Ethics And Georgia Politics – Like Oil and Water

Sure I stole, but I stole for you. – Former Ga. Gov. Gene Talmadge

Things haven’t changed much in the nearly eight decades since Gene Talmadge whipped up an audience declaring that if you steal for the right reason, it is okay.

Rarely in Georgia’s modern history has the notion of “ethics” overlapped with the practice of “government service.” And recent actions by the state of Georgia and the Atlanta Public Schools system, indicate ethical lapses by public officials at all levels of government in the Peach State continue to pose a systemic challenge to those who actually understand that serving the public carries with it a responsibility to act not only lawfully, but ethically as well.

At least two Georgia lawyers — former state Attorney General Mike Bowers and the current occupant of that office, Sam Olens – are fighting what must at times seem a lonely battle to enforce the quaint notion that ethics does play a role in public service. Bowers is leading an outside investigation into the cheating scandal involving the Atlanta school system, and Olens has made transparency in government and respect for the law the hallmarks of his nascent tenure.

At the state level, the most recent example of this cavalier attitude toward ethics can be seen in the manner in which the Governor is treating the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission (commonly known as the “ethics commission”). Recently, Stacey Kalberman, executive secretary of the ethics commission, was told her salary would be significantly reduced and her aide would be laid off due to “budget cut backs.” According to press reports, Kalberman explained she could not work for what amounted to a 30 percent salary cut. She was then informed the state ethics board had accepted her resignation.

Cuts to the state ethics commission have not been uncommon. It has absorbed budget cuts of some 40 percent since 2008; more than most other state agencies. But there have been suggestions that an investigation into Gov. Nathan Deal’s campaign finances may have been behind the most recent draconian cuts, including a revelation that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had offered to loan a forensic accountant to assist the commission.

The ethics commission now has but one employee; clearly insufficient to hand a single investigation, much less the many into which it ought to be delving – but apparently enough to satisfy those in power, who can continue to claim with a straight face that the state does have “an ethics commission.”

However, for all of the stories and accusations of corruption among state public officials, perhaps no more perfect illustration of the complete and utter lack of ethics in this state can be found than the Atlanta Public Schools (APS).

Accusations have recently been made, with supporting evidence, by a former APS official that outgoing Superintendent Beverly Hall ordered documents relating to the CRCT cheating scandal be destroyed. According to the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, the official, who was head of the school system’s internal investigation, objected to the order, but “her supervisor said the district had the right to ‘sanitize’ the investigation and that ‘the matter was closed’ because Hall ‘had directed that all other documents be destroyed.’”

The former official also accused APS of editing and removing damaging information in an independent investigation that revealed pervasive cheating inside the school system before it was presented to then-Gov. Sonny Perdue, and purposefully withholding information sought in open records requests from media.

Scandals and unethical behavior are not uncommon in politics, and we never will be entirely free from such problems. Now, more than ever, however, accountability, not smoke and mirrors, is needed to restore and cement public confidence in state and local government. While these latest scandals do not appear to be the result of efforts by public officials to steal money for themselves, the public’s trust – and in the case of the APS scandal, the students’ futures – is being stolen. Gene Talmadge must be having a good laugh.

By Bob Barr – The Barr Code

58 comments Add your comment

Karl Marx

July 1st, 2011
6:27 am

Ethics in state government and government Intelligence are linked as the same type terms, Oxymorons. Of course you can drop the “Oxy” part for the people that voted for Perdue and Deal. Now aren’t we proud of the most “Ethical “speaker in recent history in the state house, yea boy, “We don’t need to pay no stinking taxes.” Enjoy it people you got just what you deserve.

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GB

July 1st, 2011
7:57 am

Stacy Kalbermann needed to be fired. She was interpreting the ethics law in a way that would disrupt the lives of livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Georgians, and had no understanding of the implications of her interpretation.

Susan

July 1st, 2011
8:09 am

No one at the Commission answers the phone. Kalberman would not take appointments. She would not answer questions. She was combative and she attempted to fabricate evidence in the few cases she tried to work on. She had no experience in managing, investigations or campaign finance. All you have to do to see how terrible she did in the position is watch some of the Commission meetings on their website. Not only should they have accepted her resignation they should have IMMEDIATELY let her go. She is joke!

