Thoughts in not a very particular order on the Common Cause-led Georgia Alliance for Ethics Reform meeting.
William Perry of Common Cause Georgia fame kicked off the meeting by stressing the non-partisan or bi-partisan nature of the Alliance for Ethics Reform. After a brief rundown on what happened in the last session after Common Cause introduced the lobbyist gift cap pledge, Perry introduced some representatives from the other groups present who are also involved in the Georgia Alliance for Ethics Reform. Kelly Persons from the League of Women Voters and Karla Johnson from Georgia Watch both gave a rundown from their organizations. Although unable to attend, the Georgia Tea Party Patriots and Georgia Conservatives in Action groups are also involved with the Alliance.
This meeting was the last of 9 pre-session meetings that the Alliance is holding to review where we’ve come from and what the hopes are going forward.
Common Cause and the hope for the gift cap pledge was supported by Reps. Jason Carter and the aforementioned McKoon from the very beginning. In the last session, the ethics bills that were introduced languished in both the Senate and the House. Speaker Ralston sent it straight to the Rules Committee, also known as where bills go to die. The same thing happened in the Senate. Perry stressed that the marquee issue is the gift cap, but they hope to be able to go beyond that and improve ethics across the board for reporting and investigating.
Perry also explained that in a bizarre way, the fact that the bar of public engagement is so low can mean good things for the ethics reform “movement”. He relayed a story from Rep. Ed Lindsey. Lindsey’s thoughts on public input are depressing but encouraging for those who want to get stuff done. His thoughts are that when two people call the office, they become aware of an issue, when four people call the office, they know they have a problem. If eight people call, they recognize they have a serious problem. When twelve people call? It’s a crisis and action needs to be taken soon.
McKoon discussed how he ran on the ethics issue and was supported strongly by his district in doing so. He said how this session, several incoming chairs and vice-chairs of multiple committees have signed on to supporting the ethics bill. McKoon has already filed a constitutional amendment bill that requires funding of the Ethics Commission. The exact number for funding remains to be nailed down, but for now he’s working with .00 (and maybe another 0) 25 (.00025) of a percent of the general fund. McKoon also plans to file a second constitutional amendment that has to do with investigatory powers of the Ethics Commission. A third amendment concerns the lobbyist gift limit.
The last thing McKoon mentioned was allowing local folks to be able to file their disclosures with probate judges or some other official, rather than having to file at the state level and then clogging the system. The judges or whoever could then certify the disclosures and then they would file them at a convenient time.
Rep. Steve Henson spoke about the recent survey done by the AJC that indicated the confidence level of the public in government has never been lower. He was upbeat though in how far we’ve come. There used to be no limit of any kind. Then there was a loophole that allowed no limit on any Georgia-based product. A distillery in Columbus used to ship cases of booze to the folks at the Gold Dome.
Henson also lamented the status of Georgia as 50 out of 50 for ethics/ corruption. This is a bad reputation that at some point will begin to have a deleterious impact on economic development. McKoon remarked that he thinks people are starting to wake up to this argument as some extra incentive for ethics reform.
There was a short question and answer period, the most significant of which involved whether this really had any hope in the next session. McKoon said that at the very least, the Senate rules committee can lay down the law and put that out there as a marker for the House to measure up to. Henson wanted to stress that even if they pass the lobbyist gift pledge, don’t let that distract from further goals.
Lastly, Perry got back up and said that since he is not an elected official, he can name names. He called out Ralston specifically and how Ralston fought Common Cause and the Alliance from the very beginning on this. Ralston’s retort to ethics reform questions was why don’t Common Cause and the Tea Party trust Georgians? After all, Georgians elected them so why would they need to pass ethics reform?
At the end of the session however, Ralston signaled that he would support reform in the next session. Whether this is really going to happen or not remains to be seen, but give Ralston a call when you get a minute and maybe we can make sure it does happen.