If you think a gallon of gas is expensive then wait till you find out how much it takes to mail a certified notice of disclosure violation by USPS. As reported in AtlantaUnfiltered, the Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission will have to shell out $5.54 each time it has to notify a candidate or lobbyist of a disclosure violation. The problem is that the Commission only has $5,000 left in the budget to send all the notices for the year. Let’s do the math: 5000/5.54= about 902. That means only 902 notices are going to be able to be sent out. But it’s estimated that 25,000 notices will need to be issued. And the only way the commission can collect the late fees associated with the violations is to send out one of these costly notices. So no notice means no money. But no money means no notice. All roads lead to $0.
But the cost of postage is not the only financial burden on the Commission. The legislature was also kind enough to give the Commission the added responsibility of being the only agency that gives the public access to these records, and did away with a provision that required candidates to file their financial disclosure statements online. This means they will have eight to ten times the workload they previously had. Jim Walls of AtlantaUnfiltered noted, “Receiving half those filings on paper will require five new staffers to open the mail, ensure each disclosure is signed and notarized, and enter receipt into a computerized system so a late fee is not assessed.” This is potentially going to cost the Commission $290,450 extra that they did not budget for because they will have to process the paper-copies and create digital records of them. This is also bad news for voters because in order to access the documents they will have to make a trip down to the Commission office and pay for expensive gas, or be charged for having them mailed (yet more postage).
Let’s recap for a moment: The cost for sending out the certified notices is estimated to cost $136,250, but the Commission only has $5,000 to do it. Without the money to send the notices, they cannot collect the late fees. Also, because Local Election Officials are no longer in charge of the finance disclosures, it will cost the Commission an additional $290,450. That’s a whopping total of $421,700 that they don’t have!
It seems that though our legislators are claiming to be all about ethics reform, in reality they have done considerable damage to the enforcement of ethics. With no agency to police them, it is highly doubtful that everyone will behave perfectly. “People will catch on fairly quickly that they do not have to pay late fees and do not have to comply with the act,” said Stacey Kalberman, the Commission’s executive secretary. CHARGE confirms Kalberman’s fears by reporting that, “Forty-seven of [Georgia legislators] owe more than $11,000 in late fees because they failed to file campaign finance reports or filed them late.” The new laws are making disclosure even more difficult and burdening the only ethics enforcement agency the state has. Things are to the point where the Commission is already preparing their legal defense for when they are sued for not doing their jobs. The new fiscal year starts in less than a month. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for the Commission’s budget to run out and the response from our lawmakers.