Are you looking for a career with an organization that will immerse you in controversy, 20th century technological innovation, and the constant scrutiny of the AJC? Do you possess a solid work ethic, a positive attitude, and a valid Georgia driver’s license?
If you read the Daily this Tuesday, you’re aware that the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission (formerly the State Ethics Commission) is looking for a new executive director, its fourth in three years. For simplicity’s sake – because if anything’s simple in this state, it’s ethics – I’ll refer to it as the GGTCFC(FKASEC).
Before you fire up WordPerfect to dust off that resume, take a moment to consider two of the primary functions of the GGTCFC(FKASEC): filings and disclosure, and enforcement and compliance with the Campaign Finance Act. To wit:
Filing and Disclosure
- The Commission collects all campaign finance reports and financial disclosure reports filed by Public Officials, Candidates for Public Office, Campaign and Non Campaign Committees and Lobbyists in the State of Georgia. Before 2011, the Commission only collected campaign finance reports from candidates and public officials in statewide/state level positions. After January, 2011, the Commission became the filing officer for all Public Officers, Candidates and Campaign committees at the state, county and municipal level throughout the state. As of January, 2014, the Commission again only collects campaign finance reports from candidates and public officials in state and statewide level positions.
- The Commission prescribes all forms to be used in complying with the Act
- Through the Commission website, the public can access all campaign finance and financial disclosure documents that are required to be filed with the Commission. Those documents that are filed at the local level may or may not be available on the Commissions website.
Enforcement and Compliance
- It is the responsibility of the Commission to ensure compliance with the Campaign Finance Act. Commission staff review filings and inform filers of the appropriate methods to disclose expenditures and collect campaign funds, among other items.
- The Commission assesses late fees against those filers who statutorily are required to file with the Commission and who fail to timely file the required disclosure reports, pursuant to statute.
- Commission staff also investigate potential violations of the Act and resolve complaints filed by the public or initiated by the Commission itself. Cases before the Commission can be resolved prior to a hearing by settlement or dismissal; otherwise, the cases are brought before a hearing officer under the Georgia Administrative Procedure Act. If a violation is found, the Commission can impose civil penalties against the violator and/or refer the case for additional prosecution.
Along with several thousand other elected officials from across Georgia, I filed a Campaign Contribution Disclosure Report last week. (Spoiler alert: I had nothing to report this period, and my war chest contains around $220.) I was first elected to municipal office in 2007, and since then I’ve filed these reports in a variety of ways. For my first few years, I would submit my hand-written report to the City Clerk, who would then attest to the GGTCFC(FKASEC) that I had indeed submitted the report. The Clerk would then keep the report on file, and periodically the GGTCFC(FKASEC) would perform audits to make sure the reports did, in fact, exist.
2011 was a transitional year for the GGTCFC(FKASEC). Finally Notably, the commission introduced an online filing system. Initially, it was kind of a hot mess, but the GGTCFC(FKASEC) staff was helpful and responsive, the kinks were eventually smoothed out (more or less), and there were several happy filing periods where you could log in, carry over the numbers from your previous report, input the numbers for your current report, have the system do the math for you, and then the system would email you confirmation that they’d received your report (these confirmation emails later came in handy when you’d find yourself fined for not filing a report that you had in fact filed, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t note again here how absolutely helpful theGGTCFC(FKASEC) staff is in these situations).
2014 saw more changes at the GGTCFC(FKASEC). Individual online filing for most local candidates ended, but the online option wasn’t replaced by something even more high-tech, like a mobile app or holograms. Once again, reports are completed by hand and submitted to the City Clerk, who attests that your report was (or wasn’t) filed by the deadline. The GGTCFC(FKASEC) now requires that the City Clerk then submit all of the reports to their office, so along with hundreds of other City Clerks from across Georgia, as well as hundreds of County Election Superintendents who submit reports for judges, campaign committees, coroners, tax assessors, candidates, and other public officers, our City Clerk in Smyrna sent the reports on over to GGTCFC(FKASEC) headquarters via fax.
Yes, fax. Thousands of reports are sent, by state-of-the-science fax technology, to the GGTCFC(FKASEC), where their staff of around a dozen people apparently has the time and resources to ensure that these reports are up to snuff.
I’ve pondered this process for a while. When I think about the staff time it takes City Clerks from across the state to collect and submit these reports, the capacity for human error in filling out these reports by hand, and my suspicion that once these reports are sent to the GGTCFC(FKASEC), not much is done to ensure compliance other than making sure they’re filed on time, my frustration makes me want to send them a black fax. (Note to the GGTCFC(FKASEC): if anyone did send you a black fax this past weekend, I promise it wasn’t me. I couldn’t have because don’t own a fax machine because it’s 2015.)
So, a request for the next GGTCFC(FKASEC) executive director, and the powers that be: fix this. Give the GGTCFC(FKASEC) the funding they need. This will only benefit Georgians, whether it’s through better use of county and municipal staff time, or through City Council members who can devote the entirety of their brainspace to constituent needs, rather than strategies for sending black faxes when one does not own a fax machine. Make an effort to better serve what you call your “primary customers,” the public officials, candidates for public office, campaign and candidate committees, and lobbyists, as well as researchers and the media, by offering an online filing and report review system that is both accurate and simple. There’s a tech school right up the street that has some of the smartest kids in America – maybe they can lend a hand.