Carlosgvv

July 1st, 2011
8:50 am

It is true that politicians have been having “ethical lapses” for many long years. What has changed is how open and brazen they are about it now. They apparently think voters are so simple and easily manuplated that they can be openly crooked and still get elected and re-elected. What’s really scary is that this seems to be true.

Spock

July 1st, 2011
9:45 am

Carlosgvv … your comments are logical. To further the irony in the case of Governor Deal, he has used the state “system” to neuter the Ethics Commission, which was looking into the propriety of some of his recent appointments. I guess they can change the name of the Ethics Commission to the Ethics Person.

Carlosgvv

July 1st, 2011
9:57 am

Karl Marx

They are getting what they deserve. The problem is we are also getting it even though we voted for the Democrats.

Carlosgvv

July 1st, 2011
10:00 am

Spock

This is like the novel 1984. Everything is the opposite of what it says. So the Ethics Commission is really the Commission for the unethical.

Peter

July 1st, 2011
10:23 am

Ethics ??????? Deal lied about his finances, and still got elected……. Then he fired the gal who was investigating him.

Ethics in Georgia? No Way !

captguitarman

July 1st, 2011
10:58 am

I see that the designated hitters who watch for these kinds of columns and articles are quickly out with the official spin on the “incompetent” Kalbermann. OK. I’ll take you all at your word. Please advise what “competent” commissioner will now be picking up the investigation so that it does not go cold. Since, as we were told, the timing of Kalbermann’s firing, relative to investigative actions that would soon be taken, was a complete coincidence, and driven only by budgetary concerns. It was hard not to smile or even LOL as the texters say, while writing that. Critcal subpoenas, already approved by the attorney general’s office, were all ready to go when the budgetary melt down inside the Ethics Commission suddenly flared up. And subpoenas in any investigation are time critical to ensure that documents and other items of public or judiciary interest are not somehow mysteriously lost or misplaced. There is surely some sense of urgency here inside what is left of the Ethics Commission. Where does that all stand now? Surely, Governor Deal is more than anxious to quickly get all of the evidence out (perhaps even voluntarily releasing what the subpoenas were targeting – another LOL, I’m afraid) and to get this investigation finalized so that these phony allegations can e exposed for what they are, and he can clear his good name . . . surely, that must the case. . . surely, it must be.

This would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. The motto on Georgia’s State Seal is “Wisdom, Justice, Moderation.” That has got to be a mistake at the printer’s office. It’s actually “Moderation in Wisdom and Justice,” isn’t it? Actually, a more acccurate motto would be “Jes’ Good Ol’ Boys Doin’ Bidness.”

Jes’ Good Ol’ Boys Doin’ Bidness

Karl Marx

July 1st, 2011
11:02 am

Carlosgvv

I didn’t vote for a Democrat or a Republican. In Georgia there really is no difference between the two….. I did vote for the Libertarian.

obvious

July 1st, 2011
11:13 am

you knew what you were getting when you elected Deal.
I don’t agree with Roy Barnes polotics, but at least he was honest and not out to enrich himself.

obvious

July 1st, 2011
11:15 am

but then again, maybe that’s what we should expect when we continue to elect lawyers

SOUTHERN ATL

July 1st, 2011
11:19 am

I don’t usually read your columns but this one was a must read!! You have brought out an existence that most people will hold true. With that said, how can we establish a solid “Ethics Commission”? This state has seen its share of unethical politics. If we are to unite and become the leader of the “New South” corruption amongst our politicians must cease!!

Carlosgvv

July 1st, 2011
11:23 am

Karl Marx

Maybe, next time, you should vote for the Socialist.

GT

July 1st, 2011
11:26 am

The FBI had to handle a problem at the local jail this week. This is the same arrogate local law enforcement that tells the feds “if they can’t handle enforcing the immigration laws the local boys have an obligation to take over”. I often wonder if some of that cocaine is not being divided up with our local law enforcement or law makers, not just being sold by them. To think you can handle anything when you have shown absolutely no capacity to handle what is clearly their domain is late night comedy. It is like the lady who had the eight kids last year offering to babysit.

