Epic Fail for Georgia

Georgia is the state with the most potential corruption

The legislative leadership in our state have been saying for two years now that we do not need to make any changes to our ethics laws and have taken a wait-and-see attitude on how their changes from 2010 would improve the state of ethics in Georgia.

Well, their 2010 law and many others have been put to the test, and have failed miserably!

It seems true reform only happens when a political body is plagued by scandal or when someone does something so blatantly unethical you simply can’t ignore it anymore. Only then do legislators scramble to enact ethics reform. That’s what happened in Maryland a few weeks ago, and it’s what happened in Georgia in 2010, when we got the latest update to our ethics laws.

Apparently, though, none of the lobbyist-funded getaways taken by House Speaker David Ralston or Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle or the large loopholes in the 2010 ethics law that have cropped up in the past few years have created a big enough bang to qualify. Georgians are still waiting on our next scandal to get the ethics reform we desire.

But why wait until we are scandal-rocked to make badly needed changes to our current laws? Is it one of those “don’t-fix-it-if-it-ain’t-broke” scenarios? Perhaps, but at this point we can clearly say – it’s broke!

The State Integrity Investigation, a project of the Center for Public Integrity, has released its report on the potential for corruption in the 50 U.S. states, which gives us more evidence than ever to back up our claim that Georgia is in desperate need of ethics reform. This investigation examines a huge amount of data—and does not just simply measure what scandals have already happened. Instead, it examines the way the laws are written, how they are followed in practice, how they are enforced and what that means for the potential for corruption.

So how did Georgia do? Well, according to investigative reporter Jim Walls, who summarized the State Integrity Investigation’s findings in “the story behind the score,” there are a lot of things Georgia officials are banned from doing for ethical reasons… “except when they can.” By the way, I will bet the farm that Walls will be the shot-at messenger when legislative leaders attempt to defend this report – they certainly can’t shoot holes in the message!

Anyway, what was Georgia’s grade? An overall grade of F with a score of 49%. We rank as 50th out of all 50 states. In other words, Georgia is the state with the most potential for corruption in the entire country.

Just imagine, if little Georgia brought this report card home to her parents, she would surely be grounded until she brought those grades up. And our legislative leadership should be grounded for not doing something about it this session.

To see for yourself what is measured under each category and what questions were asked, click on the report card, but I will tell you now that the grades speak for themselves. Georgia received Fs in both lobbying disclosure and ethics enforcement agencies.

Our legislative leaders often try to get away with just saying something is so to make it true. For all that current state legislators who say that the current laws are good enough, they simply are not (and we’ve already shown that there is no foundation for the claim that lobbyist caps cause more corruption).

For me, one of the most important aspects of this report is the group that conducted the investigation. Our legislative leaders, the ones that have opposed ethics reform can’t simply claim that the American Center for Public Integrity is worthless or biased. Why? Because for the last two years these same legislators have cited the work of the Center when praising their 2010 ethics laws. It’s worth noting too that in the previous report Georgia ranked 7th in the transparency of financial disclosure reports, a rank we have obviously lost. Again, I can’t wait to read the shots they’ll surely take at the messenger since their own actions are indefensible.

The State Integrity Investigation’s Corruption Risk Report was a lengthy and thorough process. The results place Georgia firmly at the bottom of the pack, just below, it should be noted, South Dakota—one of only two other states that does not have lobbyist gift caps. It should be also noted that the results aren’t necessarily an indication of how corrupt our current government officials are. But it is a measure of how corrupt our officials can be, even while still acting within the bounds of the law.

This report shows just how badly Georgia needs ethics reform, even if we don’t have huge scandals (though we certainly do have some) in the news every day. Political ethics scandals may be something we can’t ignore, but this report is something we shouldn’t ignore.

Our legislative leaders caused Georgia to fail this test miserably. Perhaps Georgians should remember that during the next big test… the 2012 elections!

About William Perry

Executive Director of Common Cause Georgia
This entry was posted in Campaign Finance, Georgia Legislation, Government Ethics, Lobbying and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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