Written by Liz Coyle
In a study released today, Georgia ranks last in the nation on laws that ensure open government and protect citizens from public corruption. Conducted by the non-profit Center for Public Integrity (CPI) along with Global Integrity and Public Radio International, the report gives Georgia a grade of 49 out of 100. According to CPI, this State Integrity Investigation is a first-of-its-kind, data-driven assessment of transparency, accountability and anti-corruption mechanisms in all 50 states. Among their findings:
“In Georgia, more than 650 government employees accepted gifts from vendors doing business with the state in 2007 and 2008, clearly violating state ethics law. The last time the state issued a penalty on a vendor was 1999.”
This news comes as no surprise to Georgia Watch executive director Angela Speir Phelps. “Not only does Georgia rank at the bottom in this report, we are the only state in the Southeast with no limits on lobbyist spending on legislators,” she said.
Georgia Watch along with other Alliance for Ethics Reform members Common Cause, the League of Women Voters and the Georgia Tea Party Patriots pushed legislators again this year to enact stronger ethics reforms, including a $100 cap on lobbyist gifts to lawmakers. Georgians also overwhelmingly recognize the need to reign in the moneyed special interests. In a recent Mason Dixon poll, 72 percent of registered voters in Georgia and 82% of Republicans support a cap on lobbyist gifts.
“If the legislature wants to restore integrity in the political process, as Georgians have overwhelmingly asked them to do, they should stop passing the buck, and find the political courage to pass ethics reform,” said Speir Phelps. “If our lawmakers choose to not place a cap on gifts, it will be clear that their sense of entitlement far outweighs their sense of duty to the people they serve.”
Ethics reform garnered support early in the session. Senate Bill 391 by Sen. Joshua McKoon (R-Columbus) and House Bill 1105 by Rep. Tommy Smith (R-Nichols) had bi-partisan support, but ran aground on opposition from leadership in both chambers. Both bills were sent to languish in committee until dead.
In fact, ethics reform in Georgia may have been doomed to failure from the start thanks to powerful opposition from House Speaker David Ralston, who wants to leave it up to voters to track lobbyists’ gift giving to legislators. With reform bills stalled in committee, it appears moneyed special interests in Georgia will maintain their sway over lawmakers.
Founded in 2002, Georgia Watch is a non-profit, nonpartisan 501-(c)(3) watchdog group focusing on consumer education and research in the areas of consumer energy, health care, insurance, identity theft and personal finance.