What fantasy does this state have of itself? A man walks into a judge’s courtroom and blows the judge away while the security is chewing on breakfast, hands too greasy to hold a gun even if they had broke away from their social hour to help a poor judge in need. What we see at this level of government services only reflects what we don’t see at higher levels. Ethics is not only not taking money and gifts; it is doing a job you are paid to do. If you don’t do it on the top it will show up on the bottom. The cheating scandal in our school system doesn’t surprise anyone does it? The lies and cover ups. Until the conservatives that run this state clean up their act there will always have to be a big federal government to do it for them. We pay twice, once at the local level which is an empty bag and twice at the federal level to clean up the mess we have already paid for. There is nothing conservative about this corruption and unethical behavior. It is just as bad in the rural counties if not worse. Selling cocaine and shooting people in its local jails is not a resume for more responsibility. Maybe we can tax some of those sells and at least help pay for this mess.

Halftrack

July 1st, 2011
11:27 am

The Good Book said a time was coming when everyone would do what was right in their own eyes. Folks just look out the window or on TV and you’ll see the time is here now.

scrier

July 1st, 2011
11:30 am

Susan at 8:09 hit the nail on the head about commission staff being lazy and unresponsive. Go to ethics commission website today July 1. Rather than just admit they are taking off the week (and certainly Fri) before Mon July 4 holiday, they have an alert posted on why you cant reach staff -

“Due to the greatly increased call volume to the Commission as a result of our new duties as filing officer for the entire state, the Commission will consider waiving late fee violations for those filers who could not timely file their reports DUE TO THEIR INABILITY TO REACH COMMISSION STAFF.”

Bet if someone requested phone records, aint gonna be a whole lot of calls coming in.

Lois Lane

July 1st, 2011
11:44 am

Never been a big fan of the local print and broadcast media. However I’ll grudgingly concede that their investigative reporting over the years has uncovered more sleaze in government than any ethics commission could begin to catch. The Gwinnett County land purchase deals and APS cheating being two notable examples.

Freedom of the press is about the only thing that stands between us and runaway corruption or even tyranny.

MrLiberty

July 1st, 2011
11:46 am

Human beings are human beings. They don’t take on special powers when they get elected to office – despite the ridiculous claims that they people are now involved in “public service.” Scum remains scum but now has the power to tax, regulate, imprison, and KILL.

Libertarians have understood that from the founding of this nation to the present, but they are derided at every turn. Government is EVIL. Government is FORCE. It can be nothing else as it does not participate in the voluntary sector of society. There are no “options” with government. Either you comply or face the consequences. Expecting government to behave in any way differently than you might expect anyone to behave is completely naive and stupid.

That is why government MUST have as LITTLE power as is possible. Frankly none at all would be best. Why is this so hard to understand? A business is just a business until it aligns with the power of government to punish its customers (by forcing the purchase of health or auto insurance for instance), punishes its competitors (by acquiring lucrative government contracts, getting restrictive regulations passed, getting zoning restrictions passed, getting minimum wage increases passed, etc.), or punishing the general public (by partnering with local governments for land acqisition through eminent domain laws, direct handouts from taxation, etc.). If not for government, a business would have to earn your money by selling you products or services YOU want. Your power rests in not buying. Immediate and powerful direct democracy in action. Through the political process you have NO power whatsoever, so don’t deceive yourself.

The solution to the problem of a lack of ethics in politics is to take away all government power and shut them down or slash them to within an inch of their existence and maintain only the barest minimum with the least amount of power.

That should be clearly obvious by now but most are still hoping for miracles that will happen simply by electing the “right people.”

Good luck with that.

Blog Soup

July 1st, 2011
11:59 am

The pockets of Talmadge’s overcoat. Smoke filled rooms. Smoke and mirrors. Cigars. Clinton. It is what it is.

I liked “nascent tenure”.

GT

July 1st, 2011
12:04 pm

The problem with freedom of the press is the freedom is controlled by it’s pocketbook. FOX has found out ,as some local radio stations, the money is where the masses are. 20 years ago AJC had a monopoly, no longer. They feel the heat of their jounalism.

When you have a wife screaming her head off that her husband is a crook like in the Glenn Richardson deal, they have to get in front of it. I’m sure they didn’t lose too many readers pointing out that Atlanta schools aren’t teaching our kids how to read. In fact any inprovement there could help AJC gain readership.

