Corruption Risk Report Card
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Georgia’s ethics laws are loaded with loopholes and are poorly enforced, yielding one of the nation’s worst scores on the State Integrity Index. Read more from SII State Reporter Jim Walls.
Gov. Nathan Deal brought Georgia in line with nearly every other state in the nation Monday by signing into law the state’s first restrictions on lobbyists’ gifts to lawmakers. Deal’s action puts in place the first major piece of ethics reform Georgia has passed in decades.
Until now, lobbyists in the Peach State had been free to lavish legislators with gifts and junkets of any size. But starting next year, they’ll be forbidden from spending more than $75 per gift.
The Georgia legislature has taken a major step toward strengthening the state’s ethics laws by moving a package of reform legislation through the House. The two bills in the package would impose limits on gifts from lobbyists and restore powers to the state’s ethics enforcement agency, among other changes.
The measures, which are sponsored by Speaker David Ralston, attracted little opposition, sailing through the House on Monday with just four dissenting votes. But their fate in the Senate remains clouded. In January, the upper chamber adopted a $100 cap on lobbyist gifts in a rule change that does not apply to the House. Ralston told reporters on Monday that he would not negotiate on changing his proposed ban on gifts to match the $100 limit that the Senate enacted. While some senators have called for passing the House legislation unchanged, others have sounded more cautious.
Georgia’s House Speaker says the ethics reforms he’s proposed this week could bring about a major shift toward cleaner government in the Peach State. But reform groups believe the initiatives may just represent politics as usual.
Speaker David Ralston introduced a bill that would ban gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers and restore the state ethics commission’s rule making authority, which the legislature stripped years ago. But the bill would also broaden the definition of who is a lobbyist to ensnare citizen volunteers, a move that has infuriated both liberal and conservative open-government advocates.
As lawmakers in three Southeastern states prepare for the 2013 legislative session, they’re finding bipartisan agreement on an unlikely agenda: ethics reform. Leaders in South Carolina and Florida have begun work that lawmakers and watchdogs say could lead to the states’ first meaningful reforms in decades. And in Georgia, proponents of stronger rules are rallying behind a slate of measures they hope may finally pass in what has long been a recalcitrant Legislature.
The initiatives all seek some regulation of money and influence. The proposals take aim at independent political spending, asset disclosure and gifts from lobbyists in an effort to bolster transparency and rein in the spiraling costs of running campaigns. In some cases the reforms could go deeper, as lawmakers try to attack the roots of corruption by strengthening ethics oversight and enforcement.
By Mike Mullen
A simple Google search will produce a map and directions on how to find the state capitol, where staffers can help citizens locate legislative chambers and hearing rooms. But this seemingly easy access hardly guarantees that what takes place in open meetings is a reliable predictor for the laws that will govern the state.
Aside from regulations on legislators’ potential conflicts of interest, the Legislative Accountability category also assessed the openness of each state’s lawmaking process. These corruption risk indicators are more difficult to judge by face value, so state reporters turned to statehouse veterans who had been trying to access and influence the legislature. In state after state, sources reported that it is often hard to actually observe the sausage as it is being produced, which helps to explain the oft-surprising flavor it takes on when finally released for public consumption.