Below is their take.  Discuss the impact in the comment section.  And if you feel very strongly for or against one of the proposed changes, contact the Commission to go on record.

In a barely publicized, and largely overlooked notice, the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, formerly (and commonly) known as the State Ethics Commission (“Commission”), notified the public two weeks ago that it intends to amend its rules governing many aspects of campaign finance and reporting laws in Georgia. Through a “Notice of Intent to Amend Rules” and a “Notice of Intent to Discuss Proposed Rules” posted on a back page of its website, the Commission has notified the public that it intends to discuss these rule amendments at the Commission’s meeting on September 30, 2014.

If the Commission votes to adopt these amendments to the Rules, the Rules would become effective 20 days after the Commission files them with the Secretary of State. As such, the rules presumably would apply for the remainder of the 2014 election cycle and thereafter. It is possible that the Commission could be lenient in enforcing compliance for candidates and committees through the upcoming election and instead enforce the new rules in earnest after 2014. We are not advising clients to rely on such lenience, however.

What follows is a list of many of the substantive amendments that the Commission intends to consider:

  • Adds that any former counsel to the Commission, like former members of the Commission, are barred from appearing before or representing any person or entity before the Commission for one year from the termination of his or her service on or employment with the Commission.
  • States that the Commission shall raise or lower campaign contribution limits at the end of four-year election cycles rather than every calendar year.
  • Reduces the statute of limitations for “complaints or cases falling within the jurisdiction of the Commission” from five years to three years. The proposed exception to this rule states that “for alleged violations involving an office with a term of four or more years,” complaints must be commenced within five years “of the date of filing of the report” that allegedly includes a violation.
  • Lowers the threshold for disclosing information about contributions and contributors to $100.00 or more (previously $101.00 or more) and requires more information about loans to candidate committees.
  • Clarifies that contributions to political parties and political action committees do not count towards the $25,000 annual threshold that triggers registration and reporting requirements for individuals or entities making such contributions.
  • Implements rules regarding non-commercial travel by a candidate on an aircraft that is owned or leased by the candidate or the candidate’s immediate family member that is used during a campaign.
  • States that local filing entities (such as cities or counties) may assist those who file reports on the local level, but such officials shall not provide advice or opinions regarding disclosure reports.
  • Permits local filing entities (such as cities or counties) to “retain the first $25 of each late fee collected from late local filers” and requires the remainder of the late fee to be transmitted to the State Treasury.
  • Regulates lobbying expenditures on behalf of a public official’s family member by stating that “Any money spent on a member of the family of a public official is deemed a lobbying expenditure on behalf of the public official and must be reported as such. For purposes of this Rule, a members of the family means a spouse and all dependent children.”
  • Adds a rule (consistent with the existing statute) that lobbyists cannot spend more than $75 per lobbying expenditure “per individual public officer.” The proposed rule permits one or more lobbyists to “split pro rata a lobbying expenditure” provided that a single lobbyist does not “exceed $75 per expenditure per individual public officer.”

6 comments

  1. Will Durant says:

    Until something is done regarding the selection of personnel on the Commission and the strings, or lack thereof, on their funding, all of this is just perfume on the pig. And yes I realize none of this can change until the legislature is back. This is just an attempt by the compliant survivors to stay out from under the bus themselves.

  2. objective says:

    since these are Rules, they won’t need legislative approval. and some of these clarifications have been a long time coming. the cruddy part is the poor publication regarding the proposed changes, and appurtenant opportunities created for public comment.

  3. xdog says:

    So which are Berry and Passantino, lobbyists or fixers? I’m sure they’d both make excellent ethics commissioners. Funny they thought to call you on the day news of Laberge’s firing is on every front page in the state.

    That’s the problem right there. The commission isn’t supposed to be transparent or to monitor campaign finance; it exists to tilt the scales in favor of those who appoint them and hold the purse strings for them. Keep the money business running so everyone can get a taste. Who says public service has to be a sacrifice?

    That approach has cost the state $3M so far in judgments for wrongful terminations, with more to come when Laberge lines up for her cut. It’s helped add to the state’s reputation for venal and sleazy politics. It’s increased the distance between average Joe and his elected officials.

    But that’s OK. The commission is on top of things. They want to require an email address. Drop the reporting threshold by a dollar. Let locals keep part of late fees. Reduce the statute of limitations. They’re in charge. That’s all they have to do and that’s all they’ve proposed to do.

    btw, not all the proposed changes mentioned in the article are covered in the link.

  4. objective says:

    yeah, i agree this is all many days late and many dollars short, but i am going to be a bit optimistic on this one, and say it represents necessary incremental improvements. which is, to say, is more reflective of typical governing. for there to be any real change in the foundation of ethics underlying this agency, yes, significant legislative and political culture changes are ncssry.

Comments are closed.