H.L. Menken

July 1st, 2011
12:13 pm

Can’t wait for our high tech redneck legislature tackling reapportionment & redistricting in August.

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Len

July 1st, 2011
12:49 pm

GB,
Your obviously a hack for the current administration or a person with grandiose ideation issues.

jdug

July 1st, 2011
1:07 pm

I find it hypocritical for Bob Barr to point the “ethics” finger at anyone. Remember, Barr was one of the loudest Repubs who helped Newt spend $60 million of taxpayers money trying to impeach
Clinton for adultery while both of them were guilty of the same offense. This was done purely for political gain – funded by taxpayers.

Ethics in GA government – what about the former Speaker of the GA House (Richardson) who was having an affair with a lobbyist for Atlanta Gas while he (Richardson) was strongarming the legislature to pass a bill which would have required GA taxpayers to fund a $30M gas line for Atlanta Gas. Richardson got off scott free. I suppose we can’t expect a Repub (or Dem) government to investigate/punish one of their own.

Karl Marx

July 1st, 2011
1:17 pm

Carlosgvv
No socialist ran but I would not vote for one anyway. Eventually you socialist run out of other people’s money.

Darwin

July 1st, 2011
1:48 pm

“Sure I stole, but I stole for you.” Sounds like any Republican administration.

The Snark

July 1st, 2011
2:03 pm

SCRIER:

The reason that message was put up is not that the staff is incompetent or lazy. The reason is that the Governor and the General Assembly have continually cut back their staff and budget for the last nine years, while heaping more legal duties upon them.

Liberals are retarded

July 1st, 2011
2:35 pm

How many GA governors have ever gone to prison? The reason I ask is because states like Illinois have had 4 go to prison and Illinois is a liberals wet dream.

Liberals are retarded

July 1st, 2011
2:37 pm

“Freedom of the press is about the only thing that stands between us and runaway corruption or even tyranny.”

I’d trust guns over the press. The press is controlled by the DNC. Just ask MSNBC who banned a guy for calling Obozo a dick. Turns out Carney called them up and had him banned.

Illinois Who?

July 1st, 2011
2:48 pm

Liberals are retarded
..How many GA governors have ever gone to prison? The reason I ask is because states like Illinois have had 4 go to prison and Illinois is a liberals wet dream.

Please go back and read the title of this article:

“Ethics And GEORGIA Politics – Like Oil and Water”

The article DID NOT say the state of Illinois. It said GEORGIA…take that up with another columnist when they refer to Illinois!

Junior Samples

July 1st, 2011
3:18 pm

Why is the fox guarding the chicken coop in the first place? If state ethics are the problem, do we really expect a state commission to solve it?

Liberals are retarded

July 1st, 2011
4:28 pm

“The article DID NOT say the state of Illinois. It said GEORGIA…take that up with another columnist when they refer to Illinois!”

Like my blog handle states, libs are retarded and you prove my point. If you’d paid attention to the comments you’d have noticed several comments about GA’s governor. You’d also noticed that I chastised these clowns who trash GA politics yet they vote Democrat.

Make sense, clown?

GT

July 1st, 2011
5:03 pm

Maybe the states that send governors to jail are the ones doing something about their problem. If I am going down the road and see people pulled over for speeding I slow down. If I am heading down the road and see people flying by me wide open I speed up.

WOW

July 1st, 2011
5:42 pm

LAR , Many politicians of all ideologies are crooked. The reason politicians from a liberal state like Illinois are in jail is because liberals hold their elected officials accountable, unlike retarded conservatives like you, here in Georgia

eatmotacos

July 1st, 2011
5:58 pm

Allowing Shady Deal to control the Georgia Ethics Commission is equivalent to allowing Al-Qaeda to control the TSA – it is beyond stupidity – it’s insane.

If there is an honest state legislator left, they could earn a lot of political capital by introducing legislation to separate the control of the Ethics Commission from the state’s Executive Office. It should be an independent entity, governored by a nonpartisan board, accountable to public scrutiny.

It should also sort out the honest legislators from the crooks – only the crooks would oppose such legislation.

Tony

July 1st, 2011
6:59 pm

We can’t have those pesky ethics folks gummin’ up the works folks. Why they’d be holding elected officials like douchebag Deal accountable for their backroom antics. He’s a crook and crooks do NOT want ethics investigations; unless their hand appointed, trusted cronies are running the ethics commitee.

