Georgia’s ethics commission is in a sad state. Extreme budget cuts have left the organization toothless, short staffed, and in many cases unable to even send a letter to those who fail to properly report campaign finances. Common Cause Georgia, as a member of the Georgia Alliance for Ethics Reform, supports a proposal to address these problems and restore meaningful power to the state ethics commission.
Alabama, it seems, has risen to that challenge. In May, Governor Robert Bentley signed amendments into law that dramatically increases the amount of power their state ethics commission wields. It can now issue subpoenas, require witnesses to give testimony, and require documents and other evidence to be presented at investigations. A new requirement also stipulates that there must be at least one lawyer in good standing as a member of the commission. Most importantly, there are no strings attached to the commission’s funding. The new law grants, unequivocally, 1/10th of one percent of the General Fund Budget (about 1.8 million under current budget proposal) to the commission. This funding can only be altered after approval of 2/3ds of both the House and the Senate.
Governor Bentley believes in the importance of dedicating resources to the commission that “makes sure we have an ethical government.” The message that both his statements and decision to sign the law sends to voters is a very different tune from what Georgia’s legislators have been singing. Georgia House Speaker David Ralston doesn’t seem too concerned about the commission only having one staff member, telling 11Alive, “Well, I don’t think there’s going to be an issue with them not having personnel to enforce it.” Georgia deserves legislation that keeps its ethics commission operating – without it there is no enforcement mechanism keeping lawmakers and lobbyists in check.