GB

July 1st, 2011
7:01 pm

Len

July 1st, 2011
12:49 pm
GB,
Your obviously a hack for the current administration or a person with grandiose ideation issues.

Len: I am not connected with the current administration in any way. I do not know what “grandiose ideation issues” means. My comments about Kalbermann are based on my own dealings with her and the mess she created.

Stevie Wonder can see this!!!

July 1st, 2011
8:52 pm

THE GOVERNOR IS A CROOK AND SHOULD BE TAKEN UP ON ETHICS AND FRAUD CHARGES! WHAT THE WORLD IS WRONG WITH YOU SOUTHERNERS? YOU ELECTED A MAN THAT WAS THROWN OUT OF WASHINGTON. THIS ARTICLE IS A JOKE!!!@

ByGolly

July 1st, 2011
8:52 pm

In order to be a politican, you have to be a professional liar! The way the law of the land works “Do as we tell you but not as we do”. We the citizens have follow the laws but those representing it do not have to I guess. That includes Cops and Judges as we can see within the last few months.

I think it is rather hilarious hearing folks talk about Illegal Immigration especially the term “Illegal is Illegal” that they throw around. Hey if that is the case each and every American citizen is a criminal as many traffic, ethic and who know what ever else law is being broken every single day. I just don’t take any of our politicians serious. My personal believe is that all of them choose to be in government simply for personal gain and power and it has absolutely nothing to do with the “citizens”. Just look at our new Governor that all the people elected despite his vastly tainted background. He hires all of his buddies in key positions, I guess that’s how the GOP got its name “The Good Ole Party”. And we wonder why everybody nowadays has such big disregard for law and order.

Barr on Ethics? Please

July 1st, 2011
8:56 pm

Stick to something you have actual knowledge about, Mr. Barr. You’re clueless about Kalberman. She is the person who injected the material matters of a Commission investigation into the discussion about budget cuts at the office. She was trying to blackmail the Chairman into keeping her around with her not-so-veiled threat to link the Deal complaint to her personell issue. But of course, the lazy AJC folks will just feed into it & write their cookie-cutter “ethics” piece on Deal. It sucks that you’ve joined that low lying crowd.

AND GT: Richardson got off “Scott Free?” He lost his family, his office and everything else. How much more blood do you need? Know-nothing.

Funkmaster

July 1st, 2011
9:34 pm

Anybody going to see Motley Crue and Poison next week? Old ladies of the 80’s bring back the spandex and halters! Us young dudes missed ya’ll the first time around as we were still in diapers. We are ready for ya’ll hot mama’s now!

yuzeyurbrane

July 1st, 2011
10:11 pm

Barr is of course basically correct. But as to Deal, we should not act shocked. I think it was pretty clear to almost everyone that Deal was ethically challenged, especially regarding money, when he was elected. Sadly it reflects on the people of Georgia. And I also disagree with Barr when he says money was not involved. I believe that was the heart of the matter for which the Ethics Commission was seeking subpoenas of the Deal campaign.

Clinton "Skink" Tyree

July 1st, 2011
10:29 pm

You can dance around the ethics issue but what it boils down to is that the politicians know that if they have an (R) behind their name they are bulletproof. This state would vote for a freakin’ serial killer if he campaigned with an (R) behind his name.

Nathan Deal fled Washington two steps ahead of an ethics investigation, was virtually bankrupt, showed no ability to manage his own financial affairs let alone the state of Georgia and because he ran with an (R) behind his name, he won.

The state of Georgia gets what they deserve.

And, so it goes. . . . .

RGB

July 1st, 2011
10:32 pm

jdug said: “…Barr was one of the loudest Repubs who helped Newt spend $60 million of taxpayers money trying to impeach Clinton for adultery…”

But anyone with enough brainpower to maintain their circulatory system knows that statement is a lie, for Bill Clinton was impeached for perjury.

So that “jdug” (is that like Snoop Dog?) knows what perjury is:

PERJURY: The deliberate, willful giving of false, misleading, or incomplete testimony under oath.

Clinton lied under oath while being investigated for sexual harassment in the Paula Jones case. Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice on December 19, 1998, but acquitted by the Senate on February 12, 1999.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KiIP_KDQmXs

Here is Wikipedia’s statement: “I thought the definition included any activity by [me], where [I] was the actor and came in contact with those parts of the bodies” which had been explicitly listed (and “with an intent to gratify or arouse the sexual desire of any person”). In other words, Clinton denied that he had ever contacted Lewinsky’s “genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks”, and effectively claimed that the agreed-upon definition of “sexual relations” included giving oral sex but excluded receiving oral sex.

Aren’t your proud for standing up for your man?

If someone sexually harassed your wife, girlfriend, or daughter (or in your case, boyfriend) and testified falsely (lied) under oath, would you want that person to suffer any consequences?

You’ve already answered the question. But why stop with sexual harassment? If anyone should lie about anything in a matter important to you, you’ve just forfeited your right to complain.

Clinton "Skink" Tyree

July 1st, 2011
10:34 pm

An effective ethics probe would have a few questions as to how the girlfriend of the governor’s communication person was placed in a position she was ill-equiped to fill the job both by education and experiece and was given a $25K raise over the person who previously had the job and was qualified to hold the job both by experience and education. Go figure. . . . .

No accountability because he’s got an (R) behind his name.

Gerald

July 1st, 2011
10:54 pm

Enough with the self-righteous nonsense. People only care about the ethics problems of the other side, and that’s only because they use ethics to defeat people that they disagree with ideologically. Democrats proved this when they used the sexual harassment issue to try to derail Clarence Thomas only to ignore it when it came to Bill Clinton, Ted Kennedy and several other Democrats. And Republicans proved it by going after Bill Clinton on “values” while retaining David Vitter, Mark Sanford, John Ensign and a bunch of others.

It is all about ideology. Not ethics, or even competence. Admit it and move on.

alex

July 2nd, 2011
12:30 am

In your statements: ….”and the current occupant of that office, Sam Olens – are fighting what must at times seem a lonely battle to enforce the quaint notion that ethics does play a role in public service. …..Olens has made transparency in government and respect for the law the hallmarks of his nascent tenure.”
You are very naive or simply out of touch. Sam Olens “pledges open government” but SEALS the documents in the increasing number of Georgia Whistleblower cases regarding serious ethical and fiscal violations in the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia. Olens wants you to think that government transparency is on his initial agenda – but it’s for others only – NOT in the cases he and his office defend (and are paid for with our tax dollars). Ask him yourself – why the contradiction? Sounds like a conflict of interest to us.

Alice

July 2nd, 2011
9:19 am

The good people of Georgia never met a scoundrel or reprobate they didn’t like.

Liberals are retarded

July 2nd, 2011
10:35 am

” The reason politicians from a liberal state like Illinois are in jail is because liberals hold their elected officials accountable”

Dumbest comment. Ever.

Liberals are retarded

July 2nd, 2011
10:36 am

Hey dip$hit liberals, if Deal is so crooked, go arrest him, losers.

captguitarman

July 2nd, 2011
10:51 am

Kind of interesting that Deal’s two latest appointments (of the friends and family kind, of course) were given significant raises over what their predecessors were making. Increases adding up to significantly more than the cut being forced on Kalbermann had she hung around. You think the gutting of the Ethics Commission might not really have been about urgent, sudden, and necessary budet cuts, or the timing of the sudden budget emergency with the subpoenas all ready to go? They wouldn’t just out right up and lie about something like that, would they?

Carlosgvv

July 2nd, 2011
10:57 am

Liberals are retarded

We can’t go and arrest Deal because all his cronies in the House and Senate are protecting him.

truth

July 2nd, 2011
12:47 pm

Alice

July 2nd, 2011
9:19 am
“The good people of Georgia never met a scoundrel or reprobate they didn’t like.”

Sadly, Alice, that statement is 100% correct.

Painful Truth

July 3rd, 2011
6:23 pm

No telling what all Deal has already gotten into that’s illegal.

The guy is a born white-collar criminal.

thewatchdog

July 3rd, 2011
7:39 pm

If a guy is smart enough to be a politician, is he smart enought to make an honest living? That is something I have always wanted to ask. I hear a crook steals because he prefers it to working.

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